A Season for Woolfs: A Virginia Woolf Reading Challenge discussion

To the Lighthouse
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To the Lighthouse

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John Bradley (_johnbradley) | 5 comments Mod

John | 4 comments Another War Poem Reference

The lines that Mr. Ramsay mutters as he paces the terrace are from The Charge of the Light Brigade, by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. This is another poem that glorifies war, and in particular senseless slaughter. The poem itself acknowledges that the charge was a mistake. No matter how brave the soldiers, the charge was futile and could ever have been anything but futile.

So, what is Woolf saying with this reference? It is hard to imagine that it is anything positive about Mr. Ramsay. It seems, rather, that she is aligning her pacifism against the society of the time, much as she does with her feminism.

The Charge of the Light Brigade

Half a league, half a league,
⁠Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
⁠Rode the six hundred.
"Charge," was the captain's cry;
Their's not to reason why,
Their's not to make reply,
Their's but to do and die,
Into the valley of Death
⁠Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
⁠Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well;
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell,
⁠Rode the six hundred.

Flash'd all their sabres bare,
Flash'd all at once in air,
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
⁠All the world wonder'd:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Fiercely the line they broke;
Strong was the sabre-stroke;
Making an army reel
⁠Shaken and sunder'd.
Then they rode back, but not,
⁠Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
⁠Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
They that had struck so well
Rode thro' the jaws of Death,
Half a league back again,
Up from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
⁠Left of six hundred.

Honour the brave and bold!
Long shall the tale be told,
Yea, when our babes are old—
⁠How they rode onward.

The End

— Alfred, Lord Tennyson

John | 4 comments That’s “...could *never* have been...” in the first paragraph.

Sami (shildebrandt) | 3 comments Thanks, John! I find it interesting that both Jacob's Room and To The Lighthouse appear to be inspired by poems; specifically, war poems. (Jacob's Room has many references to "In Flanders Fields" by John McCrae, and the beginning of To The Lighthouse has references to "The Charge of the Light Brigade" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.) Art inspiring art! I wonder what war poem (if any) inspired The Waves...?

message 5: by Frank (new)

Frank Garrett | 1 comments Hi. Since Stephen & I aren’t able to attend tonight, I still wanted to make some kind of contribution to the group, so I’m posting my thoughts here. Since starting To the Lighthouse I’ve been noticing all kinds of tangential references to subjects and objects. During Week 1, we read this passage:

Whenever she [Lily] "thought of his [Mr. Ramsay’s] work" she always saw clearly before her a large kitchen table. It was Andrew's doing. She asked him what his father's books were about. "Subject and object and the nature of reality," [my emphasis] Andrew had said. And when she said Heavens, she had no notion what that meant. "Think of a kitchen table then," he told her, "when you're not there."

At first, I thought Woolf was setting up Mr. Ramsay’s work to be akin to the work of Mikhail Bakhtin, the Russian philosopher and literary theorist who also worked on the subject of subjectivity and objectivity, but it’s unlikely she would’ve known about his work. Instead, I think she’s drawing on Henri Bergson’s work. Bergon was a French Jewish philosopher who was much more well known in the early 20th century, so Woolf would’ve easily encountered his ideas, which also were about subjects and objects as well as perception and memory (and the perception of memory).

Basically there was an impasse in philosophy during the 19th century between two schools of thought: materialism and idealism (they go by several other names, such as positivism and Platonism, etc.). In very brief terms, materialists held that things had physical reality regardless of whether a mind perceived them. Idealists thought that only human perception (or thoughts) were real, and that there was no guarantee that anything “outside of the mind” had any reality. Along comes Bergson (and a few others, like Edmund Husserl) who basically create a compromise position between the two: I know that this table is real because it adheres to what we humans mean with our ideas of “real” and “table.” It helps to bridge the gap between thought and things, between things and our perceptions of those things.

Woolf is very much conversant with Bergon’s philosophy. She has Mr. Ramsay’s work be about "subject and object and the nature of reality," but she also has Mrs. Ramsay do all the difficult lifting of that work. It’s Mrs. Ramsay who thinks through all the nuances of subjectivity and objectivity.

Along with subject/object is another dimension of active/passive, which is brought up several times in regards to lots of things, including the lighthouse. At times, Mrs. Ramsay see the lighthouse sends out its light. At other times, she “reflects” the light of the lighthouse. And still other times, she becomes (as if) the light itself, like in Section 11:

Often she found herself sitting and looking, sitting and looking, with her work in her hands until she became the thing she looked at--that light, for example. And it would lift up on it some little phrase or other which had been lying in her mind like that--"Children don't forget, children don't forget"--which she would repeat and begin adding to it, It will end, it will end, she said. It will come, it will come, when suddenly she added, We are in the hands of the Lord.

And she gets instantly annoyed with herself for that last sentence that comes from outside her own mind:

But instantly she was annoyed with herself for saying that. Who had said it? Not she; she had been trapped into saying something she did not mean. She looked up over her knitting and met the third stroke and it seemed to her like her own eyes meeting her own eyes, searching as she alone could search into her mind and her heart, purifying out of existence that lie, any lie. She praised herself in praising the light, without vanity, for she was stern, she was searching, she was beautiful like that light. It was odd, she thought, how if one was alone, one leant to inanimate things; trees, streams, flowers; felt they expressed one; felt they became one; felt they knew one, in a sense were one; felt an irrational tenderness thus (she looked at that long steady light) as for oneself. There rose, and she looked and looked with her needles suspended, there curled up off the floor of the mind, rose from the lake of one's being, a mist, a bride to meet her lover.

Here you have the whole subject/object, perception/memory problem being worked out. On top of that, you have the modernist wordplay: a rose (flower), rose (verb) from the lake, and then there’s the daughter Rose. Later at the dinner table (what was to always remind Lily of Mr. Ramsay’s work), they recite poems with the repeated phrase “Chinese rose,” which also merges Lily (another flower, but with “Chinese eyes”) with the daughter Rose.

All of these things (subject/object, active/passive, wholes/parts, singularities/mergings, memory/perception, echo/reflection) are even more fleshed out in the parts of the book we read for this week. I’m curious to see what Woolf does with it in the rest of the book.

If you’re interested in Bergson, I’d recommend this section from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/be....

message 6: by Jean (new)

Jean Lamberty | 3 comments Thanks, Frank. Your observations are so perceptive and helpful.

message 7: by Jean (last edited Nov 01, 2019 01:39PM) (new)

Jean Lamberty | 3 comments The New Yorker recently re-published an essay that W. H. Auden wrote about VW. Near the beginning he quotes Woolf commenting about her father--that he would be 96, and could have been 96, but it would have ended her life as a writer. This sentiment is expressed near the beginning of the last section, where Lily is eager to finish her painting, but every time she starts, she is stopped by Mr. Ramsey's approaching her. It is impossible for her to paint with him hovering around her. It's no coincidence that as soon as Leslie Stephen dies, his four children move out of the house where they were raised and rent a house in Bloomsbury where they could be their new, independent selves and lead an entirely different life.

Here's a link to Auden's article: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/19...

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