The no holds barred, all bets are off, anything goes, Virginia Woolf discussion thread

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Boom Boom Boom Boom's picture
The no holds barred, all bets are off, anything goes, Virginia Woolf discussion thread

Did you know the Indigo Girls recorded "Virginia Woolf" on their album Rites of Passage?Smile

Lyrics:

some will strut and some will fret
see this an hour on the stage
others will not but they'll sweat
in their hopelessness and their rage
we're all the same the men of anger
and women of the page
they published your diary
and that's how i got to know you
the key to the room of your own and a mind without end
and here's a young girl
on a kind of a telephone line through time
and the voice at the other end comes like a long lost friend
so i know i'm all right
life will come and life will go
still i feel it's all right
cause i just got a letter to my soul
and when my whole life is on the tip of my tongue
empty pages for the no longer young
the apathy of time laughs in my face
you say each life has its place
the hatches were battened
the thunderclouds rolled and the critics stormed
the battle surrounded the white flag of your youth
if you need to know that you weathered the storm
of cruel mortality
a hundred years later i'm sitting here living proof
so you know you're all right
(all right)
life will come and life will go
(life will come and go)
still you'll feel it's all right
(all right)
someone'll get a letter to your soul
(someone gets your soul)
when your whole life is on the tip of your tongue
empty pages for the no longer young
the apathy of time laughed in your face
did you hear me say each life has its place
the place where you hold me
dark in a pocket of truth
the moon had swallowed the sun and the light of the earth
and so it was for you
when the river eclipsed your life
and sent your soul like a message in a bottle to me
and it was my rebirth
so we know we're all right
(all right)
though life will come and life will go
(though life will come and life will go)
still you'll feel it's all right
(all right)
someone'll will get a letter to your soul
(someone gets your soul)
then you know you're all right
(when my whole life is on the tip of my tongue)
then you feel you're all right
(empty pages for the no longer young)
and your hear dry you eyes
(you said)
and you know it's all right
(each life has it's place)
and your hear dry your eyes
(you said)
and you know it's all right
(each life has it's place)
and it's all right
(it'll be all right)

Maybe this can be the starting point for a discussion...

Boom Boom Boom Boom's picture

My experience of Woolf dates back to a 1970s college course in feminist literature, and a discussion of her A Room of One's Own, To the Lighthouse, her collected short fiction, and more recently her last book, Between the Acts, which in another babble thread I said expressed her feminism and hatred of war. I think she's the anti-Freud, but that's an opinion brought about right now by a lack of sleep and a nagging headache. It's high time I re-acquainted myself with the works of Woolf, all of which I think are available as ebooks online somewhere.

George Victor

How did Woolf measure up as a writer of feminist literature back then, Boomer, and would she be recognizable as such today...or is she simply a historical figure at some kind of turning point for feminism?  (She certainly turned on J.M.Keynes and others in their exclusive English clubishness). I used to think of her as an extension of the "blue stockings".

Unionist

Read Mrs. Dalloway. It's stunning.

And everyone who hasn't already done so should watch [url=http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0274558/]The Hours[/url].  You like Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore, Meryl Streep? How about all three in the same movie!?

It's one of my all-time favourites. And it's about Mrs. Dalloway.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Virginia Woolf is a singular author. Mrs. Dalloway (and The Hours) is wonderful, but imo she didn't hit her stride until To the Lighthouse and The Waves. If you want a handle on Woolf's feminism, George, you need look no further than the spectacular A Room of One's Own (1929). You can read it in an hour, but a few of my favourite ever quotes, which defined a century of literary feminism, are:

Quote:
a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction

Quote:
Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size.

Quote:
Professors, schoolmasters, sociologists, clergymen, novelists, esayists, journalists, men who had no qualification save that they were not women, chased my simple and single question--Why are women poor?

Then of course, there is her famous hypothetical about Shakespeare's sister Judith, who, though endowed with the same talents, she meets a very different, and very tragic end. Her biography makes feminism by example: aside from being the preeminient female modernist, she is perhaps one of the best writers ever. She loved to drive, she owned and operated a printing press, she inspired, critiqued and mentored many great male writers and poet, and she was probably a lesbian (bisexual at the very least).

As for her relationship with Freud, I can't remember the necessary criticism that addresses this question. She definitely attended several of Freud's lectures and met him in person several times. I know she published the first reviews of his work in Britain. She certainly engages with his ideas in her texts. She is fascinated with the idea of the ego and the id, or the separation between the 'I' and the individual ("'I' is only a convenient term for somebody who has no real being"). Moreover, as anyone who has read Mrs Dalloway can tell you, she contributed to the cultural dominant, articulated by Freud, of retreat into the unconscious in order to solve the era's big questions. 

But, the single criticism that will chase Woolf forever, is her classism ('Of the two - the vote and the money', she said of her heritage, 'the money, I own, seemed infinitely more important'). Of course, feminism in America found its legs with the white upper middle classes (despite the efforts of Soujourner Truth), so perhaps it is not fair to condemn Woolf for using her inherent classism as the engine with which she found both her success and her sense of social justice. My favourite quote in showing her classist blind spot comes from "Mr Bennett and Mrs. Brown", when she is talking about how literature and, indeed, life, is changing as modernity extends its embrace of the twentieth century:

Quote:
In life one can see change, if I may use a homely illustration, in the character of one's cook. The Victorian lived like a leviathan in the lower depths, formidable, silent, obscure, inscrutable; the Georgian cook is a creature of sunshine and fresh air; in and out of the drawing-room, now to borrow The Daily Herald now to ask advice about a hat. Do you ask for more instances of the power of the human race to change?

Yes, Virginia. We do ask for more evidence of change than our cook asking us for adivce about a hat. Also, I know no other modernist who refers to inhabitants of the 1920s as 'Georgians'.

Unionist

Lovely, thank you Catchfire. I guess I should read more Woolf. In between organizing strikes in essential services, that it.

 

George Victor

Right. I will look  for her work. Library first.

Interesting line: "a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction"

I've just finished reading Witold  Rybczynski's (got it)  "Home" (I'm sure I've mispelled his name) in which he quotes from Jane Austen's Emma and uses an illustration of a young German woman in "her room" to make the point of the importance of "a room of her own" at the opening of the 19th century. The line would have described Austen's thoughts exactly, and we see it in her characters.

It is a sentiment that emerged with the movement  in architecture  toward family and privacy during the late 1700s, although one suspects that, in a later century, Woolf  felt more than money and a room were necessary elements in the writing process.

I never was afraid of  Virginia Wolf - just didn't think that from the snotty heights of her set, she had much to tell the lower orders...cooks and such.

Boom Boom Boom Boom's picture

I think Woolf has remained relevant in every generation; even today young people are discovering her, and there are Virginia Woolf groups on Facebook.

Here's a quote I found :

"Life itself, every moment of it, evry drop of it, here, this instant, now, in the sun, in Regent's Park, was enough. Too much, indeed."

- from Mrs Dalloway (which I haven't read).

I've seen The Hours and would like to see it again!

 

Unionist

Boom Boom wrote:

"Life itself, every moment of it, evry drop of it, here, this instant, now, in the sun, in Regent's Park, was enough. Too much, indeed."

It's wonderful, like every other sentence in that book. But the "too much, indeed" is especially poignant, considering how she met her end.

 

Boom Boom Boom Boom's picture

Thanks, Unionist. I'm ordering that book today.

Unionist

All right, Boom Boom, now you've got me going:

Quote:

Shredding and slicing, dividing and subdividing, the clocks of Harley Street nibbled at the June day, counselled submission, upheld authority, and pointed out in chorus the supreme advantages of a sense of proportion, until the mound of time was so far diminished that a commercial clock, suspended above a shop in Oxford Street, announced, genially and fraternally, as if it were a pleasure to Messrs. Rigby and Lowndes to give the information gratis, that it was half-past one.

 

 

Boom Boom Boom Boom's picture

At your service, dear Sir. Kiss

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

The two quotes from Mrs. Dalloway posted by Boom Boom and Unionist point to the philosophical problem modernity posed to the changing world. Woolf was engaging with Henri Bergson (the Jacque Derrida du jour) and his Time and Free Will (1910). Bergson examined modernity's increasing fascination with time--basically, the difference between clocktime--a spatial metaphor used to measure something inherently unmeasurable--and what he called durée, or duration.

Quote:
Pure duration is the form which the succession of our conscious states assumes when our ego lets itself live, when it refrains from separating its present state from its former states...[it] forms both the past and the present states into an organic whole, as happens when we recall the notes of a tune, melting, so to speak, into one another. Might it not be said that, even if these notes succeed one another, yet we perceive them in one another, and that their totality may be compared to a living being whose parts, although distinct, permeate one another just because they are so closely connected ?

So you see Woolf's fascination with the way the 'slicing and shredding' of time was impossible to ignore, by virtue of the sheer number of public clocks (Harley Street, and the shopfront of Rigby and Lowndes). Its connection to commerce is also telling: modernity ushers in an era where time is commodifed: minimum hourly and daily wages traded for trinkets and food. But (and here's her fascination with Freud) the mind, and durée, offer a solution: you can fit an entire novel in the space of one day, where the past, present and future freely intermix (consider also Septimus, the shellshocked veteran who cannot differentiate between the past and present). So, we have 'Life itself, every moment of it, every drop of it, here, this instant, now, in the sun'. Beautiful!

This tension is perhaps  articulated best at the end of the beautiful, tragic Waves:

 

Quote:
'Yes, but suddenly one hears a clock tick. We who had been immersed in this world became aware of another. It is painful.... He, who had been thinking with the unlimited time of the mind, which stretches in a flash from Shakespeare to ourselves, poked the fire and began to live by that other clock which marks the approach of a particular person. The wide and dignified sweep of his mind contracted. He became on the alert. I could feel him listening to sounds in the street. I noted how he touched a cushion. From the myriads of mankind and all time past he had chosen one person, one moment in particular. A sound was heard in the hall. What he was saying wavered in the air like an uneasy flame. I watched him disentangle one footstep from other footsteps; wait for some particular mark of identification and glance with the swiftness of a snake at the handle of the door....So concentrated a passion shot out others like foreign matter from a still, sparkling fluid. I became aware of my own vague and cloudy nature full of sediment, full of doubt, full of phrases and notes to be made in pocket-books. The folds of the curtain became still, statuesque; the paperweight on the table hardened; the threads on the curtain sparkled; everything became definite, external, a scene in which I had no part. I rose, therefore; I left him.

Boom Boom Boom Boom's picture

Virginia Woolf's matriarchal family of origins in 'Between the Acts.'

Intro:

Virginia Woolf began writing Between the Acts in April 1938 at her country home, Monks House. As she was writing, bombers flew overhead, and a Nazi conquest of Europe seemed imminent. Her diaries during this period record her anger at the success of Nazi and Allied propaganda to arouse mass enthusiasm for war. As Patricia Klindienst Joplin notes, "To achieve the goal of creating [the Nazi] folk community (identified with structure), the Third Reich redefined every occasion which used to offer the people a taste of communitas, or release from official structure: folk celebrations, religious ritual and art" (93). Woolf witnessed Nazi demonstrations in spring 1935 when she traveled to Germany with Leonard Woolf (Bell 2: 189). The Nazi phenomenon and her observation of the "hero-making" rituals in England (Diary 5: 292), led to her study of ritual and group formations in Between the Acts.

excerpt:

 The crippling of women's creativity is a major concern in all Woolf's novels, including Between the Acts, and Harrison's description of great goddesses gave Woolf a symbolic framework for representing the origins of women's diminished status, and making connections between women's stifled creativity and men's violence against women. The female characters in Between the Acts are represented as diminished goddesses in various ways; sometimes, as in the following description of Lucy, we glimpse traces of a woman's former grandeur behind the facade of her current limitations: "Silver sparkled on her black shawl. For a moment she looked like a tragic figure from another play" (214). The most important use of the theme is Woolf's representation of Isa as Isis. As mother and wife, Isa is the patriarchal Isis--honored for her domestic services for men; but with Lucy and Dodge she is again the matriarchal Isis--honored for her life-giving creativity and unviolated wholeness.(6)

excerpt:

If Harrison's theories about the origins of patriarchy provided Woolf with a framework for representing contemporary life as a war zone where men wage war against women, it is important to recognize that the matriarchal paradigm offered an alternative. La Trobe, Lucy, Isa, and Dodge are not models of unalloyed goodness, but in their momentary alliances against Giles they affirm the better parts of themselves and new possibilities for human community. By focusing on the structural, erotic, and symbolic bases for the formations of the patriarchal and matriarchal groups in this novel, Woolf exposes the ways in which all of us daily "take sides" in this war between destructive and creative world views.

excerpt:

By making those moments between Isa, Lucy, and Dodge visible, and showing the changes in gender and desire that these reflect, Woolf illustrates in Between the Acts the potential in human nature and the possibility for social organizations less doomed and violent than the patriarchal order centered on Giles.

(emphasis mine)

George Victor

Boom Boom:

"Virginia Woolf began writing Between the Acts in April 1938 at her country home, Monks House. As she was writing, bombers flew overhead, and a Nazi conquest of Europe seemed imminent. Her diaries during this period record her anger at the success of Nazi and Allied propaganda to arouse mass enthusiasm for war. As Patricia Klindienst Joplin notes, "To achieve the goal of creating [the Nazi] folk community (identified with structure), the Third Reich redefined every occasion which used to offer the people a taste of communitas, or release from official structure: folk celebrations, religious ritual and art" (93). Woolf witnessed Nazi demonstrations in spring 1935 when she traveled to Germany with Leonard Woolf (Bell 2: 189). The Nazi phenomenon and her observation of the "hero-making" rituals in England (Diary 5: 292), led to her study of ritual and group formations in Between the Acts."

___________________________________________________

I think I'll start with Between the Acts, Boomer. Your presentation suggests she was formulating a more social appreciation of the individual's  fate by then.  But readers of Woolf will correct me if that is not the case, if her appreciation for society as more than an "upstairs/downstairs" dichotomy was already well advanced by 1938,  I'm sure.

George Victor

That is a marvelous connect of Bergson and Woolf, Catchfire. Thanks.

But Bergson's concept of elan vitale, a sort of halfway house between Darwin and Christianity , always seemed fated to leave one in limbo. Although the sensitivity of Woolf's  search through the language to find  an exact meaning for an oh so sensitive individual,  leaves me wishing that she had found other sources of inspiration. That quote from his thoughts on "duration" should have warned her (sorry, but I had to say that).

Boom Boom Boom Boom's picture

I would suggest "A Room Of One's Own" first and then go with the flow. It sets the stage for everything that comes after.Smile

ETA: I've only read three of her many books, there are folks here far more knowledgeable about Woolf than I. Which book would others suggest as a starting point for reading Woolf?