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24 July 2008 @ 09:55 pm
in times of stress (and starvation): pet hamsters  
To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf

Since he belonged, even at the age of six, to that great clan which cannot keep this feeling separate from that, but must let future prospects, with their joys and sorrows, cloud what is actually at hand, since to such people even in earliest childhood any turn in the wheel of sensation has the power to crystallise and transfix the moment upon which its gloom and radiance rests, James Ramsay, sitting on the floor cutting out pictures from the illustrated catalogue of the Army and Navy Stores, endowed the picture of a refrigerator as his mother spoke with heavenly bliss.

Putting a sentence like this on your first page is not the way to tempt readers to continue. Just sayin'. Don't let appearances deceive you; this is a sentence, not a paragraph, although you'd be forgiven for thinking it was - eleven lines! Surely that's, I don't know. ILLEGAL.

It took me about three attempts to figure out the meaning of that sentence, which is: Everything James looked forward to with either hope or sorrow had an effect on what he was doing at the moment. As a result, the pictures he was cutting from a Catalogue were - due to his happy anticipation of visiting the Lighthouse - endowed with heavenly bliss.

The thing is, while my version has approximately zero literary merit, hers has the exact same. The only difference is that mine is actually understandable first go. I guess that's why I write fanfic and she 'shaped a literary century'? (Meh.)

After this discouraging beginning, I was prepared to dislike - with a steady uphill roll to full-blown hate - this book as much as any classic I've ever read bar Jane Austen. Oddly enough, that didn't happen. Oh, I got annoyed with how many commas she used, flinging them about like change in a fountain, and ripping them away from where they belonged. Example: 'Perhaps it will be fine tomorrow,' she said smoothing his hair. COMMA BEFORE SMOOTHING PLZ. YOU HURTY MY BRAIN THUS.

But I could appreciate that she was trying to achieve something here. This wasn't curly prose for the sake of curly prose. She was trying to exorcise some ghosts, I assume, if the Ramsays are supposed to be her parents. (According to the back of the book they are - something of a spoiler, I thought, but publishers never care about that. Blurbs should be banned.) Above all it seemed deliberate. Every line felt stewed over, properly edited, constantly thought about. The end result wasn't entirely pleasing, but it was correct in all its particulars.

Would I read it again? No. Did I enjoy it? Not precisely. Did I get anything out of it? Aside from a certain triumph at getting it over with, no. She made one or two pithy observations - see below - but overall I could have got as much abstract meaning from reading the newspaper backwards. And yet, and yet. I feel about this book rather as I would about the most perfect fruitcake ever made. I hate fruitcake; think adding fruit to any dessert is an abomination; wouldn't dream of touching a slice; but I can still appreciate when a fruitcake is made to absolute perfection - especially if there's pritty icing. So. There's that.

There are some lines of extraordinary beauty, which made me sorry she hadn't turned her hand to poetry instead. (Did she?) It would have suited her far better. The entire book read a little like I imagine an epic poem would. I wrote in the inside cover (don't judge me! I'm always stuck without my notebook) that she's 'trying to describe life from the point of view of a heartbeat.' Poetry is overwhelmingly more suited to that.

Charles Tansley felt an extraordinary pride; felt the wind and cyclamen and the violets for he was walking with a beautiful woman for the first time in his life. NEEDS A COMMA BEFORE FOR, OMG, but otherwise - I think it's the juxtaposition of wind and violets? If you can't see poetry in wind and violets you're probably dead.

But something moved, flashed, turned a silver wing in the air. It was September

the little space of sky which sleeps beside the moon

It was windy, so that the leaves now and then brushed open a star

All very tinselly descriptions, but hey. Not everyone can be the pine tree.

The BIG bone I had to pick with it was the thick vein of anti-feminist thought running through it. I'm accustomed to seeing misogynists presented as automatic villains, as much as if they had an eye patch and a cat and their favourite line was 'I've been expecting you, Mr Bond.' The idea that a HUGE BIG FUCKING MISOGYNIST like Mr Ramsay deserved adulation and sympathy and coddling and endless praise is ... well, it's disgusting to me, that's what.

And he wondered what she was reading, and exaggerated her ignorance, her simplicity, for he liked to think that she was not clever, not book-learned at all.

he liked men to work like that, and women to keep house, and sit beside sleeping children indoors, while men were drowned, out there in a storm.

Yeah, you're a tool. Moving on.

There was nobody she reverenced more. She was not good enough to tie his shoestrings, she felt.

for then people said he depended on her, when they must know that of the two he was infinitely the more important, and what she gave the world, in comparison with what he gave, negligible.

I suppose I just don't understand why Woolf, a woman who by all accounts held up two fingers to social mores at the very least behind their back, would even think shit like this, let alone write it. From the POV of a female character, too! Okay, it's not like I go around thinking I offer more to the world than - what, Mahatma Gandhi or something. But on the other hand, I believe I have an automatic right to think of myself as more than a shoelace tier and power behind a piddly throne.

all except myself [...] who am not a woman, but a peevish, ill-tempered, dried-up old maid

YES YES YOU ARE A WOMAN, JESUS CHRIST. Okay, the twenties were before female liberation but they were after suffrage, right? If women thought this about themselves, without even the help of a single man, then they were in a pretty piss-poor state. Then again, who derides women more than other women?

almost as if it were an escape for her too, to say that people must marry; people must have children

no one to arrange the flowers

Because the point is to pop out brats and play with dead plants. WHEE. God. Not to take anything away from motherhood - er, I'm sure it's great and all while having its downsides, as well - but not one single person alive today or any day will ever hear me say that it's the main or only thing women are here to do.

It was perfectly cooked. How did she manage these things in the depths of the country? [...] She was a wonderful woman.


The following are the insights I mentioned above. They come off less than original now, a century or some later, but maybe at the time the shine was still on 'em.

There was in Lily a thread of something; a flare of something; something of her own which Mrs Ramsay liked very much indeed, but no man would, she feared.

This is too true, unfortunately. Every kind of man - ugly or cute, witty or dull, articulate or facile, educated or otherwise - seems to want the same, one and only type of woman. It's really depressing. But dude, you can get over that. Go Lily, for not falling for Mrs Ramsay's dumbassed prodding.

'Pray heaven that the inside of my mind may not be exposed,' for each thought, 'The others are feeling this. They are outraged and indignant with the government about the fishermen. Whereas, I feel nothing at all.'

It reminds me of that part in Invisible Monsters, where the protagonist mentions how seeing articles about rape victims make her think how ugly they were, and also that she needs more headshots. The point is that 90% of people don't care about 90% of shit. Trufax.

The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one. (Never mind that the actual illumination was less than illuminatory. It's a good line.)

Some notion was in both of them about the ineffectiveness of action, the supremacy of thought.

Which is the point of this novel, in the end.

These are the books I've read (and mainly hated) this summer. If you've read any and would care to explain just what the hell happy button my copies came without, please do! Or come commiserate, one or the other.

Invisible Monsters
A Thousand Splendid Suns
Love in the Time of Cholera
Oscar and Lucinda
Breakfast at Tiffany's
Current Mood: nerdynerdy
Current Music: i guess we'll forget the noise, i guess, i guess (bodies of water)
jehnt: bones - sweetsjehnt on July 24th, 2008 11:07 pm (UTC)
My favorite thing Virginia Woolf ever wrote is this sentence from A Room of One's Own: "Biscuits and cheese came next, and here the water-jug was liberally passed round, for it is the nature of biscuits to be dry, and these were biscuits to the core." BISCUITS TO THE CORE. YES. I totally missed whatever grand point that book was trying to make because I was JUST THAT ENTERTAINED by that sentence.

I also find it fascinating that you think this book is anti-feminist (I've never read it, so I can't comment) because everything I've ever read of hers was presented as HI, HERE IS A VERY IMPORTANT FEMINIST THING.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: MCR: does not want your babiesscoradh on July 25th, 2008 07:50 pm (UTC)
That is the reliable thing about biscuits. I mean, they don't tend to spontaneously transmogrify into. Cheese. (Sadly there were no funny lines at all in Lighthouse. Believe me, I would have noticed.)

My ignorance is my shield! All I know about her is from two five-minute snippets of the Hours, wherein I learned: she was a) a lesbian (?) b) sad and c) totally incapable of brushing her hair. And I thought the 'don't just suppress women, squish them like grapes' theology was pounded out on every second page. But hey, not a Woolf scholar lol.
jehnt: sw - leiajehnt on July 26th, 2008 10:14 am (UTC)
Re: How's about I hate To the Lighthouse for you?
Haha, my main issue with "literary" fiction is how it is so rarely funny. Why can't we have meaning AND humor? *pouts*
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: fishscoradh on July 26th, 2008 06:58 pm (UTC)
Re: How's about I hate To the Lighthouse for you?

I reckon that's why Austen gets so hated on - because before anything else, she's feckin hilarious.
(Deleted comment)
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: blue bustierscoradh on August 9th, 2008 12:11 am (UTC)
In another work called "Three Guineas" she asserts that if women had more power than perhaps war, particularly the one she and her husband were living through, would possibly not be as much of an issue.

Oh, I agree. I reckon it's because women put so much effort into CREATING people, they hate to see it wasted.

I saw the film version of Orlando years ago, and while I didn't like it at the time, it really stuck with me. Haunting, you could say.

This is the only Woolf I've read and I went into it - as I did with all the classics on my Vow to Read list - knowing next to nothing about background or influences or so on. I make no apologies for this, because I believe it should be possible to read a book and formulate opinions on it without being told how.

Like I said, I was surprised that I ... not liked; appreciated it. It's pushing the envelope writing and out of my comfort zone. But it's all good. If you see any other books you've read on the list, feel free to contribute! I especially like to be told what I'm doing wrong when I hate classics or works of literary genius. ;D

dirtylaugh: stfudirtylaugh on July 24th, 2008 11:20 pm (UTC)
How's about I hate To the Lighthouse for you?
*gets hate on pathetic, needy, grovelling Mr Ramsay*
*likes Charles Tansley though*

I really enjoyed all the disturbingly explicit thoughts of the kids wanting to kill their father. Woolf has some serious daddy issues.

This book is why I hate it when people laud Woolf as a wonderful feminist icon. All A Room of One's Own meant was that she wanted money (£500 a year) and some alone time. She didn't really care about poor/uneducated women, damnit! Because she was part of an elite men's club and was lucky enough to be intelligent, she could stick two fingers up at society without really contemplating how working-class women were going to get their hands on any money at all, or time to just be.

< / rant>

Have you read Mrs Dalloway, andifso is it any good? Apparently it will make me not hate Woolf. Oh, and Katherine Mansfield does teh pretty much more coherently and succintly than Woolf, even if it is a bit less like epic poetry.

P.S. Lily's picture = WTF.
Pre-Op Cyborgagiel on July 25th, 2008 01:05 pm (UTC)
Re: How's about I hate To the Lighthouse for you?
You're right, Woolf never informs working-class women how to make money--but then, the book isn't "how to get rich quick." It's a reminder to all of us that perhaps the reason there are few working-class or female artists and "geniuses" is not because they're stupider or less talented. It is because it is not enough to be gifted. One must at the very least have time to practice one's craft.
I think Woolf is fantastic about issues of class.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: fishscoradh on July 25th, 2008 08:08 pm (UTC)
Re: How's about I hate To the Lighthouse for you?
I think Woolf is fantastic about issues of class.

I'd have to say: not in Lighthouse. Unless it's a subtle as Ian McEwan's talent for UST, ie, nearly invisible.
(Anonymous) on July 25th, 2008 11:59 pm (UTC)
Re: How's about I hate To the Lighthouse for you?
I think Woolf is fantastic about issues of class.
D'you mean in general, or particularly To the Lighthouse/A Room of One's Own?

From what I've read of her work and about her - which is not very much at all - she seems to recognise the class issues, but not really understand the extent of complications due to not being hindered by social restraints much herself. I think she was progressive in relation to her society - yay, Shakespeare's Sister - but for me, her feminist opinions feel like they're highly specific and not especially accomodating of certain women.

Have you read her other stuff? Watchoo think of that?
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: hipposcoradh on July 25th, 2008 07:57 pm (UTC)
feel free lol
(I have the Jesus LOL jokes stuck in mah head, okay, don't judge me.)

I think they were fine for her, but thanks for NOT EVER EXPLAINING WHY JAMES HAS THEM LOL. (no seriously, I'm ill.) Just to be controversial, methinks, also, didn't her mates publish Freud or something? INTERSECTION.

I haven't read anything else by her. Lighthouse doesn't make me terribly enthused about so doing, but I have a theory that you have to read at least two books by any author to get their true measure. When I do, you'll hear about it. In the meantime I have my other thirty-odd Vow books to be getting along with.

Edited at 2008-07-25 08:05 pm (UTC)