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.
NO HER COOK WAS ACTUALLY, DUMBASS.
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.
A Thousand Splendid Suns
Love in the Time of Cholera
Oscar and Lucinda
Breakfast at Tiffany's