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Posts Tagged ‘#Woolfalong’

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I have been looking forward to reading Flush for months, and I really wasn’t disappointed. Written in the period after Virginia Woolf had completed writing The Waves; which she had found so draining Flush, is a complete joy. Flush – for those who don’t know – is a biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s dog, a cocker spaniel that was her constant companion, both before and after her marriage to Robert Browning. The book is a combination of fiction and non-fiction, through which we meet the two nineteenth century poets, revealing something of the early years of their marriage.

flush2Although it appears so much lighter in tone than many of her other works, Flush does in fact consider social inequalities and the way that society treated and classified its women. Virginia Woolf employs her famous stream of consciousness style to explore women writers, through the point of view of a small, spoiled brown dog. Apparently Woolf drew her inspiration from the two poems that Elizabeth Barrett Browning published about her dog. What is amazingly well done, is how Woolf manages to convey a depth of feeling and understanding between Flush and his mistress – which anyone who has had any kind of relationship with a dog – maybe with any animal will find utterly charming. There has been a suggestion that Virginia Woolf uses this animal perspective, to explore the similarities between herself and Elizabeth Barrett. This is something Sally Beauman, in her preface to this Persephone edition, certainly asks the reader to consider as being the subtext to this book.

Flush was given to the invalid Elizabeth Barrett by Mary Russell Mitford, another spinster writer. At this period Elizabeth Barret was very much the invalid, subject to her father’s control, and Flush curls himself up at the feet of his new mistress and in doing so becomes as confined to the house as she already is.

“Oh Flush!” said Miss Barrett. For the first time she looked him in the face. For the first time Flush looked at the lady lying on the sofa.
Each was surprised. Heavy curls hung down on either side of Miss Barrett’s face; large bright eyes shone out; a large mouth smiled. Heavy ears hung down on each side of Miss Flush’s face; his eyes, too, were large and bright: his mouth was wide. There was a likeness between them. As they gazed at each other each felt: Here I am—and then each felt: But how different! Hers was the pale worn face of an invalid, cut off from air, light, freedom. His was the warm ruddy face of a young animal; instinct with health and energy. Broken asunder, yet made in the same mould, could it be that each completed what was dormant in the other? She might have been—all that; and he—But no. Between them lay the widest gulf that can separate one being from another. She spoke. He was dumb. She was woman; he was dog. Thus closely united, thus immensely divided, they gazed at each other. Then with one bound Flush sprang to the sofa and laid himself to where he was to lie ever after—on the rug at Miss Barrett’s feet.”

In puppyhood in the Mitford home, Flush had had fields and space to run in, but in Wimpole Street at the feet of Elizabeth Barrett he becomes a pampered little pooch, who finishes the rich foods that Miss Barrett can’t manage. Flush’s comfortable incarceration in Wimpole Street mirror Elizabeth Barrett’s own. Enter Robert Browning, initially in frequent letters arriving at Wimpole Street. Flush can sense as each letter arrives the change that is coming to the house, and that of his mistress’s demeanour. As Robert Browning becomes a more fixed presence. Visiting in secret more and more often, the relationship between Flush and his adored Miss Barrett begins to change. Flush resents the figure of Robert Browning so much he resorts to showing his teeth.

“Sleep became impossible while that man was there. Flush lay with his eyes wide open, listening. Though he could make no sense of the little worlds that hurled over his head from two-thirty to four-thirty sometimes three times a week, he could detect with terrible accuracy that the tone of the words was changing. Miss Barrett’s voice had been forced and unnaturally lively at first. Now it had gained a warmth and an ease that he had never heard in it before. And every time the man came, some new sound came into their voices –made grotesque chattering; now they skimmed over him like birds flying widely; now they cooed and clucked, as if they were two birds settled in a nest; and then Miss Barrett’s voice rising again, went soaring and circling in the air; and then Mr Browning’s voice barked out its sharp, harsh clapper of laughter; and then there was only a murmur, a quiet humming sound as the voices joined together.”

As the relationship with Robert Browning develops Elizabeth Barrett finds strength she didn’t have before, her health improves, and on an excursion to a nearby shop, she loses sight of Flush for a second. Flush is kidnapped, held for ransom by a criminal gang. ebband flushHolding the spoilt, pets of fine ladies was a lucrative, and disgusting enterprise for these gangs at this time, and none of the men in Elizabeth Barret’s life to whom she appealed for help, thought the ransom should be paid. In the placing of the streets where these gangs operate so close to Wimpole Street, Woolf contrasts two very different sections of nineteenth century London. This interest in various sections of society is certainly something we have seen before. Bravely, and with steely determination Elizabeth Barrett takes matters into her own hands to secure Flush’s freedom. Again we have mirroring, in Flush’s freedom and Elizabeth Barrett’s. Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning elope, and upon their marriage travel to Italy – where they will live in exile as it were, following Elizabeth’s dis-inheritance by her furious father. Here – but for a short trip back to London a few years later, Flush lives for the rest of his life, again tasting something of the freedom he had known as a young pup on the streets of Italy.

It is probably a given that Flush is beautifully written, it is lighter in tone, more accessible than some Woolf works no doubt, but there is surprising depth of emotion too. Flush is an absolute joy of a book, I wanted it to be far longer than it was. The Brownings are a fascinating couple, and somehow viewed through the eyes of this darling little dog they become more real, more human, than biographies often are able to make their subjects.

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July is just days away, and on July 1st phase 4 of #Woolfalong will begin.
Although June still has three days to go I am posting my round up of #Woolfalong phase 3 now, if I have missed anyone in my round up please shout and I will edit you in.

Phase 3 was all about the short stories of Virginia Woolf – I had intended to read them all, but I didn’t quite manage it. I read two collections; Mrs Dalloway’s Party and Monday or Tuesday, and I have the remaining stories in the collected shorter fiction, but they will have to wait for another day.

Virginia woolf2Some of Virginia Woolf’s short stories read very experimentally, they seem to have been writing exercises for Virginia Woolf as she explored her talent. The second collection I read Monday or Tuesday was the earliest, first published in 1921. These stories are very modernist, experimental and the title of the only collection she published herself comes from her work ‘Modern Fiction’ in which she explains her new approach to writing, of which she said:

“Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day. The mind receives a myriad impressions—trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel. From all sides they come, an incessant shower of innumerable atoms; and as they fall, as they shape themselves into the life of Monday or Tuesday..”

(Virginia Woolf: Modern Fiction).

The first volume I read, and the one I liked the best – was ‘Mrs Dalloway’s Party’, the pieces it contains were originally written in the period between writing ‘Jacobs Room’ (1922) and ‘To the Lighthouse’ (1927). ‘Mrs Dalloway’ itself was of course also written during this period, and these stories show Woolf’s continuing fascination with that character, and particularly with the that social minefield – the society party.

lovely that I still have a lot of Woolf-a-long-ers with me at half way through the year – I have enjoyed reading everyone’s comments, blog posts and tweets – thank you all for sticking with me.

Mary from Twitter – read The Mark on the Wall collection from Oxford World Classics, which contains some of the stories I read. She rated it five stars.Ms Arachne also from Twitter read A Haunted House and other stories  which she said  ‘was an enjoyable read & piqued my imagination’.

Ravenscroftcloud reviewed Monday or Tuesday in May, and revealed that they hope to go back to Night and Day (phase 2) at some point, I hope they do, I loved it.

Lisa from Bluestalking Journal began reading the Complete Shorter fiction

Liz read Mrs Dalloway’s party and Kew Gardens, a story included in Monday or Tuesday and in the complete shorter fiction. David also read Mrs Dalloway’s Party, to which he made the musical comparison, of it being like listening to offcuts of a familiar album. Caroline from Bookword wrote a wonderful piece about Mrs Dalloway in Bond Street, the first story in the Mrs Dalloway’s Party collection.

Karen at Kaggsy’s bookish ramblings posted some links to her own reading of Virginia Woolf short stories.

So phase four begins in a few days, for those who need reminding my focus will then switch to biography. So any biography written about Virginia Woolf will count as will Virginia Woolf’s own two biographies: Orlando and Flush. I read Orlando last year – and it was that which started me on my Woolf journey – it blew my mind, a love letter to Vita Sackville West, a fantastical romp through four hundred years – it could only have been written by one woman. I am intending to read a slim little biography written by Nigel Nicolson (Vita’s son) which I read before many moons ago, and Flush – I have the gorgeous Persephone edition naturally. Any other biographical works of which there must be dozens would also be appropriate.

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monday or tuesday

My latest #Woolfalong read for phase three, was Monday or Tuesday, a collection of short stories which was published during Woolf’s lifetime. So many other collections – like Mrs Dalloway’s Party which I read last month were put together after her death. I enjoyed this collection, although not quite as much as the aforementioned Mrs Dalloway’s Party – but I already know that writing about this slim little collection will be a challenge, which I won’t even attempt to do in any great detail or depth.

These stories are all generally pretty short, some just a couple of pages, they are impressionistic, and at times feel rather experimental. A few of the stories I read twice, captivated by the imagery, appreciative of the delicious prose, I found myself bemused occasionally asking myself ‘well what did she mean by that then?’ Searching for meaning particularly in the two very short pieces, which are over almost as soon as they have begun; Monday or Tuesday and Blue and Green. Woolf’s powers of observation and description are certainly what stand out from these eight stories, as ever her prose is simply wonderful.

The collection opens with A Haunted House, in which the ghostly presence of the past rub shoulders with the living inhabitants. The ghostly couple roam the house, reminiscing their past, while the residents of the house sleep. I adored the descriptions of the silent house, the feeling of the past presence which still exists there.

A Society is a brilliant satire. A group of women form a society in which they gather to think and discuss the contribution made by men in the arts and sciences in which they have always dominated. The women swear to not marry or have children until they have discovered for themselves what it is the men have been doing all these years. Had the sacrifice made by generations of women caring for men, bearing their children been worth it? The women; each taking a different element for investigation go their separate ways. We see the women come together again after a period of five years, in the intervening years a few have got married and had children after all. They make their reports – though don’t seem to come to any conclusions, except that their girl children must be made to believe in themselves, and so in time the mantle is passed to the next generation.

“’Oh Cassandra why do you torment me? Don’t you know that our belief in man’s intellect is the greatest fallacy of them all?”
“What?” I exclaimed. “Ask any journalist, schoolmaster, politician or public house keeper in the land and they will all tell you that men are much cleverer than women.”
“As if I doubted it,” she said scornfully. “How could they help it? Haven’t we bred them and fed and kept them in comfort since the beginning of time so that they may be clever even if they’re nothing else? It’s all our doing!” she cried.”
(from A Society)

heronMonday or Tuesday – the title story, is a beautifully rendered piece of modernist experimental writing. It is slightly less than two pages long – and describes the flight of a heron above the teeming life of towns and cities below. There are some lovely contrasts between the freedom of the heron in flight and the restrictions of life below, the striking of a clock a reminder of the tyranny which time has upon our lives. The writing is simply beautiful, there is an exquisite sense of all aspects of life coming together over the course of a day.

“Lazy and indifferent, shaking space easily from his wings, knowing his way, the heron passes over the church beneath the sky. White and distant, absorbed in itself, endlessly the sky covers and uncovers, moves and remains. A lake? Blot the shores of it out! A mountain? Oh, perfect – the sun gold on its slopes. Down that falls. Ferns then, or white feathers, for ever and ever…”
(From Monday or Tuesday)

In An unwritten novel a woman on a train, glances up at the face of the woman sat opposite her. It is a small, insignificant moment, but one Virginia Woolf expands on brilliantly. She sees something in that face, and imagines a whole life, a whole world for her travelling companion. The women do exchange a few words, and our narrator learns a little more about the woman, and from that builds a whole story in her imagination. The unwritten novel of the title – the possible story of this woman’s life.

“Such an expression of unhappiness was enough by itself to make one’s eyes slide above the paper’s edge to the poor woman’s face—insignificant without that look, almost a symbol of human destiny with it. Life’s what you see in people’s eyes; life’s what they learn, and, having learnt it, never, though they seek to hide it, cease to be aware of—what? That life’s like that.”
(From An Unwritten Novel)

In The String Quartet Virginia Woolf represents in prose the music of Mozart’s string quartet. Our narrator attends a performance of the string quartet, and we see and hear her thoughts and observations, and with her overhear snatches of conversation at the concert.

Blue and Green is just two paragraphs long. One paragraph dedicated to blue and one to green. There is no narrative, but again Virginia Woolf flexes her descriptive muscles.

Kew Gardens takes us to the flower boarders of that famous botanical garden. The story alternates between descriptions of a flower bed – including an examination of a snail, to the conversations between several couples walking in the gardens.

Aspects of the final story The Mark on the Wall reminded me of The Unwritten novel, like that story, our narrator’s flits about over various possibilities. Her attention is drawn to a mark on the wall, a mark she hadn’t notice before. In her mind she contemplates how the mark could have got there, inventing, imagining, allowing her thoughts to roam from one explanation to another as each idea sparks off another. Of course Virginia Woolf is particularly good at this kind of perspective.

In these stories, which Virginia Woolf wrote as a distraction at the same period that she was writing Night and Day her second novel, she examines the ordinary everyday moment, the ordinary mind and the impressions it receives.

(for those of you counting – book 2 of #20booksofsummer)

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mrsDallowaysparty

Personally I’m never very sure about parties – I often like the idea of them and then as the day comes closer I start to worry. What to wear? – who will be there that I know? should I drink? – or not risk making an idiot of myself, stick to soft drinks? Parties that have been anticipated so eagerly can often turn out to be disappointing and those dreaded for weeks unexpectedly wonderful evenings. Therefore I found myself particularly sympathetic with the poor souls whose vulnerabilities and anxieties are exposed by an invitation by Mrs Dalloway.

Mrs Dalloway’s Party is a short story sequence which was written in the same period as Virginia Woolf’s classic novel Mrs Dalloway. The opening story Mrs Dalloway in Bond Street was originally intended as the first chapter of that novel. Each of these stories illustrates beautifully Virginia Woolf’s fascination with parties and the raft of emotions and difficulties such occasions may bring. In these stories Woolf shines a light on the society in which she had grown up – in her portrayal of the guests that attend Mrs Dalloway’s party Woolf presents us with the stories and voices of that society. In these stories Mrs Dalloway’s guests often appear isolated from the rest of the guests, middle aged, and upper middle class women anxious about their appearance, the antecedents of other guests, or their own reception by others at the party. Clarissa Dalloway, the indomitable hostess does her best to draw them out, introducing them to each other. Yet each of them has their own worries and concerns, so those who Clarissa tries to pair off – seem incapable of taking advantage of the chance she gives them.

“Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the gloves herself. Big Ben was striking as she stepped out into the street. It was eleven o’clock and the unused hour was fresh as if issued to children on a beach. But there was something solemn in the deliberate swing of the repeated strokes; something stirring in the murmur of the wheels and the shuffle of footsteps.”
(from Mrs Dalloway in Bond Street)

So starts Mrs Dalloway in Bond street – and of course we instantly recall the opening of Mrs Dalloway. It is the morning of Clarissa’s party – and she has gloves to buy – her quest takes her to Bond Street. Just as we do at the start of Mrs Dalloway, here too we feel the hubbub of people and passing traffic, we experience that morning in June through the eyes of several people, a young man notices Mrs Dalloway with her strangely white hair and her pink cheeks, and Mrs Dalloway runs into High Whitbread who she remembers being so like one’s brother when he was at Oxford. Inspired by seeing Hugh Clarissa’s thoughts turn to Milly, who Hugh married reflecting that Milly and she must be about the same age. As she walks, Mrs Dalloway thinks about ageing, votes for woman and Cranford, the Queen and even Shakespeare – Clarissa enjoys walking in London – letting her thoughts flow as they will. The gloves are purchased and as the shop assistant apologises for the quality – remarking how gloves have not been the same since the war – Mrs Dalloway considers how so much has been sacrificed by young men so that things should carry on as normal.

While Mrs Dalloway is the main focus of this first story – she is more of a bit player in the following six stories in which the focus switches to her guests at the party.

Two stories; The Man who loved his Kind and Introduction concern the impressions of a lone guest at the party, their views of their fellow guests, their feelings about the party they are attending. Prickett Ellis compares the chattering idle spoilt people he sees around him to the decent people whose case he has been fighting in court, who spent £5 of their hard won sum of money on a clock for him in gratitude of all he had done. He meets Miss O’Keefe who demands he get her an ice – she tries to talk to him about The Tempest, about poetry, with little success and instead Prickett Ellis tells her about his work and the places it had taken him to that day. Lily Everit meanwhile sees Mrs Dalloway coming towards her – it is Lily’s first party and she realises that her hostess will want to draw her out into the room. However Lily has her own small secret success that she hugs to herself as the party goes on around her. That morning her professor had praised her essay – marked it with three red stars as first rate!

“Lily Everit saw Mrs Dalloway bearing down on her from the other side of the room, and could have prayed her not to come and disturb her; and yet, as Mrs Dalloway approached with her right hand raised and a smile which Lily knew (though this was her first party) meant: ‘But you’ve got to come out of your corner and talk,’ a smile at once benevolent and drastic. She felt the strangest mixture of excitement and fear, of desire to be left alone and of longing to be taken out and thrown into the boiling depths.”
(from The Introduction)

Virginia-woolf-Mrs Vallance in Ancestors can only see those around her as a bright, chattering crowd, these people don’t live up to her expectation of society as it once was. She contrasts Clarissa’s guests with her own family in Scotland – people now dead – who had truly known and understood her. Mrs Dalloway does her best to bring together two of her guests – in Together Apart, Miss Anning and Mr Serle can only really relate to one another within the context of the party they are both attending – after which they will part and continue their separate existences. Mabel who we meet in The New Dress had hoped her new yellow silk dress will be a success or a least not embarrass her. Yet the poor woman realises as soon as she takes off the cloak she has worn for twenty years that it is a mistake. I really felt for Mabel – haven’t we all taken our coat off and instantly regretted our choice of attire (ok just me then). Mabel comes to see the absurdity in worrying what others think – I loved her for that.

“And now the whole thing had vanished. The dress, the room, the love, the pity, the scrolloping looking-glass, and the canary’s cage – all had vanished, and here she was in a corner of Mrs Dalloway’s drawing-room suffering tortures, woken wide awake to realtiy.
But it was all so paltry, weak-bloodied, and petty-minded to care so much at her age with two children, to be still so utterly dependent on people’s opinions and not have principles or convictions, not to be able to say as other people did, ‘There’s Shakespeare! There’s death! We’re all weevils in a captain’s biscuit’ – or whatever it was that people did say.”
(from The New Dress)

A Summing Up – is perfectly titled – as it seems to do just that. Sasha Latham is led outside by Mr Bertram Pritchard as the room inside had grown so hot. Here Mrs Latham reflects on Mrs Dalloway’s party and her social achievement. She contrasts the country where she lives to London with its pubs, backstreets and the sudden country scents of Mrs Dalloway’s back garden.

I loved every bit of this tiny little collection – which is far too short in my opinion. It has a much lighter feel than Mrs Dalloway – but the prose is exquisite. In this sequence Woolf examines the psychology of the party creating a sense of shared consciousness.

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April seemed to fly by – probably because the first week of it I was on holiday from work and wasn’t really thinking about what day it was. Suddenly it is May although the weather seems somewhat confused. I felt as though I had read a lot in April – but in fact it was a fairly average month – 10 books read during April.

Mary Hocking reading week began on April 3rd and I began April with my second Mary Hocking book for that reading week. Checkmate, a novel set in a small community in Cornwall, to where a stranger brings change and unearths a long held secret. Despite the Falling Snow was a review copy I had been sent – and if I am honest I had misunderstood the kind of book it was – there is nothing wrong with it really, it is just not my usual type of read. I actually enjoyed it more than I expected to as it tells a really good story. The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson was a book I had expected to like more than I did, beautifully written and brilliantly imagined it is a fictional re-telling of the Pendle witch trials. Winterson herself explains how her story is not historically accurate – but it wasn’t that that bothered me. The novel is very dark shot through with magic and the occult as well as the violence towards women and girls prevalent at the time. The whole made for uncomfortable reading.

The 1938 club hosted by Karen at Kaggsy’s bookish ramblings and Simon at Stuck in a book – saw loads of people across blogosphere reading books first published in that year. I read three books for the 1938 club – The Squire by Enid Bagnold, Young Man with a Horn by Dorothy Baker and Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie. My favourite of those three excellent books was The Squire – which it seems is a book which divides people. I was surprised how much I loved it – I had thought all that mumsie stuff would irritate me to death – instead I found it all rather lovely and beautifully written.

Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf – her final posthumously published novel was my most recent read for phase 2 of #Woolfalong. While it won’t be my favourite Woolf – I was captivated by the exquisite writing and the fantastic sense of place. I am continually finding more to love about Virginia Woolf’s writing. Greengates by R C Sherriff a novel re-issued by the lovely Persephone books was certainly one of my favourite books in April, a novel about retirement and houses – it demonstrates how good Sherriff was at writing about ordinary people – those of you who enjoyed A Fortnight in September would definitely like it.

Next I turned my attention to Constance Fenimore Woolson, a nineteenth century American writer who I hadn’t heard of until quite recently. I decided to read a new collection of her short stories Miss Grief and other stories edited by Anne Boyd Rioux alongside the biography about her life, work and friendship with Henry James written by Anne Boyd Rioux who is doing great work to bring CFW to a new audience. I loved those short stories – another of my highlights of the month and the biography  Constance Fenimore Woolson: portrait of a Lady Novelist, is brilliantly compelling and fascinating – I hope to review it very soon.

2016-05-01_11.52.11May sees the start of Phase 3 of #Woolfalong – short stories – I have bought three collections – which I now realise contain some of the same stories – I want to read at least two collections by the end of June. I generally do love short stories and have a ridiculous number of collections tbr – so Virginia Woolf’s stories appeal to me greatly. I hope I am not disappointed.

My very small book group (which is becoming my only book group as I haven’t fancied the choices of my other group for some time) will be reading The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante – I can’t wait for that – it was my suggestion.

2016-05-01_11.45.25I have three lovely looking review copies that I want to read this month; He Runs the Moon a collection of short stories by Wendy Brandmark, The Testament of Vida Tremayne by Sarah Vincent, and Summer an anthology of extracts and writing about Summer edited by Melissa Harrison. Considering how fickle I can be about what I read when – there is no guarantee that I will get to them all this month.

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Virginia woolf2

Goodness how time flies. Suddenly it is almost May and phase two of #Woolfalong is drawing to a close.

The idea for March and April was to read one or more of: The Voyage Out, Night and Day (Virginia Woolf’s first and second novels) or Between the Acts which was her final novel.

2016-02-28_23.12.30Having read The Voyage Out last year, I read Night and Day in March, probably Virginia Woolf’s most conventional novel, and also her longest. The novel examines relationships within marriage and asks whether love and marriage can co-exist. The novel contrasts the daily lives of the central characters in the novel. I loved it – it is just so wonderfully evocative of a time and place.

In April I read Between the Acts – Woolf’s final novel published after her death without the revisions she would have undoubtedly have made. It is a novel which heralds the coming of the war which was already raging when V W was writing. Although it won’t be my favourite novel by Virginia Woolf – it is beautifully written and so evocative again of a time and place.
There have been other people reading for phase two – and I’ll do my best to include them all here.

On Twitter Eleanor who blogs at Lit Nerd informs me she has been loving The Voyage Out, Caroline from Bookword also read The V oyage Out, which was a re-read for Caroline. While Jamie from These Infinitely Obscure Lives chose The Voyage out for her very first ever book review on her new blog. Phillipa also from Twitter has read both The Voyage Out and Between the Acts. Phillipa says it has been fascinating to read Woolf’s first and final novels. Brona has also been reading The Voyage Out – and I look forward to her thoughts. Margaret from Booksplease says she will need some time to get her thoughts together before writing about The Voyage Out. David from David’s Book World has posted his thoughts on his reading of The Voyage Out.

Like me Audrey from Books as food loved reading Night and Day a novel she says reminded her of Jane Austen.

Anneontheshelf – from Twitter was thoroughly engaged by Night and Day and also went on to Between the Acts. Liz has finished April reading Between the Acts which I am sure she will review soon, and intends to go on to read Night and Day soon.

Sarah from Hard Book Habit read Between the Acts which she says gave her much to chew on. I definitely agree with that. Karen from Kaggsy’s bookish Ramblings re-read Between the Acts she calls the prose, wonderful, vibrant and musical. Another blogger who reviewed Between the Acts was O from Behold the Stars.

Thank you everyone who has kept me company with Phase 2  – if I have missed anyone please let me know. I realy hope some of you will be back to join in Phase 3.

Phase three of #Woolfalong is just days away. The theme short stories – any collection or even just one or two single stories. I aim to read two collections.  Happy Woolfing.

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Giveaway results

My giveaway for the OUP editions of Orlando and Flush and a small hardback edition of Woolf’s story Kew Gardens closed on Monday night. The winners are as follows.

Orlando has been won by Margaret of Books Please

Flush has been won by Cathy at 746books

and Liz from Adventures in reading, writing and working from home – has won that lovely little copy of Kew Gardens.

All the winners have already been notified and the books will be winging their way to their new homes in the next few days.

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Between the Acts was Virginia Woolf’s final novel – published posthumously – it is a novel which remains as she left it when she took her own life in 1941. We will never know what revisions and alterations she might have made.

Taking place on one English summer day in 1939, Between the Acts perfectly re-creates a long June day before the war changes everything for the comfortable upper classes. The war looms large throughout the novel, Virginia Woolf of course writing the book after hostilities had begun – it is clear she was very affected by it. Throughout the novel there are illusions to the coming war. We are reminded of flight by the swallows in the skies above the characters who muse about what may be ahead – the legions of aircraft which will soon take to the skies. Vague references made to the unsettled continent lying a few miles across the channel.

It is the day of the annual village pageant at Pointz Hall – which has become quite a local tradition. In typical British fashion on such occasions there is some discussion about the weather – and will the barn need to be used. The day starts well, the weather looks like being fine. The pageant; attended by all sections of the community, the grand and not so grand – is a grand celebration of English history, a play within a play.

The Oliver family; Isa, Giles and their young children, are staying with Giles’ father Bartholomew Oliver and his sister Lucy Swithin at Pointz Hall. Around the Olivers gather a disparate group of characters through whom we witness the comings and goings of the day, as Woolf weaves together their various musings and concerns.

“Miss La Trobe was pacing to and fro between the leaning birch trees. One hand was deep stuck in her jacket pocket; the other held a foolscap sheet. She was reading what was written there. She had the look of a commander pacing his deck. The leaning graceful trees with black bracelets circling the silver bark were distant about a ship’s length.”

Miss La Trobe organises and directs the players in the pageant to raise money for the local church. Miss La Trobe feels herself to be an artist – an unappreciated one, though she still dreams of the success which has eluded her. Miss La Trobe, so often smirked at behind her back, is continually frustrated in her vision of what she wants to present to the audience – with speakers lines getting lost, nothing quite living up to her idea of it, she seems unable to present her vision to her audience as she wished to. It is suggested that Miss La Trobe has a past; was herself an actress, sharing a bed with another actress.

Isa has noticed Haines a local, gentleman farmer, a man she convinces herself she has feelings for, though they do no more than exchange glances. Isa has lost interest in her husband – she attempts to find affection for him by remembering he is the father of her two children. Yet later when Mrs Manresa and her friend William Dodge arrive – Isa is irritated by her husband’s apparent interest in this vibrant, unconventional free spirit.

“She tapped on the window with her embossed hairbrush. They were too far off to hear. The drone of the trees was in their ears; the chirp of birds; other incidents of garden life, inaudible, invisible to her in the bedroom, absorbed them. Isolated on a green island, hedged about with snowdrops, laid with a counterpane of puckered silk, the innocent island floated under her window. Only George lagged behind.”

Between the acts of the pageant the audience – the Olivers among them – continue with their own preoccupations. Isa wanders through the grounds looking for her gentleman farmer, Giles who generally seems ill at ease – even angry spends much of the time with Mrs Manresa. It is Giles who seems particularly aware of the gathering storm from the continent. William Dodge; meanwhile finds some understanding in Isa – although her husband is quick to show his dislike for the man who it is suggested is homosexual.

“Suppose the looking glass smashes, the image disappears, and the romantic figure with the green of forest depths all about it is there no longer, but only that shell of a person which is seen by other people – what an airless, shallow, bald, prominent world it becomes! A world not to be lived in. As we face each other in omnibuses and underground railways we are looking into the mirror that accounts for the vagueness, the gleam of glassiness, in our eyes.”

The pageant presents the audience with a wonderful vision of England; Shakespearean scenes give way to restoration comedy a Victorian scene based around a policeman directing traffic. The final scene called ‘Ourselves’ the audience get an unexpected surprise as Miss La Trobe rather turns the tables and shows them themselves.

Virginia Woolf’s writing is as evocative in Between the Acts as I have come to expect – the scene is one so typically English – it beautifully highlights how for so many people that summer of 1939 was a time of innocence before great change came to Europe.

Reading Between the Acts – one can’t help but wonder what else Virginia Woolf might have produced had not her life ended when it did – but perhaps it there is no point thinking like that.

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#Woolfalong giveaway

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I have been waiting for months to do this – and really wasn’t sure when would be a good time. Well now seems as good a time as any.

#Woolfalong participants might be aware that Phase 2 of #Woolfalong ends in a couple of weeks. During May/June – Phase 3 of #Woolfalong the theme will be short stories – and during July/August Phase 4 the theme is biography. More about all of that on my #Woolfalong page.

2016-04-19_20.50.05(A very big thank you to OUP for donating these lovely editions)

Back in January when someone at Oxford University Press heard about the project I received an email offering me some books. How lovely, the Oxford Classics are real beauties – so I gladly accepted some for myself and a couple for you too. So thanks to the generosity of OUP I have a copy of Flush and a copy of Orlando to give away – which can be read for phase 4 (or sooner if you really can’t wait).

kewgardens

Phase 3 of #Woolfalong comes next – short stories – and for that I have one rather pretty gift edition of Kew Gardens (1919) courtesy of… well me. I saw it and couldn’t resist. The slim little volume contains one short story – produced by Kew publishing it also contains simple black and white illustrations. It will make a perfect little gift – for either yourself or someone else.  2016-04-19_20.24.28
If you would like to win one of these three giveaway editions – please leave a comment telling me what your favourite read for #Woolfalong has been – or what you are particularly looking forward to reading if you haven’t had chance to join in yet. Don’t forget to tell me which book you would like. If you are happy to win any of the three then you have three chances to win. I shall close the giveaway on Monday evening (25th April) – and draw the three names using Random.org.

Good luck everyone.

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night and day

“I’ve seen more trouble come from long engagements than from any other forms of human folly.”

Night and Day – Virginia Woolf’s second novel is a social comedy and a love story but also a subtle examination of women’s roles. The narrative, like that of The Voyage Out – which I read last year – is much more conventional than her later modernist novels To the Lighthouse, and Mrs Dalloway that I read in January. Although a little over four hundred pages it is a novel with a very simple plot – it is however, the complex, changing relationships between the central characters, which give the novel its depth. I enjoyed it enormously – it isn’t a difficult read, and these were characters I liked spending time with.

Night and Day is a slightly longer novel than I associate with Woolf, I confess on a busy tiring week it took me the whole week to read. The prose is less poetic than To the Lighthouse for example and Orlando which I read last year. The structure of the novel and the narrative are tighter – more so even, I think than her first novel, which had a more meandering quality at times. Woolf uses several recurring motifs throughout the novel, the sky, stars the River Thames and walking – especially through London recur time and again. Women’s suffrage and the question of whether love and marriage can co-exist are explored in this novel through the fortunes of four main characters. Set in the very early twentieth century before or around the First World War – this is a society on the brink of change – Victorian attitudes still abound in many quarters – while a younger generation look toward the future. It has been suggested that Woolf’s fragile mental state during this period can account for her not making any reference to the wider political world, or the war – the reports of which had severely traumatised her.

Katharine Hilbery is beautiful and privileged, her family one of the foremost in the country – her mother the daughter of a famous poet. Uncertain of her future, frequently restless, Katharine must choose between two men. The first; William Rodney is a poet and dramatist; he is attracted to Katharine fascinated by the stories of her grandfather. Margaret – Katharine’s mother spends much of her time trying to organise documents and her own recollections of her famous unconventional father into a biography. Mrs Hilbery counts on Katharine’s help, and Katharine quietly submits to helping her mother.

William Rodney seems the obvious choice – he is certainly more of Katharine’s class. At the tea party which is in full swing as the novel opens, Ralph Denham is captivated by Katharine of whom he says to himself when alone following their first meeting;

“She’ll do …Yes, Katharine Hilbery’ll do… I’ll take Katharine Hilbery.”

Ralph is a middle class lawyer – obliged to earn his living – he must also support his mother and several younger siblings. Contributing the occasional article for Katharine’s father’s journal, Ralph has vague aspirations to living in a cottage and writing a history book. From the moment Ralph leaves the Hilbery house in Cheyne Walk after that tea party he is in pursuit of Katharine.

Mary Datchet is the daughter of a country vicar – living independently in London Mary chooses to work rather than having to. Mary works for an organisation campaigning for Women’s suffrage. In her office – realistically portrayed by Woolf – we meet Mr Clacton and Sally Seal who Mary works alongside. Mary is a friend of both Katharine and Ralph, frequently the person they each, separately run to confide in over tea in her rooms. Mary falls in love with Ralph, dreams of a future with him in the country cottage he sometimes speaks of, but when Ralph does recklessly propose (frustrated in his own romantic hopes) Mary senses his insincerity – and backs away. Mary was definitely my personal favourite of the characters – I would have liked to have much more of her in the novel.

Unsurprisingly Katharine does become engaged to William Rodney. Katharine is not always convinced of the need of marriage – she is less shocked than others by news of a cousin living with a woman out of wedlock. It is Katharine who first has doubts – but shocked by William’s distress when she begins to talk to him – she allows the engagement to stand. There remains a coolness between the couple, and when it seems their marriage must be delayed for several months – neither of them seems very concerned.

“…to be engaged to marry someone with whom you are not in love is an inevitable step in a world where the existence of passion is only a traveller’s story brought from the heart of deep forests and told so rarely that wise people doubt whether the story can be true.”

William believes that it is only with marriage that a woman’s existence can be truly validated; he rather resents any signs of Katharine’s independence. During the Christmas holidays, spent at the country home of Katharine’s relatives William had met Cassandra Otway – a cousin of Katharine’s – Cassandra is very representative of Victorian womanhood – a good sweet kind of girl, she’s not as clever as Katharine; who studies mathematics in secret. Now back in London, William begins to wonder what his own feelings are after all. Katharine, Ralph and Mary each represent the changing attitudes, new ideas and modernism.

“Why, she reflected, should there be this perpetual disparity between the thought and the action, between the life of solitude and the life of society, this astonishing precipice on one side of which the soul was active and broad daylight, on the other side of which it was contemplative and dark as night? Was it not possible to step from one to the other, erect, and without essential change? Was this not the chance he offered her – the rare and wonderful chance of friendship.”

Ralph sees Katharine from time to time, discouraged by her engagement, feeling she will soon be lost to him forever; Ralph takes to following Katharine through the streets – standing outside her home hoping to catch a glimpse. This all makes Ralph sound rather more sinister – he isn’t – though he is an intense young man, a man of ideas, and frustrations, he sits brooding in his room at the top of his family home with a tame rook for company – gazing out over London from his window.

As other people may be reading this for phase two of #Woolfalong in the next few weeks I’ll stop short of saying anything about the ending. Night and Day is very beautifully written, the characters fully fleshed out, it’s probably Woolf’s most conventional novel, as well as her longest, and so I have read somewhere, the one she came to like least. I liked it very much indeed. In a way Night and Day is one of those perfect English novels, although it might not be the kind of novel we associate with Virginia Woolf.

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I know some people are still reading – but I didn’t want to wait until the very last day of February to post this little round up of the first phase of #Woolfalong. Please feel free to come back and drop any links to reviews that I might have missed/or aren’t up yet in the comments box. I have tried to keep up with everyone as best as I can. I know not everyone who has been reading along with me are bloggers – but they have been able to join in the conversation using the #Woolfalong on Twitter.

Virginia woolf2My intention of starting #Woolfalong with To the Lighthouse and/or Mrs Dalloway was to explore two of Virginia Woolf’s best known, possibly best loved novels. Many readers will have chosen to read one or the other, I decided to read (strictly speaking re-read) both. I am so glad I did – my experience of both novels was vastly superior to my first reading of them. If I had to choose one over the other I would pick To the Lighthouse as the one I liked the most – but really both were wonderful reading experiences. They require a little effort from the reader of course, but I believe it is effort which is well rewarded.

Both To the Lighthouse and Mrs Dalloway are modernist novels written in a stream of consciousness, told through shifting perspectives and published only a couple of years apart.

Each novel naturally has its own themes and it isn’t my intention to try and compare the novels in any depth. However, to my mind there are a few similarities in the two novels. Mrs Ramsay (To the Lighthouse) and Mrs Dalloway – central figures in their respective worlds, middle aged, mothers, though Mrs Ramsay seems a more passive woman than Clarissa Dalloway. Each of these women have a powerful effect on the people around them.

The passage of time and reminiscence play a part in both novels – that sense of time passing I felt was particularly strong in To the Lighthouse, while in Mrs Dalloway the central characters seem forever looking back, remembering or haunted in some way by times past.

lighthouseTo the Lighthouse is an elegy to Virginia Woolf’s parents – and presumably her childhood. The novel itself is about a marriage, childhood, parentage, reminiscence and grief, the tone is elegiac, poetic, characters perceptions are at the forefront of everything in the exploration of complex relationships.

For me, despite that hot day in June, Mrs Dalloway feels altogether darker, due perhaps to the presence throughout the novel of the inevitability of death and its other themes of mental illness and (due to the context of the times) repressed homosexuality.

Overall reading both these novels has got my #Woolfalong campaign off to a great start. I have enjoyed seeing other readers thoughts – and so I include some links below to reviews I have spotted, Apologies if I have missed any – if you make me aware of them I will edit them in, when I have a chance. Please hop through to the reviews below – they are all well worth reading.

Max,  David Liz  Grant and Leah read Mrs Dalloway  Rachel, listened to Mrs Dalloway on audio book while Val read Mrs Dalloway’s Party – which I hope to read during the short story phase. Caroline at Bookword pointed me in the direction of her Mrs Dalloway review from last summer. Karen at Bookertalk has just posted her review of Mrs Dalloway and you can read it here. I’ll let you read their reviews for yourself to appreciate their diifering experiences and thoughts.

Several non-blogging readers on other social media platforms joined me in reading To the Lighthouse – including some friends of mine who make up a small but very lovely monthly bookgroup. Helen at She Reads Novels and Caroline at Bookword posted their reviews in January. Julie posted her review on Goodreads, Sarah from Hard Book Habit and Grant from 1streading’s blog recently finished reading it too. Cathy came late to the Dalloway party – and her wonderful review shows how much she loved it.

Karen at Kaggsy’s Booksish Ramblings has alerted me to her reviews of both Lighthouse and Dalloway from 2012 and 2014.

Phase two of #Woolfalong begins in a little over a week – for March and April  – ‘beginnings and endings’ to read one or more of: – The Voyage Out/ Night and Day (Woolf’s first and second novels – or Between the Acts (her final novel). I read The Voyage Out last year – so I shall start with Night and Day – and possibly move on to Between the Acts. I hope some of you will join me.

So if you have read either of these novels please let us know some of your thoughts – positive or negative.

 

 

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