During the month since I decided to spend 2019 with Virginia Woolf I have discovered a number of things.
- I like the way she writes and I’m looking forward to seeing how this changes over time as she matures.
- Whilst I don’t always enjoy what I’m reading in terms of the subject or the attitude, I always enjoy the real sense I get of the woman behind the words. Of the life she led and the beliefs she held.
- Virginia continues to evoke strong feelings, often lumped in with other writers of the period, e.g. D H Lawrence.
In fact, it would take several years to untangle all the strands of the argument that’s still being hotly debated by academics. Simon Heffer calls both Woolf and Lawrence ‘self-obsessed frauds.’
Not being a literary critic I don’t intend to go down that road, but you can find Heffer’s post for the Telegraph here.
What interests me more is the idea of the time travelling reader in this article by Brian Morton for the New York Times. This is how I felt when I got onto the ship with Rachel, Willoughby, Helen and Ridley and set off across the Atlantic for South America in Woolf’s novel of the month The Voyage Out. I wanted to experience the things they did and, to do this, I had to accept that there would be a preoccupation with class. It was up to me to travel through time rather than expecting the writing to somehow reflect my own modern views.
So, when it came to Mrs Chailey, the housekeeper, I knew what to expect. She was “… a woman who was so broad and so thick that to be intercepted by her was inevitable. The discreet tentative way in which she moved, together with her sober dress, showed that she belonged to the lower orders.”
We are then given a list of the belongings that she has chosen to take on the trip. “China pugs, tea-sets in miniature, cups stamped floridly with the arms of the city of Bristol, hair-pin boxes crusted with shamrock, antelopes’ heads in coloured plaster, together with a multitude of tiny photographs, representing down-right workmen in their Sunday best, and women holding white babies.”
These details provide a picture of a character ripe for development and one likely to play a much larger part in a modern novel. The person who effectively, keeps everyone and everything going. Sadly, after this she fades very quickly into the damask curtains until she’s required to nurse the ailing Rachel. Having been provided with all this detail I was disappointed but, in the spirit of the time traveller, had to accept she was never destined for a major role.
My next foray into Virginia’s oeuvre is Kew Gardens. A much slimmer volume as February is looking very busy!