What do you make of this quote? What does it mean to you? Do you agree with it?
Okay, I promised to talk more about the opening line of Mrs. Dalloway: “Mrs. Dalloway said would buy the flowers herself.”
Would you believe Woolf wrote a short story called “Mrs. Dalloway in Bond Street” with a similar but different first line? “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the gloves herself.” (It’s so similar I suspect either it was written as a precursor to the novel or it was reworked from it.)
Gloves? Gloves? Really? That’s interesting…
How do you think that would change the novel if it opened with gloves instead of flowers?
I suppose we have to consider what the flowers might mean and then possibly throw all of our thoughts about them away in light of the interchangeable nature of the flowers with the gloves.
On the one hand (ha, an unintentional glove pun), it might point to the fact that Woolf wanted to emphasize that Clarissa, newly recovered from influenza, wants a reason to take a walk on a nice day, and not necessarily emphasize the flowers.
Gloves cover hands, can keep them warm and clean. They are prophylactic, protecting one from the world. And yet what a pleasure it must have been to pick them out – material, color, style, trimmings… practical items to purchase and yet much more, items of fashion.
Then again, Woolf chose flowers for the novel’s opening, not gloves. (My senior thesis has a large section about gloves in Lighthouse, so of course gloves are meaningful to me when I see them in a novel. And yet we have to consider authorial intent, right?)
In Mrs. Dalloway, Clarissa Dalloway’s husband Richard brings her roses. We are told he shows his love for her by giving her these rather than telling her. (Woolf’s characters sometimes have trouble expressing their love openly for one another; it happens in Lighthouse as well.) (BTW, by now you know that Clarissa Dalloway is the titular character of the book, right?)
Here’s the link to the short story if you’d like to read it. https://americanliterature.com/author/virginia-woolf/short-story/mrs-dalloway-in-bond-street
Flowers are a theme throughout the book, but it seems early to get so deep. Let’s read on and talk more about that later. Where are you now in the book? Are you as excited as I am about the gloves/flowers discovery? What do you make of it?
Here’s another teaser: these are not the only two places where we’ll see the Dalloways in Woolf’s writing.
“Mrs. Dalloway said would buy the flowers herself.” If you know anything at all about the novel, you know its opening line. But have you ever paid attention to the early lines that reveal that Clarissa was sick with influenza and possible heart damage as a result? Just what “influenza” are we talking about?
There’s a fabulous article by Elizabeth Winkler that talks about WHY it would be a treat for Mrs. Dalloway to buy the flowers herself, a timely article in the Times Literary Supplement well worth the read during this pandemic that reveals more.
So much more to be said of that opening line (and a possible alternative…just a teaser for you.)
More from me on that later….
Welcome to my Autumn of Virginia Woolf! We will spend the ENTIRE MONTH on this slim novel, so feel free to take your time. I don’t have a particular reading schedule in mind — schedules were made to be broken, in my experience. Please add your thoughts or questions in the comments, or just read along this fall. (Although autumn is a prettier name for it, isn’t it?)
To begin, I will post a series of interesting articles, quotes, etc. Now and again I will pop by with thoughts on sections of the novel itself, of course.
Let me make this abundantly clear — while I am a fan of Woolf’s writing, I am no scholar. Every time I read something of hers, I learn something new, have a new thought. I hope it will be the same for you.
Where did you encounter Woolf for the first time?
For me, it was in a literature class in the 90’s. We read Three Guineas and A Room of One’s Own. In a later class, I read Orlando, and the world of fiction as I knew it exploded.
Still, for no known reason, even though Woolf had changed what I knew of the world, I didn’t seek out any of the rest of her literature. I don’t know why. I acknowledged that she was brilliant, but I didn’t even know she had written more fiction. No one mentioned it, and I had so much reading to do as an English major it didn’t occur to me to check into her further. Of course I now regret that, and yet I suspect I can appreciate and understand her work much better at this age than then, so in the spirit of “All’s well that ends well,” I also don’t regret it.
And I hadn’t forgotten her along the way after leaving school. When the film of Orlando came out, of course my hubby and I watched it, mesmerized. I re-read Orlando, and yet I still didn’t think to see if she had written more novels. Go figure.
That being said, when I returned to school many years later, I wrote my senior thesis on To the Lighthouse and was asked by my advisor to read and include Mrs. Dalloway as well. At the time I felt put upon, because my life was hella hectic. But after I read it I was grateful. (Lighthouse is still my favorite, but Dalloway is also important and innovative.) I’m eager to revisit the book, focusing on it alone.
Here’s a link to an article to ten interesting facts about Mrs. Dalloway I think you’ll enjoy. I learned a lot from it.
P.S. I do not at all promise to post every day, but I will be back every few days at the least.
Have you started reading it yet?
Okay, so I confess: I am a HUGE guinea pig lover. So when I ran across this yesterday, I couldn’t resist sharing it everywhere. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s totally worth its running time of a minute or so.
Just a reminder that our Autumn of Woolf begins next week. I’ll try to pop in here and over in my Facebook group The Painted Word Salon with some pre-reading Woolf material, but time tends to get away from me. (Still in the ending throes of the second novel, attempting to catch up on Writing All the Things podcast episodes, too. Good things but busy making.)
Remember, we’re starting with Mrs. Dalloway. Let’s take a deep dive into this world together. We will be studying the book for an entire month, so join in early, midway, or late. I’d love to hear from you whenever.
P.S. Mrs. Dalloway is now in the public domain in some countries, so it is available to read online free many places. Alas, its copyright doesn’t expire until 2021 in the U.S.
Have literary (or other) cuteness to share? Let’s see it!
How happy I am to start off this Wednesday morning offering you another book giveaway!
I’m thrilled to announce that artist and author Lilianne Milgrom has interviewed me over on her blog. If you head on over there, you’ll be able to read it and find out how to win a copy of my very own Victorine for your very own. 🙂
I’m so excited to be committing to an autumn of Virginia Woolf! I can’t wait to share this time with all who care to join in.
We will study a book a month for four months. Read and chime in any time throughout the month. Your comments, observations, photos, article links, and the like are welcome.
Remember: join me here or on Facebook in the Painted Word Salon.
September 20 Mrs Dalloway
October 18 To the Lighthouse
November 22 Orlando
December 20 A Room of One’s Own
True, these on the schedule are her better-known works, but what’s to stop us from talking about her other books in the future?
Do you have a favorite not listed here?
First of all, let me say hello to my new readers. This week has brought an uptick of 150% over my usual readership, and I’m delighted to have you here!
Feel free to say hello, to share your thoughts, or just sit back and enjoy. May you become as obsessed with Victorine and art as I am!
My September newsletter comes out next week, and I am pleased to announce that Lilianne Milgrom will be offering one copy of her novel, L’Origine, to one of my subscribers. I recently reviewed her wonderful book about artist Gustave Courbet’s most (in?)famous painting and its journey after its creation.
So if you haven’t subscribed, now’s the time; trust me, you want to win this book! Subscribe here, or on most any page of my website. Instructions for entering the contest will be supplied in the September newsletter.
P.S. More to come soon about my Autumn of Woolf. It’s a real thing, to be featured over in my Facebook group The Painted Word Salon and here some as well; schedule coming soon.
Virginia Woolf enjoys a smoke and a think.
What do you do after the draft of your current work in progress is done, when you’ve handed it over to a beta reader for what you hope will be the last time before you send it out? From nowhere, suddenly there are free hours, days, to fill. What to do??
Here are some things writers do with that silence, that tearing of the topic from your mind because if you think on it any more you’re going to want to add things to your novel, and you can’t. Not yet, maybe not ever, if it’s as finished as you suspect it is. Stopping is as important as starting.
If you had a book just come out in March 2020 (What’s that, you haven’t bought my book yet? Let’s fix that: http://amzn.to/2QoEqXM, or contact me for other ways to buy), you have plenty of outreach you’d still like to do. So you do some of that, which takes courage. It’s also fun, though, connecting with folks who enjoy the arts as much as I do.
Beyond that, there are the usual suspects:
- Catching up with relationships. While face-to-face interaction isn’t really viable for the most part just now, I’m trying to say hey on social media or by text to those I’ve neglected. (What’s that, I could call them? What’s a phone call?)
- Binge watching all the things. Well, to be honest, I never stopped doing that. The muse refuses to work 24-7 even though I ask him to.
- Reading. There’s another area I have been doing all along, yet I’ve been able to step it up on reading friends’ projects and reviewing books, something I enjoy doing.
- Household projects we bought supplies for months ago now. Okay, well, we haven’t started yet, but I’ve been thinking about getting started.
- Fretting about which novel I will write next. I have a stack of ideas, but I know what a commitment it is to say yes to an idea, how much research it takes (years), not to mention the topic that is uppermost in my mind is going to be challenging in multiple ways. That, after I promised that my next novel would be anything but, just to give myself a break. Nope, no break here.
- Tweak those things that could use it: website (on the list), household organization
- Get on even one of those writerly projects all writers are “supposed” to do: apply for grants, write short fiction and submit, submit stuff for (possible) awards, stay in touch with writer friends (I do a decent job of that), enrich the writing community, be innovative, on and on…
- Personal goals – my lists have lists on that front.
I know I’m not alone in this simultaneous feeling of loss and freedom when finishing up a project.
What do you do when you get to the end of a project, writing or otherwise? Let me know!
When Lilianne Milgrom contacted me about reviewing her novel, L’Origine, I was astonished at the perfect fit of subject matter and time period with my sensibilities. A mutual acquaintance steered her my way, and I couldn’t wait to receive and read Milgrom’s book. I was right to anticipate it.
In 1866, Gustave Courbet painted one of the most provocative paintings ever painted, L’Origine du monde (The Origin of the World). The painting depicts a breast-down view of a faceless, naked woman with splayed legs, an unheard-of subject for its time.
Milgrom, an accomplished painter herself, opens her novel with her experience copying Courbet’s famed painting. I found her account of the process of getting permission to be a copyist at France’s Musée d’Orsay and her painstaking copying of L’Origine just as riveting as the novel portion of the book.
The author begins the novel proper with the controversial painting’s origin (no pun intended) and traces it through the history of each of its owners. Its journey through the world, through historical events such as Nazis asking for a ransom for its return, and on to its current home at the d’Orsay, is captivating.
It’s not surprising that the book is at times lusty, from individual encounters of painters with lovers to the, ahem, private uses of the resultant painting. One wishes the men so taken with the carnal nature of the painting would have spent more time dwelling on the metaphorical nature of it, on the deeper meaning of a woman’s vagina being the origin of us all, but that is a historical, societal shortcoming and not the author’s.
Milgrom’s fresh idea of following the painting’s sojourn mimics the physical act of birth, the passing on of power and life from one generation to the next, fitting in beautifully with what I believe to be the artist’s intent. Having once stood before the painting in contemplation myself, I was thrilled to read such a careful, loving account of it.
Rich with accurate historical detail combined with a creative imagining of what happened with the painting behind closed doors that no one could possibly know but that everyone wants to, Milgrom skillfully encapsulates the story of a painting with her discerning, artistic eye. Brava.
Nota bene: Milgrom obviously chose not to use Courbet’s controversial painting for her book cover, but it’s only a google away.