Ordinary Mysteries

This is one of my favorite passages in Lighthouse. As a human, this has always been my goal, to pay attention to the ordinary moments of beauty and to elevate them.

At the funeral for my husband’s grandmother a few years ago, the minister came around beforehand and asked for memories to share. I was surprised at how many of them were mine that he mentioned during the service and how teary the family got as each was brought up. I was glad I spoke up.

What had I noticed?

Strawberry pie…the scent of apples stored in their breezeway…fresh apple cider…country magazines stacked neatly on the coffee table…ribbon salad…heaping bowls of mashed potatoes…rabbit show trophies…that and so much more signaled we were at the Drudges’.

My aim as a writer is to recall those average, everyday moments and hold them.

Recently I shared a photo with my daughter of a bottle of wine on our dining room table. “I can’t believe you still have that table,” she said. We’ve thought of replacing it, but there are paint and marker blotches on it from her and her brother. We studied and read there together. We played cards and ate how many meals at it?

The table is just a table, but it’s also a miracle, a memory.

I didn’t mean for this to turn into a Thanksgiving post, especially not so early, but then again, it’s fitting. I’m thankful for miracles of all sizes.

Do you have a favorite passage from this book? Almost finished reading it? I’m rounding the corner. For some reason I don’t remember the last bit being quite so long. Not that I want to leave Lily’s side any time soon.

A Character Map

Course Hero supplies this character map of To the Lighthouse. While I can’t say I agree with the description of the “main” character along with other “major” characters, it’s interesting to see them presented in this manner.

Found on Pinterest

True, I would say Mrs. Ramsay is indeed the primary main character (spoiler here — stop reading NOW if you haven’t finished the book) she is only physically present in the first section.

Where is nasty Charles Tansley? Where is the poet, Carmichael? Maybe they could be characterized as minor characters, but they’re so sewn into the story that it’s odd to imagine them demoted.

By contrast, Paul Rayley is unmemorable.

What do you think of this list? Are any of your favorites missing?

Would you argue, as I would, that Lily could be seen as the main character? She and Mrs. Ramsay are inextricably linked.

To Be Continued…

You may or may not have noticed that I’m a wee bit behind on the posts. Important, unexpected extended family business needed tending to and while I meant to post a lovely photo of Woolf earlier today, I couldn’t even manage that without frustration.

I knew you’d forgive me.

But give me some time (a couple of days?) and I will be back on schedule. Yes, Lighthouse is coming soon! (But first to wrap Dalloway.)

Alas, I fear my “decaf” was not today and so although I kicked my caffeine habit beautifully last week, I am awake late but not alert enough to write cogently. (I think restaurants should have to certify that their decaf truly is.)

Let me try posting that Woolf photo again, albeit imperfectly edited.

Nope, still not working. Oh well.

Regardless of today not turning out as I had planned, there were moments of beauty.

—Brunch with my honey

—Helping a shy nephew with his homework and making over how becoming his longer hair is. We worked on social studies, science, and algebra!

—Spending time with one of my favorite doggies who insisted on incessant pettings. I think he believes he’s my brother!

—Seeing my eldest sister for the first time since Corona hit

Though I’m exhausted, it’s been a good day. I’m ending the night reading Glennon Doyle’s latest, Untamed. Very different from Woolf, to be sure, but if you’re a soulful, self-reflective person you’d enjoy it.

Good night, all. More soon.

Mr. Dalloway

If you haven’t heard of the novella Mr. Dalloway by Robin Lippincott and you’re a Woolf fan at all, do yourself a favor and order it. Now.

Full disclosure: he was my writing mentor for two semesters in grad school. I begged the person in charge of assigning mentors to let me work with him. Having recently come off my undergraduate thesis about Woolf, and having found Woolfian ideas sneaking into my fiction, I knew he was the ideal mentor for me.

Poor guy as he watched me continue to hone my process, a circular one that must be maddening for someone bound by a semester. He’s amazing. That’s all I will say of his honesty and generosity or I’m going to cry.

And I’m happy to report that, having my first novel published and rounding the bend on finishing my second, I can now start and complete a novel. Yay!

I will say, I was so intimidated by Robin’s brilliance (of course I read Mr. Dalloway before meeting him) that I was way too jokey and light in his workshop and I’m afraid he got a not-great impression of my critiquing abilities.

In addition to his mentoring skills, he’s an exquisite writer. Mr. Dalloway, as you’d suspect, comes from the POV of Richard Dalloway. The opening line? “Mr. Dalloway said he would buy the flowers himself.”

What a fabulous opener! It says everything we need to know. We just can’t get away from those flowers, can we? I told you they mean more. (Still not ready to get into it. But we will.)

From there we get his sensuous, striking Woolfian sentences and a similar, pleasing pace to Mrs.

And we do worry about poor Richard.

Remember the total eclipse of 2017? There’s a wonderful scene of an eclipse in this book, one I re-read in preparation for my and Barry’s trip to see the eclipse in Tennessee.

We often talk of intertextuality in books, but sometimes entire books spring from another. I’m so grateful this one did.

WHEN you read it, not if, let me know what parallels you see in it with Mrs. Dalloway and what you think of the provoking premise of it. (Prefaced with a selection of quotes to lend it legitimacy, I find the novella beautiful and convincing, just as I find the lovely Mr. Lippincott.)

Mrs. Dalloway Would Buy the WHAT Herself?

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…

1920’s gloves, the Metropolitan Museum of Art

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 and the Pandemic

Photo by Raphael Brasileiro on Pexels.com

“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….

Let the Reading Begin! Mrs. Dalloway, Day 1

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?)

Here’s the version I’m reading. Show us yours in the comments!

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?