I was going to write one last post about Orlando by Virginia Woolf until I saw this gem on YouTube. It’s quite the fun LEGO-fueled take. It’s Orlando told in eleven minutes. Enjoy! I’m not at all sure I can add anything to it.
Our Autumn of Woolf has lost its leaves and unintentionally extended into winter. Because of that, I have decided to hold off on discussing ARoom of One’s Own indefinitely. And because I’m currently using that room of my own to write my third novel, and novels take lots of coddling.
Thank you for being here with me during these last few months. They’ve been lovely.
We are still reading Orlando, aren’t we? I know I am, and I hope you’re enjoying the journey as much as I am. What a simultaneously entertaining and philosophically engaging novel this is.
Here’s an article from Vulture that reminds us why this is such an important novel, especially for the past few years. It’s worth a read, for sure.
Heads up: in the next couple of days we are going to celebrate the 12 Days of Victorine over here with bonuses, giveaways, and more. Be sure you’re a newsletter subscriber if you want to be entered in the giveaway. (Alas, I can only mail giveaway items to my U.S. readers. But there will be plenty of fun content for all here, too. And new subscribers get a free historical fiction story.) So be sure to subscribe.
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.
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.
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.
I’m overly excited to talk about Lighthouse. It’s such an important novel to me. And yet since my second, about-to-go-on-submission, novel deals quite a bit with this book, I have to be careful. No spoilers!
Although here’s one tidbit: I turned the lighthouse into a forest fire lookout tower in my novel. One I know from my childhood.
Lighthouse and I had a rocky start: Here I was in Senior freakin’ Seminar as a non traditional student with all of these bright English majors and I’m panicking because it’s a beautiful book but I’m lost. I know I can’t just enjoy it. I have to understand it, and I don’t. Or didn’t. It feels like Woolf gives with one hand and snatches that “truth” back with the next. I was hella confused and frustrated, because her essays were so straightforward by comparison.
Enjoying and embracing ambiguity has come slowly to me.
I was reading Lighthouse in bed that first time (my favorite place to read) on a rare morning at home and just not understanding it at all. Then, out of nowhere, we had an earthquake! In Indiana! The bed rocked as if I were in our vacation rental boat. The quake must have jarred something in me or the universe loose because slowly after that, I finally understood it. (Well, it took six times all told of reading it to really feel I had grasped it, but that day opened me to it.) If I were more metaphysically inclined, I would say Woolf “zapped” me during that earthquake. Maybe I should say it anyway.
Not before I felt like a wretched, ignorant loser in class, a fake, a fraud, behind the rest did I get it, though. They were a great bunch, but come to find out, some of them found their “insight” online, something I could never imagine doing because I’m so stubborn.
So I read it again. And again. Then there was class discussion, and I was relieved to discover I was getting it. I had always been a fan of stream of consciousness, so that wasn’t throwing me. I really can’t say what was except for sure that cursed, hopeless, existential-crisis making middle section. I needed some plot back or at least hope and fast before I got stuck there. But then, ah, then, life returned. Lily Briscoe with her art returned. And I knew everything would be all right, even if it did feel icky to have such mixed feelings about the characters.
Nowadays I don’t so much try to understand it as reference it, even though I’m pretty confident that I do understand it. For me it’s like flipping through a book of poems by Neruda. Though my Spanish isn’t great, I just get something from his poetry, first in Spanish, then the translation.
With Lighthouse I get that gilded, heady glimpse first, you know, the surface shine that makes you happy. And then I take the words in, focus on the meaning. Damn, is there meaning. It’s Morse code about life. Do yourself a favor and open it up pretty much anywhere and sample it.
When it came time to choose a book to write my senior thesis on, did I play it safe? Did I choose Alice in Wonderland or even Cuckoo’s Nest? I had other choices, too, but I’m Kit in A League of Their Own: “I like the high ones.” (Wait, does that movie title have echoes of Woolf? A Room of One’s Own? I say yes!)
Not only did I write my thesis on it but I was told I was the only English senior that year to receive a high pass. Boom.
Then I was asked to read it at the Indiana College Education Association Conference. I did. Oh, and I won first place, even though I planned to leave before the awards were announced because I’d had such a good time talking about the book I didn’t even consider I might win. It barely registered to me that there was an awards ceremony. I laughed and laughed when I so unexpectedly won, and if memory serves I bought something pretty with the prize money. Boom again.
Naturally when it came time to do my grad school thesis I continued the trend and wrote on Lighthouse. It was such a luxury to write even more about the book. I wish there were some way to write observations page for page about a book, and a place to share it. I know that would take years and I’m not sure anyone would want to read it, but that’s just how much I still want to know about the novel, how much it affects and guides me. I’m sure there’s so much more to discover about it. (Ooh, maybe there’s a new podcast to start?!)
No wonder, then, that I turned to my love of this book when I began my second novel. It’s been a challenge but so meaningful to wade into that great pool of words and sift them between my fingers. To mull on phrases and mysteries. To ask what’s behind the behind.
How can a novel be simultaneously lovely, dark, and deep? That bird flight of a POV, the cadence, the intertextuality, the clever use of an artist observing a couple to speak of marriage. All of this while Woolf also memorializes her own mother and the family’s summer trips.
I have multiple copies of this book. Ironically, of all of my class texts for Senior Seminar I borrowed my copy from the library because money was tight. I could hardly bear to give the book back. I only did so when I was able to find an identical copy online. And dear librarian, if you see pencil markings in your copy, I’m sure it was some other patron who did that. (I don’t condone abusing library books but I may have forgotten a time or two it was a library book I was holding since it didn’t have a crinkly (cellophane?) cover.)
Maybe this book won’t do for you what it did for me, won’t cause you to scrutinize anything and everything you’ve ever believed, but then again, maybe it will. I’m excited to run through it yet again.
Have you read Lighthouse? What did you think of it?
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.
Feel free to groan at the title of this post. If you don’t recognize it, the first half is actually the title of a Nickelodeon show from the early 90’s. I just wanted to get you to think of a different Clarissa, although she’s not the subject of today’s post.
A reader on another social media channel, Sandra (I will not share her last name in case she doesn’t want me to, but she’s more than welcome to claim her contribution in the comments section below) wondered in the comments if Woolf’s Clarissa Dalloway could be based on Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa of the eponymous, epistolatory novel published in 1748.
I was thrilled and surprised by her comments. I haven’t read that novel since college. Actually, I’m pretty sure I took it and a blanket to a park and read part of it in the grass one early spring afternoon in the 90’s, listening to the chimes of the local bell tower in the background. To be perfectly honest, I never made the connection between the Clarissas, but I think she’s on to something.
“Hey, been enjoying your posts. In college I read Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa; or, The History of a Young Lady and I always wondered if Woolf chose Clarissa as Mrs. Dalloway’s first name as a reference to that character in regard to theme of living within expectations of morality. I agree with you that the use of Mrs. is a statement on women being looked upon as extension of husband and not as an independent person. Richardson’s Clarissa resisted at the cost of her own eventual death bring subdued by the (evil) man who was determined to marry and have her as his possession.”
Snooping around the internet tells me others have had the same thought. Guess I’m the last one on the bus. Hey, it doesn’t matter what stop you get on, as long as you hop aboard before the end of the line, am I right?
We know that Woolf based Clarissa on an acquaintance, Kitty Maxse, a socialite who died by falling over a staircase, leading Woolf to wonder if it had indeed been an accident. But how like Woolf it would be to add an exploration of the oppression of women and reinforce that with using names one (besides me I guess!) would associate with the topic.
What do you think? Have you read Richardson’s Clarissa, or The History of a Young Lady? Do you think Woolf could have named what is arguably her most famous character after her?
In other news, Victorine received a generous gift in the mail from admirer Rob Hudson yesterday. This wonderful vintage of Chenin Blanc from Lang & Reed Wine Company will be saved for a special occasion, assuming V. will share with me! Many, many thanks, Rob! You’ve been a good friend to Victorine.
While I’m self-isolating more than usual this weekend due to a possible COVID-19 exposure (waiting for the test results of the person who may have it that I was exposed to), I thought I’d write briefly about Woolf’s extensive diaries which I tend to call journals.
And don’t pity me too much for having to remain homebound. Other than not being able to go help my mother out this weekend or spend my CVS Extra Care Bucks that will be expiring, it’s a good thing I’m going to stay parked. (I could use the bucks online) because I decided to give up caffeine once again. Other than being very sleepy, I’ve done okay. Only a couple of times has a headache threatened. But when I say tired, I mean ridiculously so!
For instance, when I got home from teaching Wednesday I collapsed onto the sofa. Hubby offered to make supper and I hastily, gratefully agreed. Otherwise I would have “prepared” us a handful of mixed nuts and some cheese cubes and called it done.
And though I finished re-reading Mrs. Dalloway yesterday, I kept falling asleep while I read it. (It was not Woolf’s fault that I did so!) More on the rest of the book soon.
Starting in her thirties, Woolf kept regular journals. I own copies of them as well as volumes of her letters but have only read select portions. It’s a treat I dole out slowly to myself, and now that I’ve finished my novel that involves Woolf, I feel more ready to read them. Sometimes too much research can get you off track.
From what I have read of her diaries, they’re lyrical and funny, soulful and sad. Sometimes she talks about what she’s writing and tries out book ideas in them. They’re fascinating for sure.
By contrast, my own journaling has been sporadic, although I have been a semi regular journaler since I was 20. (That was when I met Barry, the hubby, and I just had this feeling that he was the one, and that I might want to remember these early moments. We’ve been married many years now so I’d say I was correct.)
Of course I wrote even then about many other things in my shiny blue journal. Nowadays my journals are unromantic, multipurpose workhorses. Below is my current one, complete with my banded pen case which has changed my life! Because a journal deserves its own pen attached. This case just slips right over a book. Thanks, Santa!
Notice that my journal is upside down. It’s nearly full now, and I only realized a few weeks ago that I’ve been using it that way. Oh well…
I started writing in this one just over a year ago. Some weeks I use a journal nearly every day. Some months I only use it a few times. I don’t believe in being a servant to anything. (Hence the getting off caffeine.)
My journal contains bad song lyrics, half poems, book ideas, lists of household chores, my grievances against the world. It’s a paper friend and confidant, but it’s also my personal assistant keeping me on task. Unless I’m having a week when I won’t listen. Which happens frequently.
I tell it when I think I’ve been snubbed, or I magnify a tiny problem until it’s so large even I have to laugh at it. I record my weight (ugh) or plan my latest exercise goals (ha). What I’m saying is that these journals of mine are not remotely valuable to posterity. All they would show are my preoccupations and circular thinking. And, I’d like to think, my tempered optimism.
A Grammy-winning friend of mine told her children that her real wealth lies in her journals. I wish I could say the same about mine. Kids, don’t read Marmee’s journals. Trust me, there are some things you don’t wanna know about your mother. Do yourself a favor and burn them!
It’s hard to say how performative Woolf’s journals are. Mine are decidedly not. Maybe that’s a flaw. All I know is, Woolf’s diaries are gorgeous and why wouldn’t they be? I encourage you to read them, as I intend to some this afternoon.
If you’ve read her essays and book reviews, you know what a mind she had. There was no political or social issue she couldn’t tackle with her writing. Her original thinking delights!
By contrast, my journals are…well, pardon me while I go light the charcoal. I have a box of journals and a grill. Nah, maybe I’ll wait just a few more years.
Here are my murky first “second” impressions of Mrs. Dalloway. I was taught by a wise professor to read a novel for the story first, and then go back and really read for the nuances, the language, etc. That method changed my reading forever!
These thoughts are on my first re-reading. I’m doing this because maybe you have a similar process, or maybe it would be helpful for you to realize I, too, see through a glass darkly before the Windex of re-reading. 😊 Nevertheless, I think that first looks can be informative. Consider the first glance to be the drawing beneath the paint.
If I were reading this for the first time ever, I would say:
Here’s a society woman, Clarissa Dalloway, who has been sick but is now out and about, buying some flowers for her party, her return to society, if you will. Later, while she mends her dress for the party she will throw that evening, an old suitor returns from a stint in India, five years I think. Peter Walsh plays with his pocketknife, a habit he’s had since he was a youth. He bursts into tears at one point while talking to the preoccupied hostess-to-be, and one wonders if he has ever gotten over Clarissa, even though he confesses that he’s in love with a married woman who is about to get a divorce.
Out of sequence question: why do you suppose Woolf called the novel Mrs. Dalloway rather than Clarissa or Clarissa Dalloway? I have thoughts.
For one thing, Woolf was trying to show that any life circumstance, even that of a privileged woman with servants, was worthy of exploration. This is not a romance; this is a novel after marriage, delving into the everyday joys and challenges.
Also, the title underscores the name stripping of a woman. Not enough Clarissa “takes” her husband, Richard’s, name. By being called Mrs. Dalloway, she becomes a nondescript wife of him; her very “name” doesn’t belong to her but to him. She’s his property. (Argue if you like, but I see real tones of that here, even though I did opt to take my husband’s last name when we married. It makes a great author’s name I’ve been told more than once, so why wouldn’t I?)
Then again, in Lighthouse Mrs. Ramsay is given no first name and I think it’s brilliant because it makes her the universal spouse. Maybe there are shades of this here. I do think Woolf struggled with marriage and domesticity and its place in her own life, in the life of her peers from early on. (For god’s sake, she did write A Room of One’s Own, so there’s that.)
Anyway, why, Clarissa wonders, is her husband invited to Lady Bruton’s luncheon and she is not? I’d be pissed, so I get that. It’s rude and ungenerous, even if Clarissa had previously made some minor social blunder at Lady Bruton’s. (Actually, I have been excluded. A friend of mine invited my hubby out to dinner to “interview” him. But I had been through the same schooling as him, sooo??? I would have been pleased to sit alongside them and have a drink while they talked, just because I enjoyed my friend’s – and hubby’s—company, but I wasn’t asked along. Come to think of it, I’m not sure she ever did anything with that interview. Oh well. If memory serves, I dined with another friend a few restaurants down the street that evening, so there.)
Septimus, a veteran struggling with what we would now call PTSD and his wife, Lucrezia, are introduced in the novel, a contrast to the Dalloways. We pity the newly married pair.
Richard wants to buy his wife jewelry (suspiciously timed after he hears that her old beau is back in town) but suspects she doesn’t enjoy his taste as he had previously brought her a bracelet she doesn’t wear. Wanting to remind her of his love for her but not being one to say so, he brings her flowers. Flowers, flowers, everywhere! (And that not being able to confess love to someone, that is Mrs. Ramsay’s role in Lighthouse. Another of Woolf’s themes.)
And veils and gloves. Birds and flowers. But more on that another time.
So these are my quick, impressionistic thoughts. I really want to talk about the language itself, but that’s not the purpose of this post, so let’s hold off on that as well.
Thoughts? Rebuttals? Questions? Let’s get into it!