Masterpieces of

World Literature


 

(CONTENTS)


 

 

 



 
 

 

 


Virginia Woolf

 

WOOLF

Virginia Woolf
(1882-1941) came from a prominent literary family. Her father, Leslie Stephen, was the originator of the (British) Dictionary of National Biography, and her mother was a Duckworth, the publishing family Her sister Vanessa Bell was, like her husband Clive, an artist, who designed jackets for the Hogarth Press, set up by Virginia and her husband Leonard in 1917. Virginia, a woman of ethereal beauty and, like so many of the Bloomsbury group, bisexual, married Leonard, social reformer and author, in 1912.
Woolf, whose life was punctuated by nervous breakdowns, was an experimental novelist often compared with [ovce. Besides her own work, she was a stimulating commentator in her luminously intelligent essays and in her feminist criticism, for example, A Room of One's Own, 1929. Her early novels, The Voyage Out (1915, but written earlier) and Night and Day (1919) were relatively realistic. The interval between them was largely occupied with the Hogarth Press, which published Katharine Mansfield and T. S. Eliot, among others.
Her reputation as England's leading modernist author was established in the 1920s by Jacob's Room (1922), based on the life and death of a beloved brother; Mrs Dalloway (1925), a classic using the stream-of-conscious-ness technique; To the Lighthouse (1927), employing the same technique to explore male-female conflict and based on her parents; and The Waves (1931), her most boldly experimental (and difficult) novel, and considered by some critics to be her masterpiece. The eponymous Orlando (1928), is alternatively male and female through four centuries. Something of a departure, it was her most successful novel and dedicated to Vita Sackville West, a woman of shared affinities. Her last novel Between the Acts (1941) returns to the stream-of-consciousness technique and celebrates traditional English values in the shadow of war.

 


Virginia Woolf


Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell


Virginia Woolf


 

 

 


Vanessa Bell


Virginia Woolf


Virginia Woolf




Virginia Woolf


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
 

(Adeline) Virginia Woolf (née Stephen; 25 January 1882 – 28 March 1941) was an English novelist and essayist, regarded as one of the foremost modernist literary figures of the twentieth century. During the interwar period, Woolf was a significant figure in London literary society and a member of the Bloomsbury Group. Her most famous works include the novels Mrs Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927) and Orlando (1928), and the book-length essay A Room of One's Own (1929) with its famous dictum, "a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction."
Born Adeline Virginia Stephen in London to Sir Leslie Stephen, considered the father of the Bloomsbury Group, and Julia Prinsep Stephen (born Jackson) (1846–1895), she was educated by her parents in their literate and well-connected household at 22 Hyde Park Gate, Kensington. Virginia's parents had each been married previously, and their spouses had died. Consequently, the household contained the children of three marriages: Julia's children with her first husband Herbert Duckworth: George Duckworth (1868–1934); Stella Duckworth (1869–1897); and Gerald Duckworth (1870–1937). Laura Makepeace Stephen (1870–1945), Leslie's daughter with Minny Thackeray, who was declared mentally disabled and lived with them until she was institutionalised in 1891 to the end of her life; and Leslie and Julia's children: Vanessa Stephen (1879–1961); Thoby Stephen (1880–1906); Virginia; and Adrian Stephen (1883–1948). Sir Leslie Stephen's eminence as an editor, critic, and biographer, and his connection to William Thackeray (he was the widower of Thackeray's eldest daughter) meant that Woolf was raised in an environment filled with the influences of Victorian literary society. Henry James, George Eliot, George Henry Lewes, Julia Margaret Cameron (an aunt of Julia Stephen), and James Russell Lowell, who was made Virginia's godfather, were among the visitors to the house. Julia Stephen was equally well connected. Descended from an attendant of Marie Antoinette, she came from a family of renowned beauties who left their mark on Victorian society as models for Pre-Raphaelite artists and early photographers. Supplementing these influences was the immense library at 22 Hyde Park Gate, from which Virginia (unlike her brothers, who were formally educated) was taught the classics and English literature. According to her memoirs her most vivid childhood memories, however, were not of London but of St Ives in Cornwall, where the family spent every summer until 1895. The family stayed in their home called the Talland House, which looked out over the Porthminster Bay. Memories of the family holidays and impressions of the landscape, especially the Godrevy Lighthouse, informed the fiction she wrote in later years, notably To the Lighthouse. She also based the summer home in Scotland after the Talland House and the Ramsay family after her own family. The sudden death of her mother in 1895, when Virginia was 13, and that of her half sister Stella two years later, led to the first of Virginia's several nervous breakdowns. The death of her father in 1904 provoked her most alarming collapse and she was briefly institutionalized. Her breakdowns and subsequent recurring depressive periods, modern scholars have claimed, were also induced by the sexual abuse she and Vanessa were subject to by their half-brothers George and Gerald (which Woolf recalls in her autobiographical essays A Sketch of the Past and 22 Hyde Park Gate). Throughout her life, Woolf was plagued by drastic mood swings.
Though these recurring mental breakdowns greatly affected her social functioning, her literary abilities remained intact. Modern diagnostic techniques have led to a posthumous diagnosis of bipolar disorder, an illness which coloured her work, relationships, and life, and eventually led to her suicide. Following the death of her father in 1904 and her second serious nervous breakdown, Virginia, Vanessa, and Adrian sold 22 Hyde Park Gate, and bought a house at 46 Gordon Square in Bloomsbury. Following studies at King's College London, Woolf came to know Lytton Strachey, Clive Bell, Saxon Sydney-Turner, Duncan Grant, and Leonard Woolf, who together formed the nucleus of the intellectual circle known as the Bloomsbury Group which came to notorious fame in 1910 with the Dreadnought hoax Virginia Woolf participated in, dressed as a male Abyssinian royalty. Virginia Stephen married writer Leonard Woolf in 1912, referring to him during their engagement as a "penniless Jew." The couple shared a close bond, and in 1937 Woolf wrote in her diary "Love-making — after 25 years can’t be attained by my unattractive countenance ... you see it is enormous pleasure being wanted, a pleasure that I have never felt." They also collaborated professionally, in 1917 founding the Hogarth Press, which subsequently published most of Woolf's work. The ethos of Bloomsbury discouraged sexual exclusivity, and in 1922, Woolf met Vita Sackville-West. After a tentative start, they began a relationship that lasted through most of the 1920s. In 1928, Woolf presented Sackville-West with Orlando, a fantastical biography in which the eponymous hero's life spans three centuries and both genders. It has been called by Nigel Nicolson, Vita Sackville-West's son, "the longest and most charming love letter in literature." After their affair ended, the two women remained friends until Woolf's death. After completing the manuscript of her last (posthumously published) novel Between the Acts, Woolf fell victim to a depression similar to that which she had earlier experienced. The war, the Luftwaffe's destruction of her London homes, as well as the cool reception given to her biography of her late friend Roger Fry, worsened her condition until she was unable to work.On 28 March 1941, after having a nervous breakdown, Woolf drowned herself by weighing her pockets with stones and walking into the River Ouse near her home. Her body was not found until April 18. Her husband buried her cremated remains under a tree in the garden of their house in Rodmell, Sussex. In her last note to her husband she wrote:

"I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can't go through another of those terrible times. And I shan't recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can't concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don't think two people could have been happier 'til this terrible disease came. I can't fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can't even write this properly. I can't read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that — everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can't go on spoiling your life any longer. I don't think two people could have been happier than we have been. "

Woolf began writing professionally in 1905, initially for the Times Literary Supplement with a journalistic piece about Haworth, home of the Brontë family.[5] Her first novel, The Voyage Out, was published in 1915 by her half-brother's imprint, Gerald Duckworth and Company Ltd. This novel was originally entitled Melymbrosia, but Woolf repeatedly changed the draft. An earlier version of The Voyage Out has been reconstructed by Woolf scholar Louise DeSalvo and is now available to the public under the intended title. DeSalvo argues that many of the changes Woolf made in the text were in response to changes in her own life.Woolf went on to publish novels and essays as a public intellectual to both critical and popular success. Much of her work was self-published through the Hogarth Press. She has been hailed as one of the greatest novelists of the twentieth century and one of the foremost Modernists, though she disdained some artists in this category. Woolf is considered one of the greatest innovators in the English language. In her works she experimented with stream-of-consciousness and the underlying psychological as well as emotional motives of characters. Woolf's reputation declined sharply after World War II, but her eminence was re-established with the surge of Feminist criticism in the 1970s. After a few more ideologically based altercations, not least caused by claims that Woolf was anti-Semitic and a snob, it seems that a critical consensus has been reached regarding her stature as a novelist. Her work was criticised for epitomizing the narrow world of the upper-middle class English intelligentsia. Some critics judged it to be lacking in universality and depth, without the power to communicate anything of emotional or ethical relevance to the disillusioned common reader, weary of the 1920s aesthetes. She was also criticized by some as an anti-Semite, despite her marriage to a Jewish man. She wrote in her diary, "I do not like the Jewish voice; I do not like the Jewish laugh." However, in a 1930 letter to Ethel Smyth quoted in Nigel Nicolson's biography,Virginia Woolf, she recollects her boasts of Leonard's Jewishness confirming her snobbish tendencies, "How I hated marrying a Jew- What a snob I was, for they have immense vitality."Virginia Woolf's peculiarities as a fiction writer have tended to obscure her central strength: Woolf is arguably the major lyrical novelist in the English language. Her novels are highly experimental: a narrative, frequently uneventful and commonplace, is refracted—and sometimes almost dissolved—in the characters' receptive consciousness. Intense lyricism and stylistic virtuosity fuse to create a world overabundant with auditory and visual impressions. The intensity of Virginia Woolf's poetic vision elevates the ordinary, sometimes banal settings - often wartime environments - of most of her novels. For example, Mrs Dalloway (1925) centres on the efforts of Clarissa Dalloway, a middle-aged society woman, to organize a party, even as her life is paralleled with that of Septimus Warren Smith, a working-class veteran who has returned from the First World War bearing deep psychological scars. To the Lighthouse (1927) is set on two days ten years apart. The plot centers around the Ramsay family's anticipation of and reflection upon a visit to a lighthouse and the connected familial tensions. One of the primary themes of the novel is the struggle in the creative process that beset painter Lily Briscoe while she struggles to paint in the midst of the family drama. The novel is also a meditation upon the lives of a nation's inhabitants in the midst of war, and of the people left behind. The Waves (1931) presents a group of six friends whose reflections, which are closer to recitatives than to interior monologues proper, create a wave-like atmosphere that is more akin to a prose poem than to a plot-centered novel. Her last work, Between the Acts (1941) sums up and magnifies Woolf's chief preoccupations: the transformation of life through art, sexual ambivalence, and meditation on the themes of flux of time and life, presented simultaneously as corrosion and rejuvenation - all set in a highly imaginative and symbolic narrative encompassing almost all of English history. While nowhere near a simple recapitulation of the coterie's ideals, Woolf's work can be understood as consistently in dialogue with Bloomsbury, particularly its tendency (informed by G.E. Moore, among others) towards doctrinaire rationalism.

 

 

Jacob's Room

Virginia Woolf
1882-1941

Jacob's Room, the first of Woolf's novels to be published by the press that she founded with Leonard Woolf, was also the work in which she broke with the fictional conventions that she felt had constrained her first two novels. Jacob's Room is an elegy for a lost brother and for the war-dead; one in which the narrative is structured around an absence—an empty room. !t is a form of search or quest for a "character" who cannot be captured, not only because he himself is elusive but because other human beings are "utterly unknown" to us. The novel was in large part an ironic commentary on the over confident ways in which novelists had portrayed their characters as fully knowable and representable. While Jacob's experiences are typical of his privileged sex and class—public school, Cambridge, London life, travel abroad—he is given to the reader only in glimpses and through the limited perspectives of a narrator, and other, more fleeting figures. Jacob's Room works to deconstruct rather than to construct its central figure, and to expose the processes by which characters are composed in realist or naturalist novels.
Jacob's Room was, the novelist and critic Winifred Holtby wrote, Woolf's war book, though it "never mentions trenches, camps, recruiting officers, nor latrines." Rather, it asks what is lost when a young man is killed in war:" What was lost by him? What was lost by his friends? What exactly was it that had disappeared?"

 

Orlando

Virginia Woolf
1882-1941

For a demonstration of the sheer vitality of Woolf's writing, Orlando is unsurpassed. It is a provocative exploration of gender and history, as well as the very nature of biography; perhaps surprisingly, it was highly popular when first published.
Following the adventures of Orlando over a four-hundred-year life that encompasses wild adventure, love, and a shift in gender, the character was apparently based on Woolf's lover Vita Sackville-West. In the exuberant court of Elizabeth I, Orlando is a dazzlingly handsome sixteen-year-old nobleman. There follows a frost fair on the Thames at which a love affair with a Russian princess begins, only to end in heartache. Later he is sent by Charles II as ambassador to the Ottoman court in Constantinople, where he becomes a woman, before returning to England to reside in the company of Pope and Dryden. A marriage in the nineteenth century leads to a son and a career as a writer, and the story ends in 1928,as Woolf's text was published.
This extraordinary tale is augmented by a series of writerly flourishes, questioning our conception of history, of gender, and of biographical "truth." If these are constructs, then who constructs them? What do they mean for individuals living and telling their lives? Woolf uses a series of devices to facilitate this kind of speculation: clothes are prominent, as is their role in shaping perceptions of gender; the narrative voice too is brilliantly conscious of itself, and of us as readers. It is a remarkable text.

 

The Years

Virginia Woolf
1882-1941

Covering a span of fifty years as it recounts the fortunes of the Pargiter family, this is the longest and most commercially successful of Woolf's novels.The Pargiters are headed by a retired military patriarch who, owing to his wife's disability, is also an occasional philanderer.The children (three sons and three daughters) variously flirt with nonconformity but ultimately spread themselves effortlessly among the middle-class professions. In many ways the Pargiter family is a remnant of the Victorianism that Woolf inveighed against throughout her career. This is not a chronicle in the conventional sense of the term. By the close of the novel, fortunes have been won and lost, loves forsaken, and lives have perished. Nevertheless, it is Woolf's characteristic attention to fragmentary moments of experience that produces the most intense writing. As the characters variously return to the past in a modern world that resists easy understanding, the poeticism of the writing focuses instead on unfinished vignettes and the particularity of sense impressions. A perceptive critic and observer, Woolf reveals the plight of women in a world that denies them education and careers; she shows the tragic consequences of the Great War for its survivors and retains an unflinching eye for the mortifying effects of bourgeois social pretension. The reader will find that the extended lyricism and crystalline expressiveness of the writing lingers in the memory long after the final pages have been read.

 

 

Between the Acts

Virginia Woolf
1882-1941

Woolf's last novel, published posthumously, conveys a strong sense of finality, or more precisely, depicts a transitional moment, at the brink of something threatening and unknown. This was, of course, the war. Woolf set the novel in 1939 (all the action takes place at an English country house on one June day), but while she wrote it, London was under heavy bombardment. The day in question is that of the annual community pageant,to be staged (as always) in the grounds at Pointz Hall.The novel is concerned with everything that happens—not only between the acts, but before, after, and alongside—and with the interactions between the Oliver family and the outsiders and villagers attending the pageant. Even though the novel is comprised of fragments, the irrevocably separate bits of individual lives and experiences, it still conveys a profound sense of rhythm and interconnectedness.
Virginia Woolf's acute management of narrative perspective is both microscopic and macrocosmic— swinging in one moment between blades of grass to a consideration of the historical palimpsest that is the surface of the earth when viewed from above. The pageant itself—scenes and segments from English literature and history—mirrors the texture of the novel. Significantly, although the pageant mystifies its audience (like the novel, it is prone to disruption), a moment of fragile equipoise is caught, only to be dispersed, in turn, by military aircraft flying overhead.

 

Mrs. Dalloway

Virginia Woolf
1882-1941

Woolf's novel Mrs. Daliowoy takes place over the course of a single day, and is one of the defining texts of modernist London. It traces the interlocking movements around Regent's Park of the two main protagonists: Clarissa Dalloway is a socialite, and wife of Richard Dalloway, a Conservative MP, while Septimus Warren Smith is a veteran and shell-shocked victim of the Great War.The passage of time in the novel, punctuated by the periodic striking of a giant, phallic Big Ben, ultimately takes us to a double climax; to the success of Mrs. Dalloway's illustrious party, and to the suicide of Septimus Warren Smith, who finds himself unable to live in the postwar city.
Much of the effect of this novel derives from the irreconcilability of its two halves, an irreconcilability which is reflected in the space of the city itself. Different people go about their different lives, preparing for suicide and preparing for dinner, and there is no way, the novel suggests, of building a bridge between them. Septimus and Clarissa are separated by class, by gender and by geography, but at the same time, the novel's capacity to move from one consciousness to another suggests a kind of intimate, underground connection between them, which is borne out in Clarissa's response to the news of Septimus' death. A poetic space, which does not correspond to the clock time meted out by Big Ben, underlies the city, suggesting a new way of thinking about relations between men and women, between one person and another. Mrs. Dalloway is a novel of contradictions—between men and women, between rich and poor, between self and other, between life and death. But despite these contraditions, in the flimsy possibility of a poetic union between Septimus and Clarissa, the novel points toward a reconciliation we are still waiting to realize.


MRS. DALLOWAY
 

Type of work: Novel
Author: Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)
Type of plot: Psychological realism
Time of plot: 1920s
Locale: London
First published: 1925

 

Mrs. Dalloway traces a single day in the life of two characters, Clarissa Dalloway and Septimus Smith, largely through their impressions, thoughts, and feelings. For Clarissa the day culminates with a successful party; for Septimus it ends in suicide. In the complex psychological relationship between the two, Virginia Woolf suggests provocative ideas about the nature and meaning of life, love, time, and death.

 

Principal Characters

Clarissa Dalloway, a woman fifty-two years old and chic, but disconcerted over life and love. The June day in her late middle years is upsetting to Mrs. Dalloway, uncertain as she is about her daughter and her husband's love, her own feelings for them and her former fiance, lately returned from India. Years before Peter Walsh had offered her agony and ecstasy, though not comfort or social standing, and so she had chosen Richard Dalloway. Now, seeing Peter for the first time in many years, her belief in her motives and her peace of mind are gone. Engaged in preparations for a party, she knows her life is frivolous, her need for excitement neurotic, and her love dead. Meeting her best friend, Sally Seton, also makes her realize that their love was abnormal as is her daughter's for an older woman. Although she knows that her husband's love for her is very real and solid, she feels that death is near, that growing old is cruel, that life can never be innocently good again.
Richard Dalloway, her politician husband, a Conservative Member of Parliament. Never to be a member of the Cabinet of a Prime Minister, Richard is a good man who has improved his character, his disposition, his life. Loving his wife deeply but silently, he is able only to give her a conventional bouquet of roses to show his feeling, a fortunate gift because roses are the one flower she can stand to see cut. Devoted to his daughter, he sees her infatuation as a passing thing, an adolescent emotional outlet. He is gently persuasive among his constituents and colleagues and in thought and deed a thoroughly good man.
Peter Walsh, a widower lately returned from India to make arrangements for the divorce of a major's wife, a woman half his age whom he plans to marry, again an action to fill the void left by Clarissa. Perceptive and quick to understand motives for unhappiness, Peter sees his return to England as another step in his failure to live without Clarissa. Unnerved by seeing her again, he blurts out his recent history, and he continues the cruel probe all day and that night at her party.
Septimus Warren Smith, a war casualty who commits suicide on the night of Mrs. Dalloway's party and delays the arrival of one of the guests, a doctor. A poet and a brave man, Septimus brings back to England an Italian war bride whom he cannot really love, all feeling having been drained from him by the trauma of war. Extremely sensitive to motives, Septimus sees his doctors as representing the world's attempt to crush him, to force him into conventionality. Feeling abandoned and unable to withstand even the devotion of his lovely wife, he jumps to his death, a martyr to the cause of individuality, of sensitivity to feelings and beauty.
Lucrezia Smith, called Rezia, the Italian wife whom Smith met in Milan and married after the war. Desperately in love with her husband, she tries to give him back his former confidence in human relations, takes him to doctors for consultation, and hopes to prevent his collapse and suicide.
Elizabeth Dalloway, the daughter who has none of her mother's charm or vivacity and all of her father's steady attributes. Judged to be handsome, the sensible seventeen-year-old appears mature beyond her years; her thoughtfulness directly contradicts her mother's frivolity. She is until this day enamored of Miss Kilman, a desperate and fanatical older woman who is in love with Elizabeth but conceals her feeling under the guise of religiosity and strident charity. On the day of the party Elizabeth sees Miss Kilman's desire for power and escapes from the woman's tyranny of power and need. That night Elizabeth blossoms forth in womanly radiance so apparent that her father fails to recognize her.
Doris Kilman, Elizabeth Dalloway's tutor and friend, an embittered, frustrated spinster whose religious fanaticism causes her to resent all the things she could not have or be. With a lucid mind and intense spirit, largely given to deep hatreds of English society, she represents a caricature of a perversion of womanly love and affection.
Lady Rosseter, nee Sally Seton, the old friend with whom Mrs. Dalloway had believed herself in love when she was eighteen. Sally has always known that Clarissa made the wrong choice and has always been aware of the shallowness of her friend's existence. Mellowed now, Sally and Peter Walsh can see the pattern of life laid out before them at this gay party, and they console each other for loss of girlhood friend and beloved.
Dr. Holmes, Septimus Smith's physician. Brisk and insensitive, he fails to realize the seriousness of his patient's condition. Puzzled because Smith does not respond to prescriptions of walks in the park, music halls, and bromides at bedtime, he sends him to consult Sir William Bradshaw.
Sir William Bradshaw, a distinguished specialist who devotes three-quarters of an hour to each of his patients. Ambitious for worldly position but apathetic as a healer, he shuts away the mad, forbids childbirth, and advises an attitude of proportion in sickness and in health. Because of Septimus Smith's suicide he and his wife arrive late at Mrs. Dalloway's party.
Lady Millicent Bruton, a fashionable Mayfair hostess. A dabbler in charities and social reform, she is sponsoring a plan to have young men and women immigrate to Canada.
Hugh Whitbread, a friend of the Dalloways and a minor official at Court.

 

The Story

Mrs. Clarissa Dalloway went to make last-minute preparations for an evening party. During her day in the city, she enjoyed the summer air, the many sights and people, and the general bustle of London. She met Hugh Whitbread, now a court official and a handsome and sophisticated man. She had known Hugh since her youth, and she knew his wife, Evelyn, as well, but she did not particularly care for Evelyn. Other people came down to London to see paintings, to hear music, or to shop. The Whitbreads came down to consult doctors, for Evelyn was always ailing.
Mrs. Dalloway went about her shopping. While she was in a flower shop, a luxurious limousine pulled up outside. Everyone speculated on the occupant behind the drawn curtains of the car. Everywhere the limousine went, it was followed by curious eyes. Mrs. Dalloway, who had thought that the queen was inside, felt that she was right when the car drove into the Buckingham Palace grounds.
The sights and sounds of London reminded Mrs. Dalloway of many things. She thought back to her youth, to the days before her marriage, to her husband, and to her daughter Elizabeth. Her daughter was indeed a problem and all because of that horrid Miss Kilman who was her friend. Miss Kilman was a religious fanatic, who scoffed at the luxurious living of the Dalloways and felt sorry for Mrs. Dalloway. Mrs. Dalloway hated her. Miss Kilman was not at all like the friend of her own girlhood. Sally Seton had been different. Mrs. Dalloway had really loved Sally.
Mrs. Dalloway wondered what love really was. She had loved Sally, but she had loved Richard Dalloway and Peter Walsh, too. She had married Richard, and then Peter had left for India. Later, she learned that he had married someone he met on shipboard. She had heard little about his wife since his marriage. The day, however, was wonderful and life itself was wonderful. The war was over, and she was giving a party.
While Mrs. Dalloway was shopping, Septimus Smith and his wife were sitting in the park. Septimus had married Lucrezia while he was serving in Italy, and she had given up her family and her country for him. Now he frightened her because he acted so strangely and talked of committing suicide. The doctor said that there was nothing physically wrong with him. Septimus, one of the first to volunteer for war duty, had gone to war to save his country, the England of Shakespeare. When he got back, he was a war hero and was given a good job at the office. They had nice lodgings, and Lucrezia was happy. Septimus began reading Shakespeare again. He was unhappy; he brooded. He and Lucrezia had no children. To Septimus, the world was in such horrible condition that it was unjust to bring children into it.
When Septimus began to have visitations from Evans, a Comrade who had been killed in the war, Lucrezia became even more frightened and called in Dr. Holmes. Septimus felt almost completely abandoned by that time. Lucrezia could not understand why her husband did not like Dr. Holmes, for he was so kind and so interested in Septimus. Finally, she took her husband to Sir William Bradshaw, a wealthy and noted psychiatrist. Septimus had had a brilliant career ahead of him. His employer spoke highly of his work. No one knew why he wanted to kill himself. Septimus said that he had committed a crime, but his wife said that he was guilty of absolutely nothing. Sir William suggested a place in the country where Septimus would be by himself, without his wife. It was not, Sir William said, a question of preference. Since he had threatened suicide, it was a question of law.
In the meantime, Mrs. Dalloway returned home. Lady Bruton had invited Richard Dalloway to lunch. Mrs. Dalloway had never liked Millicent Bruton; she was far too clever. Then Peter Walsh came to call, and Mrs. Dalloway was surprised and happy to see him again. She introduced him to Elizabeth, her daughter. He asked Mrs. Dalloway if she were happy; she wondered why. When he left, she called out to him not to forget her party. Peter thought about Clarissa Dalloway and her parties; that was all life meant to her. He had been divorced from his wife and had come to England. Life was far more complicated for him. He had fallen in love with another woman, one who had two children, and he had come to London to arrange for her divorce and to get some sort of a job. He hoped Hugh Whitbread would find him one, something in the government.
That night, Clarissa Dalloway's party was a great success. At first, she was afraid that it would fail; but at last the prime minister arrived, and her evening was complete. Peter was there, and Peter met Lady Rossetter. Lady Rossetter turned out to be Sally Seton. She had not been invited but had just dropped in. She had five sons, she told Peter. They chatted. Then Elizabeth came in, and Peter noticed how beautiful she was.
Later, Sir William Bradshaw and his wife entered. They were late, they explained, because one of Sir William's patients had committed suicide. Feeling altogether abandoned, Septimus Smith had jumped out of a window before they could take him into the country. Clarissa was upset. Here was death, she thought. Although Smith was completely unknown to her, she somehow felt it was her own disaster, her own disgrace. The poor young man had thrown away his life when it became useless. Clarissa had never thrown away anything more valuable than a shilling into the Serpentine. Yes, once she had stood beside a fountain while Peter Walsh, angry and humiliated, had asked her whether she intended to marry Richard; and Richard had never been prime minister. Instead, the prime minister came to her parties. Now she was growing old. Clarissa Dalloway, knew herself at last for the beautiful, charming, inconsequential person she was. Sally and Peter talked on. They thought idly of Clarissa and Richard and wondered whether they were happy together. Sally agreed that Richard had improved. She left Peter and went to talk with Richard. Peter was feeling strange. A sort of terror and ecstasy took hold of him, and he could not be certain what it was that excited him so suddenly. It was Clarissa, he thought. Even after all these years, it must be Clarissa.

 

Critical Evaluation

Mrs. Dalloway comes midway in Virginia Woolf's career and near the beginning of her experiments with form and technique (just after Jacob's Room, her first experimental novel). The book is really two stories—Clarissa Dalloway's and Septimus Smith's—and the techniques by which Woolf united these two narrative strands are unusual and skillful. While writing the novel, Woolf commented in her diary on her new method of delineating character. Instead of explaining the characters' pasts chronologically, she uses a "tunneling process": "I dig out beautiful caves behind my characters." The various characters appear in the present without explanation: various sense impressions—a squeaky hinge, a repeated phrase, a particular tree—call to their minds a memory, and past becomes present. Such an evocation of the past is reminiscent of Proust, but Woolf's method does not involve the ego of the narrator. Woolf's "caves" reveal the past and at the same time give characters' reactions to present events. Woolf is then able to connect the "caves" and also her themes by structural techniques, both spatial and temporal.
Unlike that of Joyce, Woolf's handling of the stream-of-consciousness method is always filtered and indirect; the narrator is in command, telling the reader, "Clarissa thought" or "For so it had always seemed to her." This ever-present narrative voice generally helps the reader by clarifying the characters' inner thoughts and mediating the commentary of the novel; at times, however, it blurs the identity of the speaker. Woolf's use of this narrative voice becomes more prominent in To the Lighthouse (1927) but disappears in The Waves (1931).
With its disparate characters and various scenes of street life, the structure of the book seems at first to lack unity. Woolf, however, uses many devices, both technical and thematic, to unite those elements. The day (in mid-June, 1923), moving uninterruptedly from the early morning to the late evening, is a single whole. Although the book is not divided into chapters or sections headed by titles or numbers, Woolf notes some of the shifts in time or scene by a short blank space in the manuscript. More often, however, the transition from one group of characters to another is accomplished by the remarking of something public, something common to the experience of both, something seen or heard. The world of Clarissa and her friends alternates with the world of Septimus Smith; and the sight of the motorcar, the sight and sound of the skywriting plane, the running child, the woman singing, the omnibus, the ambulance, and the clock striking are the transitions connecting those two worlds. Moreover, the striking of the clocks ("first a warning, musical; then the hour, irrevocable") is noted at various other times to mark a shift from one character's consciousness to another within Clarissa's group. The exact time is given periodically, signaling the day's progress (noon comes at almost the exact center of the book) and stressing the irrevocable movement toward death, one of the book's themes. Usually at least two clocks are described as striking—first Big Ben, a masculine symbol; then a few seconds later, St. Margaret's, a feminine symbol, suggesting again the two genders of all existence, united in the echoes of the bells, "the leaden circles."
The main thematic devices used to unify the book are the similarity between Clarissa and Septimus and the repetition of key words and phrases in the minds of various characters. The likeness between Clarissa and Septimus is most important, as each helps to explain the other, although they never meet. Both are lonely and contemplate suicide. Both feel guilty for their past lives, Septimus because he "cannot feel" the death of Evans, Clarissa because of her rejection of Peter and her tendency to dominate others. Both have homosexual feelings, Septimus for Evans, Clarissa for Sally Seton. More important, both want desperately to bring order out of life's chaos. Septimus achieves this momentarily with the making of Mrs. Peters' hat, and Clarissa creates a harmonious unity with her successful party. Septimus understands that the chaos will return and so takes his own life uniting himself with Death, the final order. Septimus' suicide forces Clarissa to see herself in a new and honest way, understanding for the first time her schemings for success. Clarissa "felt somehow very like him"; she does not pity him but identifies with his defiant "embracing" of death.
Certain phrases become thematic because they are so often repeated, gaining richer overtones of meaning at each use, as different characters interpret the phrases differently. "Fear no more," "if it were now to die," the sun, the waves—these are some of the phrases and images appearing over and over, especially in the thoughts of Septimus and Clarissa.
All the disparate strands of the story are joined at Clarissa's party, over which she presides like an artist over her creation. Not inferior to the painter Lily Briscoe—another observant character in To the Lighthouse—as a creator, Clarissa's great talent is "knowing people almost by instinct," and she is able triumphantly to combine the right group of people at her party. Not only Clarissa but Richard and Peter also come to a new realization about themselves at the party. Richard, who has been unable to verbalize his love for Clarissa, is finally able to tell his daughter Elizabeth that he is proud of her. At the end, Peter realizes that the terror and excitement he feels in Clarissa's presence indicate his true feeling for her.
The two figures who are given unfavorable treatment—Sir William, the psychiatrist, and Miss Kilman, the religious fanatic—insist on modes of existence inimical to the passionate desire of Clarissa and Septimus for wholeness. Claiming that Septimus "lacks proportion," Sir William nevertheless uses his profession to gain power over others and, as Clarissa understands, makes life "intolerable" for Septimus. Miss Kilman's life is built on evangelical religion; she considers herself superior to Clarissa, whom she wants to humiliate. She proudly asserts that she will have a "religious victory," which will be "God's will."
The real action of the story is all within the minds of the characters, but Woolf gives these inner lives a reality and harmony that reveals the excitement and oneness of human existence. Clarissa and Septimus are really two aspects of the same being—the feminine and the masculine—united in Clarissa's ultimate awareness. Mrs. Dalloway remains the best introduction to Woolf's characteristic style and themes.

 

 


TO THE LIGHTHOUSE
 

Òóðå of work: Novel
Author: Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)
Type of plot: Psychological realism
Time of plot: ñ 1910-1920
Locale: The Isle of Skye in the Hebrides
First published: 1927

 

This major psychological novel, based in part on the author's own family background, is significant for its impressionistic evocation of setting and character; its effective use of stream-of-consciousness technique; its complex, unified structure; and its advancement of Woolf's theory of androgynous personality.

 

Principal Characters

Mr. Ramsay, a professor of philosophy, a metaphysician of high order, an author, and the father of eight. Not really first-rate, as he realized by the time he was sixty, he knew also that his mind was still agile, his ability to abstract strong. Loved by his wife, he is nonetheless offered sympathy and consolation for the things he is not. Lithe, trim, the very prototype of the philosopher, he attracts many people to him and uses their feelings to buoy him in his weaknesses. Not truly a father, his gift for the ironic and sardonic arouses fear and hatred rather than respect among his children. Broken by his wife's and oldest son's deaths, he continues to endure and sharpen his mind on the fine whetstone of wit.
Mrs. Ramsay, a beautiful woman even in her aging; she is warm, compassionate, and devoted to the old-fashioned virtues of hearth, husband, and children. With an aura of graciousness and goodness about her, ineffable but pervasive, Mrs. Ramsay gathers about her guests, students, friends, and family at their summer home on the Isle of Skye. Loving and tender to her children, polite and pleasant to her guests, she impresses upon them all the sanctity of life and marriage, the elemental virtues. Mrs. Ramsay's love and reverence of life have its effect on all her guests, even an atheistic student of her husband and an aloof poet, but especially on Lily Briscoe whose self-revelation at the end of the novel is due in part to Mrs. Ramsay's influence.
James, the Ramsays' youngest son and his mother's favorite, though the child most criticized by the professor because the boy robs him of sympathy that he desperately needs. Sensitive and austere, James at six and sixteen suffers most the loss of his mother, taken from him at first by a calculating father's demands and later by her death. He and his sister Camilla make a pact of war against their father's tyranny of demands and oversights. Finally, on a trip to the lighthouse, the symbol of what had been denied him by his father, Mr. Ramsay praises his son's seamanship.
Prue, who dies in childbirth, Andrew, killed in World War I, Nancy, Roger, Rose, Jasper, and Camilla, called Cam, the other children of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay. All the children resent their father and his dominance. Mrs. Ramsay regrets that they must grow up and lose the sensitivity and imagination that will come with adulthood.
Lily Briscoe, an artist and friend of the family who more than any other loved and cared for the weeks spent with the Ramsays in the Hebrides. Desperately in need of assurance, Lily has withheld love and affection from others until the summer she spends at the Ramsay cottage where she observes life with its fixed center and raw edges. Completely won over by Mrs. Ramsay, Lily almost gets her chance at life, and had the war not interfered, she might have married. She is not really a great artist, but during a visit to the Ramsay home after the war she experiences a moment of fulfilled vision, a feeling of devotion to the oldest cause, of a sense of oneness with all time, of sympathy for the human condition, and she is able to express this fleeting moment in a painting she had begun before Mrs. Ramsay's death.
Augustus Carmichael, a minor poet with one major success, a hanger-on, the only one who does not at first love his hostess but who finally discovers her genius years after her death. Laughed at by all the Ramsay children because of his yellow-tinted beard, the result of taking opium, as they imagine, he soaks up love and life without himself giving anything. His late fame as a poet is a surprise to all who know him.
Minta Doyle and Paul Rayley, two handsome guests who become engaged through Mrs. Ramsay's quiet management. Minta is like the young Mrs. Ramsay and sends out an aura of love and passion, while Paul, with his good looks and careful dress, is a foil for all affections and strong feelings. But the marriage turns out badly; Minta leads her own life and Paul takes a mistress. No longer lovers, they can afford to be friends.
William Bankes, a botanist, the oldest friend of Professor Ramsay. An aging widower, he first comes to visit with the Ramsays out of a sense of duty, but he stays on enraptured with life. The object of Lily Briscoe's undisguised affections, he appears to Mrs. Ramsay almost willing to become domesticated in spite of his eccentricities and set ways. Nothing comes of this relationship except a broadening of Lily's views on life.
Charles Tansley, Mr. Ramsay's protege, a boorish young man who eventually is won over to the warmth and love of Mrs. Ramsy. It is his opinionated conviction that women cannot paint or write. Interested in abstract thought, he makes his career in scholarship.
Mrs. McNab, the old charwoman who acts as caretaker of the Ramsay house in the Hebrides during the ten years it stands empty.
Mrs. Bast, the cottager who helps Mrs. McNab get the house ready for the return of the Ramsay family.
George Bast, her son, who catches the rats and cuts the grass surrounding the Ramsay house.
Macalister, the aged Scottish boatman who takes Mr. Ramsay, Cam, and James on an expedition to the lighthouse. He tells the voyagers tales of winter, storm, and death.

 

The Story

Mrs. Ramsay promised James, her six-year-old son, that if the next day were fair he would be taken on a visit to the lighthouse they could see from the window of their summer home on the Isle of Skye. James, the youngest of Mrs. Ramsay's eight children, was his mother's favorite. The father of the family was a professor of philosophy whose students often thought he was inspiring and one of the foremost metaphysicians of the early twentieth century; but his own children, particularly the youngest, did not like him because he made sarcastic remarks.
Several guests were visiting the Ramsays at the time. There was young Mr. Tansley, Ramsay's student, who was also unpopular with the children because he seemed to delight in their discomfiture. Tansley was mildly in love with his hostess, despite her fifty years and her eight children. There was Lily Bricoe, who was painting a picture of the cottage with Mrs. Ramsay and little James seated in front of it. There was old Mr. Carmichael, a ne'er-do-well who amused the Ramsay youngsters because he had a white beard and a mustache tinged with yellow. There was also William Bankes, an aging widower, and Prue, the prettiest of the Ramsay daughters.
The afternoon went by slowly. Mrs. Ramsay went to the village to call on a sick woman. She spent several hours knitting stockings for the lighthouse keeper's child, whom they were planning to visit. Many people wondered how the Ramsays, particularly the wife, managed to be as hospitable and charitable as they were, for they were not rich; Mr. Ramsay could not possibly make a fortune by expounding Locke, Berkeley, and Hume to students or by publishing books on metaphysics.
Mr. Carmichael, pretending to read, had actually fallen asleep early after lunch. The children, except for James, who was busy cutting pictures out of a catalogue, had busied themselves in a game of cricket. Mr. Ramsay and Mr. Tansley had passed the time in a pointless conversation. Miss Briscoe had only made a daub or two of paint on her canvas. For some reason, the lines of the scene refused to come clear in her painting. She then went for a walk with Mr. Bankes along the shore.
Even the dinner went by slowly. The only occasion of interest to the children, which was one of tension to their mother, came when Mr. Carmichael asked the maid for a second bowl of soup, thereby angering his host, who liked to have meals dispatched promptly. As soon as the children had finished, their mother sent the younger ones to bed. Mrs. Ramsay hoped that Mr. Bankes would marry Lily Briscoe. She also thought how Lily always became seasick, so it was questionable whether she would want to accompany them in the small sailboat if they should go to the lighthouse the following day. Then she thought about the fifty pounds needed to make some necessary repairs on the house.
After dinner, Mrs. Ramsay went upstairs to the nursery. James had a boar's skull that his sister detested. Whenever Camilla tried to remove it from the wall and her sight, he burst into a frenzy of screaming. Mrs. Ramsay wrapped the boar's skull in her shawl. Afterward, she went downstairs and joined her husband in the library, where they sat throughout the evening. Mrs. Ramsay knitted, while Mr. Ramsay read. Before they went to bed, it was agreed that the trip for the next day would have to be canceled. The night had turned stormy.
Night followed night. The trip to the lighthouse was never made that summer, and the Ramsays did not return to their summer home for some years. In the meantime, Mrs. Ramsay died quietly in her sleep. By now, her daughter Prue had been married and died in childbirth. World War I began, and Andrew Ramsay enlisted and was sent to France, where he was killed by an exploding shell.
Time passed. The wallpaper in the house came loose from the walls. Books mildewed. In the kitchen, a cup was occasionally knocked down and broken by old Mrs. McNab, who came to look after the house from time to time. In the garden, the roses and the annual flowers grew wild or died.
Mr. Carmichael published a volume of poems during the war. About the same time his book appeared, daffodils and violets bloomed on the Isle of Skye. Mrs. McNab looked longingly at a warm cloak left in a closet. She wished the cloak belonged to her.
At last the war ended. Mrs. McNab recieved a telegram requesting that the house be put in order. For several days, the housekeeper worked, aided by two cleaning women. When the Ramsays arrived, the cottage was in order once more. Several visitors came again to share a summer at the cottage. Lily Briscoe returned for a quiet vacation. Mr. Carmichael, the succesful poet, also arrived.
One morning, Lily Briscoe came down to breakfast and wondered at the quiet that greeted her. No one had been down ahead of her, although she had expected that Mr. Ramsay and the two youngest children, James and Camilla, would have eaten early and departed for the long-postponed sail to the lighthouse, to which the youngsters had not been looking forward with joyful anticipation. Very shortly, the three straggled down; all had slept past the time they had intended to arise. After a swift breakfast, they disappeared toward the shore. Lily Briscoe watched them go. She had set up her canvas with the intention of once again trying to paint her picture of the cottage.
The journey to the island where the lighthouse stood was not very pleasant, as the children had expected. They had never really liked their father; he had taken too little time to understand them. He was short and sharp when they did things that seemed foolish to him, although these actions were perfectly comprehensible to his son and daughter. James, especially, expected to be blamed caustically and pointlessly if the crossing were slow or not satisfactory in some other way, for he had been delegated to handle the sheets and the tiller of the boat.
Mr. Ramsay strode down to the beach with his offspring, each carrying a paper parcel to take to the keepers of the lighthouse. They soon set sail and pointed the prow of the sailboat toward the black and white striped pillar of the lighthouse in the hazy distance. Mr. Ramsay sat in the middle of the boat, along with an old fisherman and his son. They were to take over the boat in case of an emergency, for Mr. Ramsay had little trust in James as a reliable seaman. James himself sat in the stern, nerves tingling lest his father look up from his book and indulge in unnecessary and hateful criticism. His nervous tension, however, was needless, for within a few hours the little party reached the lighthouse, and Mr. Ramsay sprang ashore like a youngster, smiled back at his children, and praised his son for his seamanship.
Lily Briscoe and her art become the true unifier of the story's disparate elements. During the dinner party, as she remembers Charles Tansley's dictum that "Women can't write, women can't paint," she suddenly envisions the way to give her picture coherence, and she moves the saltcellar to remind herself. Her painting, however, remains incomplete, and, like the trip to the lighthouse, is not accomplished until many years later. Lily, an unmarried professional, embodies both rational (masculine) and imaginative (feminine) characteristics. She analyzes art with William Bankes and still feels emotionally attuned with Mrs. Ramsay. Lily becomes the central figure in the final section; her visions of Mrs. Ramsay and of Mr. Ramsay and the children finally landing at the lighthouse enable her to complete her work, uniting the rational and the imaginative into the androgynous whole which the painting symbolizes.
The novel's structure is thematically as well as techincally brilliant. The work has three parts: the first, entitled "The Window" takes place about 1910, the last, entitled "The Lighthouse," about 1920. The middle section is entitled "Time Passes" and narrates the intervening time period. The window in the first section functions as a symbol of the female principle, as the narrator returns again and again to Mrs. Ramsay in her place near the open window. Mrs. Ramsay is the center and unifier of the family, and even as different characters participate in various activities, their thoughts and glances return to Mrs. Ramsay. The reddish-brown stocking she is knitting is another emblem of her unifying power; but, like the trip to the lighthouse and Lily's painting, it is not completed in the first section. The thoughts of different characters are narrated by means of interior monologue, and Woolf makes skillful use of the theory of association of ideas. Mrs. Ramsay's mind is most often viewed, however, and she is the most realistic of the characters.
Early in the novel, the lighthouse, in its faraway light-giving aspects, functions as a female symbol. Mrs. Ramsay identifies herself with that lighthouse: "she was stern, she was searching, she was beautiful like that light." In the last section, however, the lighthouse becomes a masculine principle; when seen from nearby it is a "tower, stark and straight . . . barred with black and white." Nevertheless, the male and female aspects become joined in that section as well; James thinks, "For nothing was simply one thing. The other Lighthouse was true too." James and Camilla, therefore, come to understand their father as well as their dead mother. The line that Lily Briscoe draws in the center of her picture—perhaps her image of the lighthouse—enables her to complete her painting, uniting the masculine and the feminine.
The center section, "Time Passes," is narrated from the viewpoint of the house itself, as the wind over the years peels wallpaper; rusts pots; brings mildew, dust, spider webs, and rats. Important events in the lives of the Ramsays are inserted prosaically into this poetic interlude by means of square brackets.
To the Lighthouse is a difficult work, but each successive reading brings new insights into Woolf's techiniques and themes.

Critical Evaluation

Because of its unity of theme and technique, To the Lighthouse is probably Virginia Woolf's most satisfying novel. In theme, it is her most direct fictional statement about the importance of an androgynous artistic vision: that ideal which is neither masculine nor feminine but partakes of both. The book was almost contemporaneous with her important essay on women and fiction, A Room of One's Own, and Orlando, her androgynous fictitional biography. In A Room of One's Own, she appeals for androgynous creation, arguing that it is fatal for a writer to emphasize gender. For Woolf, the mind that blends female and male themes "is naturally creative, incandescent and undivided." Many of her protagonists and most of the artists in her novels have both traditional masculine and feminine characteristics: Bernard in The Waves, Eleanor in The Years, Miss La Trobe in Between the Acts, and Lily Briscoe in To the Lighthouse. Each of these characters has an androgynous consciousness, even as Orlando completes the physical change from male to female.
To the Lighthouse clearly shows the deficiencies of the purely masculine (Mr. Ramsay) and the purely feminine (Mrs. Ramsay) personalities, and, as well, holds up the androgynous vision as a way of unifying the two—in the person of Lily Briscoe, the artist. Mr. Ramsay, a philosopher, has those qualities associated with the empirical view, while Mrs. Ramsay employs a mythopoetic vision. Mr. Ramsay is concerned with the discovery of truth, and his mind functions in a logical, reasoned fashion, moving, as he says, from A to Z, step-by-step. He worries that he has only so far reached Q. Mrs. Ramsay cares about details, about people's feelings, about her relationship with her husband and children; and her mind jumps and skips with the association of ideas—she can move from A to Z in one leap.
Mr. Ramsay is deficient in the attention he gives to his children and his wife, in concern for financial details, in awareness of social and international situations. His character is satirized by Lily, who always pictures him as seeing the whole of reality in a phantom kitchen table (the table is a traditional object for philosophic speculation). Mrs. Ramsay is lacking as well: she attempts to direct and fashion people's lives (she engineers the engagement of Minta and Paul and tries to match Lily Briscoe and William Bankes); she does not want her children to grow up; she cannot understand mathematics or history; she too often relies on men and their "masculine intelligence." The dinner scene shows Mrs. Ramsay's main strengths and weaknesses. She orchestrates the whole, directs the conversation, worries about the Boeuf en Daube, thinks about the lateness of the hour, makes sure all the guests are involved. Nevertheless, she lets her mind wander, looking ahead to the next details. She is the unifier in the first part of the book, but she fails because her vision is too limited; the trip to the lighthouse is not made, and she dies before the Ramsays can return to the island.
Lily Briscoe and her art become the true unifier of the story's disparate elements. During the dinner party, as she remembers Charles Tansley's dictum that "Women can't write, women can't paint," she suddenly envisions the way to give her picture coherence, and she moves the saltcellar to remind herself. Her painting, however, remains incomplete, and, like the trip to the lighthouse, is not accomplished until many years later. Lily, an unmarried professional, embodies both rational (masculine) and imaginative (feminine) characteristics. She analyzes art with William Bankes and still feels emotionally attuned with Mrs. Ramsay. Lily becomes the central figure in the final section; her visions of Mrs. Ramsay and of Mr. Ramsay and the children finally landing at the lighthouse enable her to complete her work, uniting the rational and the imaginative into the androgynous whole which the painting symbolizes.
The novel's structure is thematically as well as techincally brilliant. The work has three parts: the first, entitled "The Window" takes place about 1910, the last, entitled "The Lighthouse," about 1920. The middle section is entitled "Time Passes" and narrates the intervening time period. The window in the first section functions as a symbol of the female principle, as the narrator returns again and again to Mrs. Ramsay in her place near the open window. Mrs. Ramsay is the center and unifier of the family, and even as different characters participate in various activities, their thoughts and glances return to Mrs. Ramsay. The reddish-brown stocking she is knitting is another emblem of her unifying power; but, like the trip to the lighthouse and Lily's painting, it is not completed in the first section. The thoughts of different characters are narrated by means of interior monologue, and Woolf makes skillful use of the theory of association of ideas. Mrs. Ramsay's mind is most often viewed, however, and she is the most realistic of the characters.
Early in the novel, the lighthouse, in its faraway light-giving aspects, functions as a female symbol. Mrs. Ramsay identifies herself with that lighthouse: "she was stern, she was searching, she was beautiful like that light." In the last section, however, the lighthouse becomes a masculine principle; when seen from nearby it is a "tower, stark and straight . . . barred with black and white." Nevertheless, the male and female aspects become joined in that section as well; James thinks, "For nothing was simply one thing. The other Lighthouse was true too." James and Camilla, therefore, come to understand their father as well as their dead mother. The line that Lily Briscoe draws in the center of her picture—perhaps her image of the lighthouse—enables her to complete her painting, uniting the masculine and the feminine.
The center section, "Time Passes," is narrated from the viewpoint of the house itself, as the wind over the years peels wallpaper; rusts pots; brings mildew, dust, spider webs, and rats. Important events in the lives of the Ramsays are inserted prosaically into this poetic interlude by means of square brackets.
To the Lighthouse is a difficult work, but each successive reading brings new insights into Woolf's techiniques and themes.

 

The Waves

Virginia Woolf
1882-1941

The Waves, though Woolf's most experimental piece of writing, is nevertheless endlessly rewarding. It shares many of the preoccupations of her other novels: experiments with time and narrative; the representation of lives in biographical writing; and the unfixing of identities. It also pushes the "stream of consciousness" in new directions: becoming an exploration of the relationship between inner life and the "impersonal" elements of waves and water, rather than a narrative technique.
Woolf uses the time-span of a clay to explore the temporality of a life, or lives—the movement of the waves defines the passage from dawn to dusk and provides a structure for the novel. It was conceived as "prose yet poetry"—the six selves of the novel are represented by "dramatic soliloquies," and interspersed with "poetic interludes" that describe the passage of the sun across the sky and the rhythms of the tide.
The Waves traces the six lives from childhood to middle age, but seeks to show continuities rather than developments. "We are not single," as Bernard (the novel's chief chronicler) remarks. The characters speak their thoughts as separate entities, rarely in dialogue, yet the novel brings them together by listening in at synchronous moments in their lives and by regrouping them at various stages. The Waves is concerned with the experience and articulation of identity through a fascinating discourse that cannot be named either as speech or as thought.


THE WAVES
 

Type of work: Novel
Author: Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)
Òyðå of plot: Psychological realism
Time of plot: The present
Locale: England
First published: 1931

 

A major psychological novel, The Waves presents a series of interlocking dramatic monologues in which six characters, all of them more or less androgynous types, reveal the hidden essence of being at successive stages of their lives. The action is a record of time passing as the six characters trace the course of their memories and sensations from childhood to old age and death.

 

Principal Characters

Percival, a childhood friend of the six central characters, who respect, admire, and love him; he is the symbol of the ordinary man, the conventional figure. Rather awkward, bumbling, but pleasant and accepted everywhere, Percival forms the light around whom the six-sided flower revolves, as Bernard put it. In love with the natural woman, Susan, he is beloved by Neville, the scholar, the lover of young men, the brilliant poet. A sportsman, a hale fellow, a poor scholar, and finally a soldier who dies in India, Percival represents a kind of norm in personality and conduct.
Bernard, the phrasemaker, the chronicler of the group of childhood friends as they grope toward death, the great adversary of all human life, he thinks. Through Bernard the rest of the characters see life, because in his attempt to grasp reality he is able to become whomever he meets or talks with. Though he sees himself as a failure, he does catch at essences and makes of these his unfinished stories, tales that Percival once saw through and would not let him finish. Deeply devoted to his best friend Neville, he nevertheless is all things to all the characters. A husband, father, provider, friend, he becomes, finally, a seer who tries to sum up the meaning of experiences all have shared.
Neville, the poet, the scrupulous artist, the lover of a single man, the sensitive genius who keeps his life carefully wrapped and labeled. Gaunt and handsome, gifted with the tongue of all great men and able to mimic them from Catulus to Shakespeare, he finds it difficult to survive the shock of Percival's death. He turns first to reproductions of the man and measures his time by the conversations with young, handsome men to whom he is a kind of Socrates. Lonely, introspective he finally finds diversion with frivolous Jinny. He has the ability to speak to them all, even Susan, who sees him as her antithesis.
Susan, the elemental woman, nature-loving and natural, a born mother and an implement of life. Disliking the pine and linoleum smells of school, civilization, she endures education, even travel, so that she may replace her dead mother, administer love to her earthy father, marry a farmer, and raise a family amid the natural, lovely, rural England where she can indulge in its sights, smells, sounds, and feelings. She has long loved Bernard and has been the object of Percival's love, but none know of these things until later. She resists social ways, dress, attitudes even to the point of boorishness, though she carries human feelings, love and jealousy, admiration and disgust, to their meetings.
Louis, the son of a Brisbane banker, a self-conscious outcast of the society of his friends but the most brilliant and egotistical one of the group. Endowed with self-knowledge, the result of fine breeding from the Hebrews in their Egyptian bondage through the present, Louis hides his endowments and very real gifts out of shame and fear of ridicule. In this way he finally becomes assertive and makes of business a romance, false but substantial. He fears all the others except Rhoda, whom he makes his mistress after these two outsiders are drawn together by their loneliness. All recognize his supremacy in subtle ways, and he is respected for this fierce inner being in spite of the discomfort it causes the group.
Rhoda, the plain, clumsy misfit who tries to imitate the world which despises her. Alone with her meager self, she longs for anonymity and retreats from reality early. Tolerated by Susan, avoided by Jinny, she has a kind of ease with Bernard and a negative attraction to Louis. Not gifted in any way, she denies the role life has created for her and commits suicide in middle life.
Jinny, the hedonist, the careful cultivator of externals, and the one who causes a rustle wherever she goes. Beautiful, she possesses physical vitality, which she burns out in a few brief years; Jinny has the superficial drive of appearances as opposed to the elemental in Susan. Assignations are her business; epicureanism is the method, and weariness is the result.

 

The Story

The waves rolled shoreward, and at daybreak, the children awoke. Watching the sunrise, Bernard, maker of phrases, seeker of causes, saw a loop of light—he would always think of it as a ring, the circle of experience giving life pattern and meaning. Neville, shy and passionate, imagined a globe dangling against the flank of day. Susan, lover of fields and seasons, saw a slab of yellow, the crusted loaf, the buttered slice, of tea time in the country. Rhoda, awkward, timid, heard wild cries of startled birds. Jinny, sensuous and pleasure loving, saw a tassel of gold and crimson. Louis, of a race that had seen women carry red pitchers to the Nile, heard a chained beast stamping on the sands.
While the others played, Louis hid among the currant bushes. Jinny, finding him there and pitying his loneliness, kissed him. Suddenly jealous, Susan ran away, and Bernard followed to comfort her. They walked across fields to Elvedon, where they saw a woman writing at a window. Later in the schoolroom, Louis refused to recite because he was ashamed of his Australian accent. Rhoda was unable to do her sums and had to stay in. Louis pitied her, for she was the one he did not fear.
The day brightened. Bernard, older now, yawned through the headmaster's speech in chapel. Neville leaned sideways to watch Percival, who sat flicking the back of his neck. A glance, a gesture, Neville realized, and one could fall in love forever. Louis, liking order, sat quietly. As long as the head talked, Louis forgot snickers at his accent, his memories of kisses underneath a hedge. Susan, Jinny, and Rhoda were in a school where they sat primly under a portrait of Queen Alexandra. Susan thought of hay waving in the meadows at home. Jinny pictured a gold and crimson party dress. Rhoda dreamed of picking flowers and offering them to someone whose face she never saw.
Time passed, and the last day of the term arrived. Louis went to work in London after his father, a Brisbane banker, failed. In his attic room, he sometimes heard the great beast stamping in the dark, but now the noise was that of city crowds and traffic. At Cambridge, Neville read Catullus and waited with uneasy eagerness for Percival 's smile or nod. Bernard was Byron's young man one day, Shelley's or Dostoevski's the next. One day, Neville brought him a poem. Reading it, Bernard felt that Neville would succeed while he would fail. Neville was one person in love with one person, Percival. In this phrasemaking, Bernard became many people—a plumber, a horse breeder, an old woman in the street—as well as Byron's or Dostoevski's man. In Switzerland, Susan dreamed of newborn lambs in baskets, or marsh mists and autumn rains, of the lover who would walk with her beside dusty hollyhocks. At a ball in London, Jinny, dancing, felt as if her body glowed with inward fire. At the same ball, Rhoda sat and stared across the rooftops.
They all loved Percival; before he left for India, they met at a dinner party in London to bid him good-bye. Bernard, not knowing that Susan had loved him, was already engaged. Louis was learning to cover his shyness with brisk assurance; the poet had become a businessman. Rhoda was frightened by life. Waiters and diners looked up when Jinny entered—lovely and poised. Susan became dowdy, hated London. Neville, loving Percival in secret, dreaded the moment of parting that would carry him away. Here, thought Bernard, was the circle he had seen long ago. Youth was friendship and a stirring in the blood, like the notes of Percival's wild hunting song.
The sun passed the zenith, and shadows lengthened. When word came that Percival had been killed in India, Neville felt as if that doom had been his own. Nevertheless, he would go on, a famous poet and scholar after a time, but always as well a lonely man waiting in his rooms for the footstep on the stair of this young man or that whom he loved in place of Percival. Bernard was married then; his son had been born. He thought of Susan, whom Percival had loved. Rhoda also thought of Susan, engaged to her farmer in the country. She remembered the dream in which she had offered flowers to a man whose face had been hidden from her, and she knew at last that the man had been Percival.
Shadows grew longer over country and town. Louis, a wealthy, successful businessman, planned a place in Surrey with greenhouses and rare gardens, but he still kept his attic room where Rhoda often came; they had become lovers. Susan walked in the fields with her children or sat sewing by the firelight in a quiet room. Jinny groomed a body shaped for gaiety and pleasure. Neville measured time by the hours he spent waiting for the footstep on the stair, the young face at the door. Bernard tried to snare in phrases the old man on the train, the lovers in the park. The only realities, he thought, were in common things. He realized that he had lost friends by death— Percival was one—and others because he had not wished to cross the street. After Louis and Rhoda parted, his new mistress was a vulgar cockney actress. Rhoda, always in flight, went to Spain. Climbing a hill to look across the sea toward Africa, she thought of rest and longed for death.
Slowly, the sun sank. At Hampton Court, the six friends met again for dinner. They were old now, and each had gone a different way after Percival had died in India years before. Bernard felt that he had failed. He had wrapped himself in phrases; he had sons and daughters, but he had ventured no farther than Rome. He had not become rich, like Louis, or famous, like Neville. Jinny had lived only for pleasure, little enough, as she was learning. After dinner, Bernard and Susan walked by the lake. There was little of their true thoughts they could say to each other. Bernard, however, was still a maker of phrases.
Percival, he said, had become like the flower on the table where they ate—six-sided, made from their six lives.
So it seemed to him years later, after Rhoda had jumped to her death and the rest were old. He wondered what the real truth had been—the middle-class respectability of Louis, Rhoda's haunted imagination, Neville's passion for one love, Susan's primitivism, Jinny's sensuous pleasures, his own attempt to catch reality in a phrase. He had been Byron's young man and Dostoevski's and also the hairy old savage in the blood. Once he had seen a loop of light, a ring; but he had found no pattern and no meaning, only the knowledge that death is the great adversary against whom man rides in the darkness where the waves break on the shore.

 

Critical Evaluation

The Waves owes nothing whatever to the traditional form of the novel. In this book, Virginia Woolf was attempting to give to fiction the subtle insights and revealing moments of perception that at one time were the sole domain of poetry. Her method is highly stylized. In a series of interlocking dramatic monologues, six characters reveal the hidden essence of being at successive stages of their lives. The action, if anything so fleeting and inward can be called action, is a record of time passing as the six characters trace the course of their memories and sensations from childhood to old age and death. There is nothing irrelevant here; everything is observation, sensation, and naked intuition.
Woolf looked at life with a poet's vision, and in this novel, she went even beyond Joyce in her use of symbols to make objects in the external world correspond to inner reality. Each section of her story is prefaced by a descriptive passage in which the movements of sun and waves through a single day stand for time and eternity. Uniting her people is the character of Percival, viewed only through their eyes, symbol of the natural man and also of the emotional certainty that all seek in life. At the end, Bernard summarizes the experiences of the group and sees in their lives man's challenge to death.
The six soliloquies, spoken by six different characters at different periods in their lives from childhood to old age, are not literally spoken aloud; in most cases, the characters are verbalizing their thoughts and inner feelings. Often the narration is in the present tense, as a character explains what he is doing at that moment. Characters do not usually speak to one another, although at times they almost seem to communicate telepathically; each person is set apart, alone, although each knows and thinks about the others. The soliloquies are too well ordered for random thought patterns and too sophisticated and artificial for actual speech; they evoke the atmosphere of a dreamworld. Each soliloquy is paralleled by the passing of a day from sunrise to sunset; descriptions of nature—of the sun, the sea, birds, and plants—precede each section and serve to make implicit comparisons with the characters' speeches. The most dominant of these images is that of the waves.
The characters have different qualities: Bernard is the leader and unifier; Jinny is an extrovert, Rhoda an introvert; Louis wanted desperately to succeed; Neville is a poet; Susan loves the country life. The quality of their speech, however, is not differentiated, and it is perhaps more correct to say that the six characters are all parts of one being; or the six may all be aspects of the personality of Woolf herself, or of the human personality. In addition to these main characters, there is Percival, a schoolfellow of the other six who dies in India in his midtwenties and who never speaks directly in the novel but appears as the others speak of him. He is a unifying element for the group, all of whom care deeply about him. He seems to have almost mythical powers over them as well, and his name is related to Parzival, the keeper of the Grail. They all look to him as their ideal and goal.
Woolf often uses Bernard to express ideas about the ambiguity of language, which is one of the book's major themes. A phrasemaker, Bernard comes to distrust words and believes in the experience that is inexpressible. Words have always enabled Bernard to create order from chaos, but he comes to understand that words may not capture the reality of the experience at all, but only an image of it; thus, he worries about the very process of telling the story. Actually, the "story" in The Waves is practically nonexistent. The crucial event is Bernard's renewal, as the wave of life's desires again rises in him; this reuniting with the cycle of life, death, and rebirth has been foreshadowed throughout the novel by the symbol of the waves. Thus, the shining ring that Bernard envisioned as a boy becomes an appropriate symbol for the oneness of art and life that Woolf has established by the end of the book.

 

 

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