Sunday, March 22, 2009

Virginia Woolf

Of all things, the two books (wow that's unbelievably sad) I read during the most recent 8 weeks of classes were both by Virginia Woolf. The first was one of the worst books I've ever read, and the 2nd one of the best. Go figure.

To the Lighthouse is fiction, written in Virginia Woolf's awkward feminine rambling fiction writing style, made ten times worse by the old-style usage of far too many commas which make you mentally stutter between every phrase. The topic, every rumination and angst of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey and their many children and friends, I am tempted to rail against as well, but considering how much I like John Updike, I think I would have found it very engrossing and wonderful if it weren't for the writing style. Very hard to get through. If it weren't for book club, I would have given up three pages into it.

A Room of One's Own is one of the best books I've read in a very long time. (But this is likely because I've intentionally tried to read more fiction since college, and I just strongly prefer nonfiction across the board.) Woolf really should have stuck to essays, because when she is trying to be logical and analytical and philosophical, her writing style follows suit, and I can actually stand it. For only 112 pages, it is chock full of succulent tidbits on feminism, writing, philosophy, society, history, etc etc etc. Fantastic.

Now I have to rant about Woolf's annoying trait that shows very clearly through in each book. For someone as revolutionary as herself, she was ridiculously insecure. Lily, the character in To the Lighthouse that is clearly based on herself, does nothing but angstily question her abilities as a painter, and Woolf herself, in A Room of One's Own, describes questioning whether she really is capable of writing about women and fiction and whether she knows what she's doing when she sits down to do research. It's very hard for me to understand how someone who broke significant social barriers to do what she wanted to do can still be so fretful that she's doing it "right". Don't you have to disregard prior standards to even get to the point of attempt in the face of adversity? I guess, no matter how sure of yourself you are, if you're told you're crazy by enough people, you'll start to wonder if they're right.

4 comments:

Fred said...

I think most revolutionaries have a hard inner core of doubt. Also, do you like James Joyce?

Vera said...

I haven't actually gotten around to reading James Joyce. I was under the impression he was mostly a poet (therefore to be avoided) until I realized he wrote Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, which I've been meaning to read. Is he good?

Fred said...

A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man is good, Dubliners (short stories) is great. Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake are incomprehensible. To me, at any rate. I just brought him up because his style is a kindred spirit to Woolf's. I like both of their meandering narrative styles. :)

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