Val (valaria) wrote in frcs,
Val
valaria
frcs

so here is a chat about Virginia Woolf and our final assignment at http://www.readerville.com

Vally126 - 11:15am Mar 6, 2004 PDT(#1138 of 1161) Mark | Delete
"Sometimes a girl just likes to know that her man is fully capable of swinging on a chandelier, should the need arise." --CharisM


Hi. I don't normally visit this thread, but I have to write a paper on this really annoying commentary about To the Lighthouse, which basically stated that people only profess to like the book because it is regarded as a great work of literature. I don't agree with it, because I do actually think it is a good book. I was wondering, though, did anyone here enjoy it? If you did, Why? (I'm sorry if that sounds like an high school writing prompt, but I would appreciate the help.)

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mef - 11:22am Mar 6, 2004 PDT(#1139 of 1161) Mark
"Break Into The Game Industry: How to Get A Job Making Video Games" by Ernest Adams (www.DesignersNotebook.com)


Man oh man, do I wish I could help. I didn't much like "To the Lighthouse" until I had to re-read it to write a paper on it myself! And then, somehow, rereading it -- I've decided that for me, all Woolf's work is better when re-read than when read -- it clicked and I got what she was doing, what (at least to the extent of my understanding) the Modernist schtick was. And I'm fairly into Woolf now, but only in terms of what it was she was trying to achieve and the experimental ways she tried to achieve those goals -- I admire what she was doing tremendously, but I would never read Woolf just because it was enjoyable. I don't have the gene for it.

I read Lawrence Durrell quoting Wilde that the best way to hate art is to appreciate it intellectually, so I guess I'd actually qualify as *hating* Woolf -- because that's exactly how I appreciate her. It's a head thing, not a heart thing, with me, although I do think that individual sentences or images of hers can take the breath away. On the whole, I don't enjoy her novels!

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skolkin - 02:18pm Mar 6, 2004 PDT(#1140 of 1161) Mark
author of "The Fragile Mistress", Glad Day Books(due out soon)


I thoroughly enjoy Virginia Woolf. It's her language and her depth. The startling way in To The Lighthouse she unearths another insight, another character's inner life. I love, too, the imagistic beauty of her work. In fact, there isn't a writer I enjoy more. I completely disagree with Mef in regard to her attitude towards an analysis of the self and its relation to the world. There is where she ignites the page. Her psychological complexities. I know that she hated Victorian medicine and psychology but I seriously doubt she would not have given a nod to Freud if she had known more about his theories. She ached for the novel to reveal the unconscious mind and simply did not live long enough to partake of the wealth of psychoanalytic thought that was to come.
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Much conversation unrelated to my question
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mef - 10:07am Mar 7, 2004 PDT(#1151 of 1161) Mark
"Break Into The Game Industry: How to Get A Job Making Video Games" by Ernest Adams (www.DesignersNotebook.com)


Well, Vally126, I'm sure that didn't help your paper. If you're still here: Why does the critic you've been given to read think that nobody enjoys reading "To the Lighthouse"? That's a pretty darned sweeping statement... What case do does the author make? Maybe we can help if you tell a bit more about why this critic thinks nobody likes the piece...

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Vally126 - 07:05pm Mar 7, 2004 PDT(#1152 of 1161) Mark | Delete
"Sometimes a girl just likes to know that her man is fully capable of swinging on a chandelier, should the need arise." --CharisM


The critic gives a number of reasons for disliking the book. He (and I'm assuming it's a he) calls the book "a rambling monotony, a lifeless droning." He basically says that the exposition is too much, the plot too little, and he once or twice calls Woolf "in love with her own words." He says that no one would want to read it, and that the only people who say it is good are people who want to sound smart and look cultured. But he also says that the logic of these folks is flawed, because they admit not to understanding the book.

He continues to say that the book is not "stream of consciousness" writing, that it is not symbolic, and that it is not art. He says that it isn't art also, because Woolf didn't make it appeal to her audience. He repeatedly calls the novel pointless and boring.

Actually, here is a link to the entire review.

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mef - 01:28am Mar 8, 2004 PDT(#1153 of 1161) Mark
"Break Into The Game Industry: How to Get A Job Making Video Games" by Ernest Adams (www.DesignersNotebook.com)


Vally, thanks for that. I've got some thoughts that I *hope* will be helpful, but first -- I did stumble across one of the pertinent references this morning and I don't know whether anybody cares, but I said I'd post them so I'd better keep my word. Here is James Strachey (Lytton's brother) writing to his wife, 14 May 1925:

"...dined w/ the Wolves [sic] & Dadie. Virginia made a more than usually ferocious onslaught upon psychoanalysis & psychoanalysts, more particularly the latter."
So it wasn't an unusual mild instance, but a "more than usually ferocious" instance.

Now -- to more important things! This article reminds me very much of one I read earlier this year called, believe it or don't, "Virginia Woolf Makes Me Want to Vomit."

It's all personal opinion from these people who don't 'get' Woolf. I would say that this kind of critic (your guy and the "Vomit" guy) really ought to take the time to understand what Woolf was doing, before condemning her for not doing what everyone else does. They are judging by the wrong yardstick. We wouldn't respect a critic who condemns "Monte Python and the Holy Grail" for not being historically accurate; s/he would clearly have missed the point. So why is it valid to say that nothing happens in TTL, when what happens is internal and subtle, and must be judged on that basis?

So...I must admit I don't have time to even READ the whole piece, so I'm going to riff off of what you wrote, but...He condemns it from the opening sentence -- if he gives any examples of what he thinks is GOOD writing, I would bring in the opening sentences of those works and see if they are any less "banal" than Woolf's. If he doesn't give such examples, pick some of your own, from classics -- Dickens? -- and from blockbusters.

Calling Woolf "in love with her own words" is interesting -- in love with words, period, I'd say, and why is that a bad thing? Also wonder if he makes that accusation against any of the major Victorian novelists, or against poets. Again, it boils down to his using the wrong yardstick, that is, she's writing a poetic prose. If he bothered to look at HOW she uses these words, he'd see how repetition of key words links different passages, and if he read her essays on writing, he'd know that she was writing with the aim of producing rhythmic prose. He is not doing a service to literature or to his readers (who presumably look to a critic for guidance on what to read?) to judge her the way he'd judge Stephen King.

Saying no one would want to read it is patently false -- plenty of people do. If he's not offering data and statistics, then he's assuming other people share his opinion. The existence of, say, the International Virginia Woolf Society would argue that he's wrong there.

The book may not be stream of consciousness (and would he like it any better if it were? Given that he doesn't find the internal workings of the characters to be interesting, I doubt it) but certainly has stream of consciousness passages. As I remember it, the scene in which Mrs. Ramsay measures the stocking for the lighthouse keeper's son against her own son's leg involves her mind streaming over all kinds of things -- whether so-and-so will marry, how shabby the furniture is, and how the maid's father is seriously ill in Switzerland. One critic (Eric Auerbach, in an essay called "The Brown Stocking" that is reprinted in lots of collections, including one edited by Morris Beja, and is also available in Auerbach's book "Mimesis") says it takes longer to READ the passage than it does to actually MEASURE a stocking, because we're going through all of Mrs. Ramsay's thoughts.

That it's not symbolic is, again, in the eye of the beholder. Roger Fry, on first reading the book, wrote to Woolf and told her it was great and then said he was sure he was missing the symbolic significance of the journey to the lighthouse. Woolf replied that she meant nothing by the lighthouse because she couldn't handle writing concrete symbols, but only dealt with symbols in a vague sort of way. She said she put the lighthouse there because every book needs a line down the middle to hold it together, and that she was sure people would interpret it in their own ways, find it symbolic of whatever they wanted to. That letter is available in her collected letters (sometime around, maybe May? 1927).

And they surely HAVE interpreted it all kinds of ways. There's a run-down of them...somew

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mef - 01:29am Mar 8, 2004 PDT(#1154 of 1161) Mark
"Break Into The Game Industry: How to Get A Job Making Video Games" by Ernest Adams (www.DesignersNotebook.com)


There's a run-down of them...somewhere. I think it may be in the intro to the Morris Beja anthology. One guy twisted it into tortured Biblical allegory, with Mrs. Ramsay as Christ and Eve and Mary all rolled into one!

Now, if your reviewer really thinks that art isn't art unless it appeals to the public, he'd better find another line of work! Surely there are plenty of artistic triumphs nobody liked when they came out. Isn't that what we mean by some artists we describe as being head of their time? Van Gogh only sold one painting before he died -- the public didn't like it, so the "Sunflowers" aren't art? Woolf wrote somewhere (sorry to be vague) that novels should be entertaining; the context was her reaction to Joyce, that it was good stuff but why did people think great art had to be boring, or something like that.

The book didn't boor her contemporaries -- congratulations from the usual crowd came pouring in. Okay, that could just be the actions of their coterie but books don't last simply because they are required reading; they last because people genuinely find them worthwhile.

If he thinks the novel is pointless, then I would suspect that he's showing us that he has missed the point. People may take away from it different points: for me, the point is as James says near the end, that "Nothing was simply one thing." Throughout, Woolf emphasizes the different ways of looking at the world, starting with that "banal" opening scene in which Mrs. Ramsay and Mr. Ramsay have such different takes on the world. James learns that reality is a synthesis of different viewpoints. Along the way, he begins to resolve a lifelong resentment of his tyrranical father, and in Lily, Woolf gives us a portrait of a artist of a certain kind, and a precis of how art is created.

There IS a there there...

Good luck on the paper --

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mef - 01:36am Mar 8, 2004 PDT(#1155 of 1161) Mark
"Break Into The Game Industry: How to Get A Job Making Video Games" by Ernest Adams (www.DesignersNotebook.com)


Oops, left out the all-important citation for my Strachey quotation, above!! It is: Perry Meisel & Walter Kendrick. eds. "Bloomsbury/ Freud : The Letters of James & Alix Strachey, 1924- 1925". London: Chatto & Windus, 1986. Page 264.

In the opinion of the editors (see p 308-9) -- "Though by the late twenties the close connection btw Bloomsbury & Psychoanalysis had been confirmed, Virginia, alone among her circle, was entirely hostile to the idea of being analyzed." Then quotes Alix Strachey (See Joan Russell Noble's, "Recollections", p 116) that James wondered why Leonard didn't persuade her to be analyzed; Alix thought stopping the madness might have stopped the creativity

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Vally126 - 01:08pm Mar 8, 2004 PDT(#1156 of 1161) Mark | Delete
"Sometimes a girl just likes to know that her man is fully capable of swinging on a chandelier, should the need arise." --CharisM


Thank you so much, mef!

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sheba - 08:35pm Mar 8, 2004 PDT(#1157 of 1161) Mark
The older one grows, the more one likes indecency. -- Virginia Woolf


Vally126, sorry to post and run; I have no time. But To The Lighthouse is my favorite Woolf novel and she does so many interesting things in it. What a stupid essay you're being asked to respond to. Who wrote it again?

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Vally126 - 10:08am Mar 9, 2004 PDT(#1158 of 1161) Mark | Delete
"Sometimes a girl just likes to know that her man is fully capable of swinging on a chandelier, should the need arise." --CharisM


It doesn't say the author. I'm supposed to respond to it by defending the novel though, so it isn't too bad.

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mef - 10:21am Mar 9, 2004 PDT(#1159 of 1161) Mark
"Break Into The Game Industry: How to Get A Job Making Video Games" by Ernest Adams (www.DesignersNotebook.com)


There goes my theory -- I thought maybe this was some weird (and probably mis-guided but well-meant) attempt to give students who honestly don't chime with Woolf's work a chance to try to articulate why (and maybe learn something about Woolf in the process! I think leaving off the author is extremely odd, though. Why not say who wrote it?

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Vally126 - 11:00am Mar 9, 2004 PDT(#1160 of 1161) Mark | Delete
"Sometimes a girl just likes to know that her man is fully capable of swinging on a chandelier, should the need arise." --CharisM


The review comes from a website, http://www.alleywriter.com. The critic refers to himself as "the Alley Writer" and has reviewed a number of books, although I have yet to see a review as negative as this one.

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whyit - 01:35pm Mar 9, 2004 PDT(#1161 of 1161) Mark

Yes, the essay is stupid. But so is the assignment. Wouldn't it have been more effective and worthwhile to the students to have them write on a thoughtful and well-written work of literary criticism? (This is basic pedagogy 101: a well prepared assignment will produce better essays from students than a poorly prepared one. Believe me, I know, having written a few assignments that, well, let's just say they didn't work out well. But one learns from one's mistakes ...)

On the plus side, Vally126, your essay is bound to be better--much better--than the one you're responding to. Good luck! (I'm a big fan of To the Lighthouse, myself, I have to say. When I first read it as an undergraduate, I was blown away by the Time Passes section, which is I think one of the most effective and moving pieces of writing Woolf ever did.)
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