Archive | May 2016

The Voyage Out and Woolf’s Future Works (Part One)

HALT! Spoilers Ahead. If you haven’t read The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf and don’t wish to be spoiled, please turn back now (but please come back after you’ve read it). If you can’t resist, proceed at your own risk.

 

The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf is a virtual parade of books. The characters are recommending, lending, borrowing, writing, and reading — or not reading — books. (This is not surprising coming from a great reader like Ms. Woolf particularly since this was her first novel. Notice the same focus on books and reading in Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen’s first novel.) So I will use books to order my rambling thoughts on The Voyage Out.

The thing that struck me most about The Voyage Out was that the seeds of several of Ms. Woolf’s future works are present here in her first novel.

 

Three Guineas

When Hewet ridicules men’s professions and “…offices and a title and lots of letters after his name and bits of ribbon and degrees” (p. 217), it reminds me that later Ms. Woolf — at greater length and for a greater purpose — advised women to avoid those very trappings (the uniforms, medals, plaques, and awards of military and professional men) in Three Guineas.

 

A Room of One’s Own

Terence Hewet, with his seven hundred a year and an ambition to write fiction, inescapably brings to mind A Room of One’s Own. Though male, Hewet is otherwise an obvious precursor to Mary Carmichael, the fictional embodiment of Ms. Woolf’s notion of what women require in order to write fiction.

In her first novel, Ms. Woolf chose Hewet to express many of the theories about women and their place in society that she later explores in greater depth in A Room of One’s Own. Hewet’s remark that women see men “…as three times as big as we are or they’d never obey us” (p. 216) later becomes the famous

Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size. (A Room of One’s One, p. 35)

Hewet’s version depicts women as foolish and subservient and therefore incapable of achieving equality with men even if given the appropriate opportunities (pgs. 216–217). I think this is a matter of characterization rather than Ms. Woolf’s own opinion. Years later when Ms. Woolf explores the notion in her book-length essay, she attributes this reflection to a male demand, observing that, like her fictional professor, many men become outraged when a women fails to reflect back to a man an idealized image of his imagined superiority (A Room of One’s Own, pgs. 34–36).

As an essayist and novelist, Ms. Woolf was interested in rectifying the absence of women’s accounts of their own experiences written in their own voices in fiction, history, and the Western literary tradition. In a fitting dramatization of her point, Ms. Woolf shows Hewet lecturing a silent Rachel about how for ages men have written about and discussed women but that there are few such accounts written by women themselves. He goes on to explain his interest in reading accounts by women about how women experience the world (p. 221–222). To be fair, though, Hewet did use the earlier lecture to draw Rachel out about her own life and those of her aunts. When Rachel worried aloud that it was boring, Hewet assured her that he was interested that that this was exactly the kind of thing he wanted to write about in his novels. But then in a later conversation, Hewet not only repeatedly interrupts Rachel while she’s playing piano to expound on his theories about women, he flatly contradicts Rachel’s account of her early feelings about him and insists — over her vocal objections — that she felt differently (p.301–306). In a way, most of the conversational conflicts between Rachel and Hewet can be seen as a metaphorical dramatization of the difficulties women often faced in asserting the validity of their own views and experiences.

 

Mrs. Dalloway

Hewet serves as a mouthpiece for Ms. Woolf’s entire endeavor as a fiction writer when he explains that he wishes to write about the daily lives of ordinary people and “Silence or The Things People Don’t Say.” Ms. Woolf did exactly that in her novels, which brings me to the first appearances of Clarissa and Richard Dalloway who later become the main characters of Mrs. Dalloway.

I first read Mrs. Dalloway years ago at university. I was surprised to see Clarissa and Richard Dalloway appear as minor characters in The Voyage Out. It makes me want to re-read Mrs. Dalloway. Clarissa is depicted as a frivolous, pretentious society woman here, but I think she seemed more sympathetic in Mrs. Dalloway. Richard, however, is the same pompous stuffed shirt here as he was in the later novel. I don’t remember Richard seeming as creepy in Mrs. Dalloway as he did when he was sexually pursuing Rachel in The Voyage Out, though.

 

It’s clear from this first novel that Ms. Woolf was already thinking about the characters, style, and themes that would bear fruit decades later in three of her major works: Mrs. Dalloway, A Room of One’s Own, and Three Guineas. Because I read the major works first, reading The Voyage Out gave me an unexpected glimpse at the first glimmers of Ms. Woolf’s most important themes and ideas. That was just one of the novel’s many pleasant surprises for me.

A Tale of Two Voyages

Sorry for the delay. I’ll post my first piece on The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf later today once I finish proofreading it. Books are my guide on my first voyage through the novel. This first post is long and yet I still didn’t get to some important issues in the novel so I am writing a second post about it.

My second post is a voyage through Things People Don’t Say in the novel. This post also serves as a transition to our discussion of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: Selected Works.

Thank you for your patience.

Coming Attractions

Dear Common Readers,

Life has been a bit pressing lately and I’ve fallen behind on my writing.  Here’s what I have planned for the days and weeks ahead:

 

Writing

  • A stream-of-consciousness post about The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf. A long-overdue post for the March/April section of heavenali’s #Woolfalong.
  • A post about Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: Selected Works translated by Edith Grossman. I’m halfway through the book!
  • A post on women writers as cautionary tales. This was inspired by Julia Alvarez’s introduction to Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: Selected Works.
  • Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Read-Along Check-In post (June 3)
  • Check-in post for “Let’s Write Like Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz.” I may write two check-in posts: a poem and a Respuesta. (June 6)
  • A post on silence and women’s writing. This was also inspired by one of Julia Alvarez’s remarks in her introduction to the Selected Works but it will require a bit of further reading.
  • A belated Extra Treat post related to Sappho. I stumbled onto this book after I finished writing about Sappho’s poetry.
  • An Extra Treat post related to Sor Juana’s work.

 

Reading

  • The Rover by Aphra Behn for the Women’s Classic Literature Event. She is a Restoration playwright whose works have been on my To Read list for far too long. Aphra Behn was the first English woman to earn a living as a writer.
  • A Haunted House and Other Stories by Virginia Woolf for the May/June section of heavenali’s #Woolfalong. I have until the end of June to read and write about the stories so I’m hopeful that I can hit the deadline this time.

 

Whew! That’s more than enough to keep me busy for a while. What do you plan to read and write about in the next few weeks?

 

Your sister reader,
Ms. Arachne

Let’s Write Like Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Just for Fun

Dear Common Readers,

Just for fun let’s write a poem, a dramatic scene, or a letter in the style of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz by June 3.

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: Selected Works includes romances (ballads), redondillas, décimas, epigrams, Petrarchan sonnets, and a silva. (See the website Spanish Metrification for good explanations of Spanish poetic forms with the meter and rhyme scheme for each form.) Selected Works also includes Sor Filotea’s letter and Sor Juana’s Respuesta a Sor Filotea as well as the prologue to one of Sor Juana’s plays.

The experiment is to write a short work using one (or more!) of Sor Juana’s forms and styles. Write a poem, a prologue or scene of a real or imaginary play, or a response to a real or imaginary open letter. Sor Juana gives us so many choices!

Let’s adopt the same reckless DIY spirit in which I earlier attempted to write a Sapphic stanza just to see what I could learn. I’ll put up a check-in post on June 3 so we can discuss our experiments and how they went.

I hope the possibilities inspire you, dear Common Readers. Are you in?

 

Your sister reader,
Ms. Arachne

 

Edited on July 28, 2917: I removed the reference to the Spanish Metrification site because the link no longer works and I could not find the website with an internet search.

Barber’s Mythologies: A Musical Interlude

Dear Common Readers,

Imagine sitting on a secluded beach. A fresh sea breeze wafts in. Pour a glass of wine and gaze at the moon and stars in a clear night sky as music drifts out and settles around you.

Listening to Mythologies by composer, pianist, and vocalist Patricia Barber seems like the perfect way to cap off my unit on Ancient Greek and Roman women poets. Like them, Ms. Barber explores mythology and uses it as a metaphor for themes such as yearning, unrequited love, vanity, obsession, hunger, and more. Ms. Barber’s compositions range from torch songs and traditional jazz ballads to fusion jazz with rock electric guitar to progressive jazz songs. “Phaeton” includes a hip hop section and “The Hours” adds a choir to the mix on this thoroughly enjoyable album. I own the CD but for those of you who wish to sample it, Universal Music Group has thoughtfully posted the album on YouTube (see links for individual tracks).

“The Moon” starts off quietly, even a bit discordantly, before shifting into a busy tune full of horns. To me, this mimics the phases of the moon. Some lines compare the moon to a stage actress “… and Illumination / is in fact / Performance.” My favorite lines are:

But tonight
there won’t be light
‘cause I can’t shine
without you

“Pygmalion” is a torch song about infatuation and unrequited love. Ms. Barber cleverly reverses the happy ending of the Pygmalion myth by exposing the way we sometimes prefer the fantasies we project onto the beloved over the actual person.

…if the mask
Should crumble and fall
Warm blooded after all
The longer you stall
So shall I last

In another interesting twist, Ms. Barber uses the Oedipus myth as a metaphor for imperialism, re-imagining Oedipus in these lines as “a gangster in a Hummer / & this culture will yield to me” in “Whiteworld.”

Meanwhile “Hunger” touches on both the punishment of Tantalus and on the myth of Eros and Psyche to explore different permutations of hunger: gluttony, greed, lust, obsession, and addiction. “And there’s never ever enough to eat.”

One of my favorite songs on this album is “Icarus (for Nina Simone).” Nina Simone was a brilliant composer, pianist, and vocalist who paid a heavy price both personally and professionally for her commitment to civil rights activism. (Check out the documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? It’s currently available on Netflix.)  Ms. Barber compares Ms. Simone to Icarus but, in a twist on the myth, she condemns those like Daedalus

… who didn’t blow the whistle
took calculated risks
who didn’t push the river
who didn’t go to great lengths
or to great heights

and reserves her praise for Ms. Simone who, like Icarus, made “a boldfaced attempt to fly.”

Get this album in whatever format you prefer and enjoy!

 

Your sister reader,
Ms. Arachne

Edited on July 28, 2017 to remove links to videos that are no longer available on YouTube.