Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Book 34: Finished.

I had another post scheduled to post today, but after reading some of the comments about my musings on Virginia Woolf, I decided I needed to write an alternate post. So here we go.

It seems as if Virginia Woolf is one of the more intimidating writers for someone to pick up and read. I have to agree. The first time I read her work, I just didn't get it. I had no idea what she was talking about and to be honest, it sounded a lot like rambling that had no connection to any kind of plot. It also didn't help that there weren't any chapters. I mean, 170 something pages of straight text is daunting. Characters jump in and out of the pages at random and I was left feeling utterly confused.

So...Virginia Woolf. Yes, she is a difficult writer to understand and appreciate. Her works were revolutionary, and remain so. She wanted to challenge her readers with stories that on the surface seemed normal and mundane, but were told in a way that would capture the imaginations of her readers. Some people got what she was working for, and many did not.

The best way I can explain how you should approach Woolf is this: Don't think about it. The more you think about how the story is confusing and twisted and all over the place, the more lost you will become. Instead, you need to sink into her writing-let it envelope you and tell you the story in its own way. You can't rush it, or think too hard or you'll lose it. You have to let it wash over you, the words enter your mind and direct you along the path of her characters. Only then will Woolf make sense. Only then will you understand why she is one of the most influential writers and how her art-her writing-has changed the literary world.

In today's contemporary market, we are used to being told a story in a straight forward manner. There is a clear plot, a problem, distinct characters, and an eventual resolution. In many cases, we don't have to work to understand the story in front of us. It merely "is."

In books like Mrs. Dalloway, we are inside the story so much deeper than we are in another kind of novel. We become part of the characters. We know what they know. We reminisce inside their heads and understand their struggles as they happen. We don't know the solution, or if there will be one. Like her characters, we as the readers are just trying to make it through day by day, not knowing if there will be a happily ever after, or a conclusion. I suppose you could compare it to living your own life. You know that there will be an eventual end, but the steps and path you take to get there are unclear. You can only see what is presented to you, and must accept that.

Mrs. Dalloway is only about one day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway. She spends the day in preparation for a party she is throwing that night. As she goes through the motions of her day, she remembers people and places from the past. The narrative transfers to other characters as they also struggle with memories and thoughts leading up to the party in the evening. All of the characters highlighted seem to come to terms with their pasts, and how their choices and decisions led them to that moment. The climax and ultimate solution is how Clarissa ultimately comes to terms with the life she has led and where her life is going.

It is a simple enough story, one that we have all read before, but it is the way that Woolf weaves her tale that makes it so powerful.

If you are looking to try something by Virginia Woolf, this is as good a place as any. Just don't think too hard and get frustrated. Let it be and let the words sink in slowly.


  1. That's good advice, just going in and letting the words flow, not worrying too much as you read. The first time I read this, I kept trying to keep together all the characters the book's focus passed. All those minor characters who are on the page for half a second and then never seen again. The second time, knowing more about the book, I was able to just flow with the book, and when I read Jacob's Room, I was also able to just flow. I think I should probably reread To the Lighthouse one day, because that's the only one of her books so far that I flat-out didn't understand a word of. Of course, it's the one I read first...

  2. Very good advice on Virginia Woolf - I understand just where you are coming from.

    Happy Thursday!