Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Room of One's Own

This is my first time reading Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” and it was very different than I expected. I never realized the relationship Woolf weaved together between women and fiction, and after reading it’s obvious why the book is such a seminal text in feminist writings. Again, the narrative seems to begin with little plot though there are chapters, which is relieving! The metaphor of the fish in chapter one struck me as very interesting as I was considering the circular narrative structure that Woolf’s uses so frequently (as well as other women writers). The narrator is walking along the campus of Oxbridge caught up in her thoughts that she describes as “very exciting” like a fish that “darted and sank” (5). As her imagination wanders, so does her path, and the woman finds herself off the gravel path into the grass which is only allowed for the scholars of Oxbridge. It is at the moment the Beadle rushes her back into her place that she realizes her “little fish” has been sent “into hiding” (6). Because of the narrator’s position as a woman her thoughts and ideas are prevented from the same linear thought process as a man’s within the space of Oxbridge. It’s no surprise that this would manifest itself in one’s writing as a female. The chapter then becomes a subsequent chain of interruptions to the narrator’s thoughts and ideas. As Woolf explains at the beginning of her speech she intends to blur the lines between fact and fiction, claiming “fiction here is likely to contain more truth than fact” (4). The narrative certainly does that, as the reader is often torn between time and space as Woolf speaks as narrator, and as the unspecified and unnamed narrator speaks. Chapter two reflects the ambiguous relationship between fact and fiction especially where women are concerned. When the narrator researches the literature on women and men she notes the astounding differences in opinions on the nature of women by male contemporaries. Are women “capable of education or incapable,” do women have souls “or have they not souls” (30)? The narrator points out that “wherever one looked men thought about women and thought differently” (30). The status of a woman during that time however, clearly showed that the general consensus believed that women were not worthy or capable of the same access of education that men were. The narrator’s research into the interest of women by men reflects the confusing distinctions between fact and fiction. The narrator or Woolf, or both, seem to put a lot of emphasis on the ultimate achievement a woman may make is being a poet, which I found interesting. I didn’t think that Woolf wrote poetry herself, or that she valued it more highly than prose. As the narrator contemplates the status of Amy Carmichael as a novelist, she thinks that Carmichael could one achieve the goal of poet with a little money and a room. Does that mean the poetry is the ultimate achievement in Woolf’s eyes? This reminded me of Esther Greenwood in The Bell Jar, as well as Sylvia Plath. Esther’s character was always concerned with being a poet, though she never did to our knowledge through the novel, which could arguably be due to the limitations she struggled with as a woman. Likewise, Plath also feared being defined for her prose work (especially The Bell Jar) rather than her poetry. Is the suggestion that the natural way of women’s writing, or the “women’s sentence” is that of poetry rather than prose?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Hours vs. Mrs. Dalloway

My reading of Mrs. Dalloway this past week is my second reading of the novel. I have to say the second time around it is certainly more enjoyable! I would assume that any one's first encounter with Virginia Woolf's prose is momentarily confusing. I certainly do not mean to say that I did not enjoy it the first time I read it, only that my concern was focused primarily on the form, as well as understanding the shifts in narrative. My second reading allowed me to apply much more attention to detail, as was already familiar with the "plot" or lack there of. What particulary stood out to me in this reading was sparked while I was reading the supplementary reading, Erwin Steinberg's article "Mrs. Dalloway and T. S. Eliot's Personal Wasteland." I enjoyed it especially due to the alternate reading of the character of Septimus. Traditionally, the character of Septimus is generally treated as the foil for the character of Mrs. Dalloway, which Woolf supported herself. However, Steinberg's article laid out a convincing argument otherwise, which I enjoyed. The article, though it was focused on the correlations between Eliot and Septimus peaked my interest in Woolf's original intended title for the novel. Again, I realize that Woolf's intention to name the novel The Hours initially is no new information. However, as I was reconsidering the character of Septimus, I began to consider the impact of the novel if Woolf chose to keep the title of The Hours. Of Course, Woolf did not choose to keep the intended title, which means there must be some significance in the change (as I believe the title of a work is very, very, important).

Obviously, to change the novel to the title Mrs. Dalloway, makes the novel a novel about Clarissa Dalloway. Well actually, it makes it a novel that identifies with the Clarissa Dalloway that is the married woman, wife of Richard Dalloway. Therefore, to be more specific, the title refers to Mrs. Richard Dalloway. While I'm inclined to believe that the change in the title makes the novel about Clarissa Dalloway, Woolf did not choose to name the novel Clarissa, but only Mrs. Dalloway. I believe (speculating of course), if Woolf kept the intended title Clarissa would not be the character that we can assume survives. Though the last section of the novel appears to be the frivolous and selfish concerns of society men and women, Clarissa is obviously struggling within. The death of Septimus allows her to deal with her own dissatisfaction in life while she is ultimately able to praise Septimus for his choice, because he is able to be true to himself, something that until this moment Clarissa has not been able to do. The novel becomes Mrs. Dalloway because Clarissa ultimately understands herself as she is, though it cannot be Clarissa because unfortunately it taken Clarissa much of her adult, married life to come to this realization. Finally, I believe the shift to Peter's point of view solidifies Clarissa's identity as the main character of the novel. The narrative is a shift to another character's gaze of Clarissa, reiterating her identity, both within herself, and among others.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Katherine Mansfield

I really enjoyed these stories by Katherine Mansfield, particularly “Prelude” and “Bliss.” I noticed some similar characteristics about Mansfield’s stories compared to Woolf’s short stories from last week. One of the major things I noticed was there seemed to be little attention to plot throughout the stories. In “Prelude” the narrative is circular once again, with a lot of stream of consciousness between the different thoughts, especially those of the women. The narrative slides from one woman’s thoughts of her previous home to another’s dissatisfaction with life. There is a lot of attention to detail as the children notice everything around, especially with close attention to the colors around them. The attention to color is something I noticed somewhat last week, though I am noticing it more in Mansfield’s stories this week. So much attention to detail, while little attention to plot appears to be a reoccurring theme in the modernist stories. I wonder, as these are the second group of short stories we’ve read, if this is not a characteristic that is particular to women. Are Woolf and Mansfield purposely writing this way to show the difference between women’s thought process and a man, or is this just a new way to write? It is obvious that Mansfield, like Woolf, is interested in women and their rights. In “Prelude” Linda and Aunt Beryl are taking tea while Beryl begins to dream of how her life might be without her husband and Linda suffers from headaches. It is clear that these women are not happy in their current place in life. While Linda’s happiness is a little less obvious, Aunt Beryl is likely suffering from depression, though there are enough indications that she would be believed simply to be crazy. Aunt Beryl knows that having “money of her own” is enough to give her the independence she needs, but instead by the end of the story she is just left to feel “flippant and silly” about herself. “Bliss” reminds me of Mrs. Dalloway with the narrative that is structured around one day that looks toward a dinner party. However, the character of Bertha is very different than the character of Mrs. Dalloway. Bertha seems stereotypically characterized by feelings and her lack of control over them. There is so much focus on this “bliss” that Bertha keeps feeling everywhere she goes and I’m not quite certain what to do with it. She is clearly a na├»ve character, though at times it seems she knowingly ignores the truth. It is almost as if Mansfield is suggesting that Bertha does suffer from “hysteria.” Bertha does note that she is becoming “hysterical” though she does not use the word in that context. “Bliss” also explores the nontraditional sexual attraction. It is interesting that when Bertha realizes her attraction to Pearl, she finds for the first time that she is attracted to her husband. These themes seem to be an early experiment in breaking the traditional structures of narrative and sexuality.