Such are the visions

I’m thinking about trying to write shorter posts here, at least occasionally. We’ll see how it goes here. I’ve also been playing around with fixing the blog up a bit, using this painting on the left in my new header, it’s by Harold Knight, who’s best known for the painting on the cover of the Persephone Classics edition of Cheerful Weather for the Wedding. I really love that painting and finding more of his work just seemed to fit with my blog, especially since I am once again back into the early 20th century.

I’ve also been thinking about why I read and how to read and what to read and then how to write about what I read… venturing beyond only comfort reading, I see there is a whole world of challenging and enlightening reading available. Now I wish I was back at my old big city library, where Virago books were available right next to NYRB Classics and all kinds of literary criticism. At least my small town library has two books of Anne Fadiman’s and two Italo Calvinos, even if not Why Read the Classics? But I am busy making lists of what I do want to read and have a TBR page for the first time and someday I’ll have access to more books again. (In the meantime, I am trying to clear our paths of packed down snow that’s beginning to melt and then freeze again.)

Mrs. Dalloway is a difficult book to pin down. People assume that Virginia Woolf is a feminist writer, but she’s so much more than that. Going into her book with those assumptions, even for the second time, I felt a bit bewildered and out of place. She portrays the life, the visions, the thoughts in all of us. We see the good and bad sides of the characters, we see their thoughts and then other people’s thoughts about them as well. Despite the book’s title, Clarissa Dalloway is not the ‘heroine’ of the book in the way that Jane Austen’s women are, somewhat invulnerable to the real criticism she dishes out to the other characters, perhaps especially her introverts who seem to do no wrong, Elinor, Fanny and Anne. I know Austen’s heroines have flaws, but the books are their stories. They are the centre, the point, they are in some way the ones in the right while others must adjust to their truth (except perhaps her self-deluded characters like Emma and Catherine?). Can you read Pride & Prejudice outside of the perspective of Elizabeth? She has a strong interesting marriage plot, what does Mrs. Dalloway have, a party. Which she floats in and out of, not even a proper host of the book that takes her name.

I like Mrs. Dalloway despite her lack of true heroine status, she may be old fashioned, conventional or even a snob, but thankfully she’s not feisty. She’s real. She’s older, she wonders if she’s too cold, she reads memoirs late in bed, she remembers a moment long in the past, passing a stone urn with flowers in it. Then there’s her old friend Peter Walsh, I don’t like him as much, especially the way he’s always playing with his pocket knife whenever he feels insecure around women, but there the story is off following him now. Woolf wanted to show that regular women were a worthwhile subject for fiction (I think — is this idea developed in her essay Mr. Bennet and Mrs. Brown?), but here’s Peter. There’s another sort of boring, sort of self justifying character who never really does much (he keeps a notebook full of phrases for the time when he’ll start to write, but he never does, just ends his time out reminiscing vaguely) like Peter, narrating the end of The Waves and that also annoyed me. Are these just my expectations that Woolf be more of a feminist author and only portray women? Or does she not write men well or sympathetically or maybe that’s the point, oh help. She certainly accurately portrays the uncomfortable prickly yet nostalgic relationship between a man and a woman, when both have hurt the other years ago, let them down, the self justifying that goes on inside both still.

Now it is late and this isn’t short. But I’m wanting something different with my blog, my reading. When I raise possibility controversial questions about books like yesterday, I feel awkward discussing these ideas without thinking them through enough first, I want to use the blog as a way to explore the sudden thought, but then I wonder if it gets mired in arguments that may miss the point of what I was originally wondering about. I’m just thinking as I write, I don’t have it all planned out beforehand. Maybe it gets muddled. This isn’t my job, just a hobby and yet if people come here, this is what they read, what they know of me. (Am I even using my time best to be blogging so often and at such length, along with lately very extended comments? Why am I blogging at all instead of working on a longer more personal writing project? For community, support in difficult reading, endless book recommendations, a sharing of exciting moments with books and how to understand them and life itself, mutual enlightenment? Or just wasted time spent on too much self promotion?)

Such are the visions which proffer great cornucopias full of fruit to the solitary traveller, or murmur in his ear like sirens lolloping away on the green sea waves, or are dashed in his face like bunches of roses, or rise to the surface like pale faces which fishermen flounder through floods to embrace.

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17 thoughts on “Such are the visions

  1. Jillian says:

    I plan to print my blog out as a book in 2016 — printed, as a record of my reading journey for five years. Perhaps you could write here toward a goal like that?

    I write my blog as a journal, no planning. I don’t have time. I say what I have time to say, just as I would in person. I figure, that way I’m recording the real me — not the thought-out me.

    I only comment/answer comments when I have the time and interest. If I write something controversial, I don’t tangle myself in other people’s opinions. I appreciate all comments, but I don’t apologize for my posts or explain them, unless I’m in the mood. (I’ve actually only had a problem on that, a couple times. Most people are very kind, and just read and offer encouragement.)

    My blog is a no-pressure hobby. I have a disclaimer up, which helps me feel less guilty when I lack time to respond to people.

    Well, that’s how I do it. 🙂

    Mrs. Dalloway sounds interesting!

  2. Jillian says:

    I hope that doesn’t sound snooty. I just reread and it might. I only mean — I LOVE the friendships within the blogging world, but I put my journey first. Part of that journey is the interaction. I love the way we all talk and inspire one another. I focus on the positive, and don’t let myself get caught up in trying to deal with the negative. Referring to —

    … I wonder if it gets mired in arguments that may miss the point of what I was originally wondering about.

    Wonder and journal, is my advice. And if people argue, let them. There’s no law saying you have to answer. Spend that time thinking over their words, reading, and writing.

    Arguments, to me, are a bit like thunderstorms. They happen often; no use racing out to chase the lightning. Just breathe in the air from the doorway, and see what you can see.

    😉

  3. Inês G. says:

    I’m a new reader, and I must say I adore your blog. I love your lengthy posts, so I will be sad to see them go!
    As for Virginia Woolf, I’ve never read anything of hers, do you think I should start by Mrs. Dalloway? You paint such an interesting picture of it!

    • Carolyn says:

      Thank you, it’s nice to hear from new readers! I don’t think it’s quite possible for me not to write at length, so don’t worry too much about that one.

      Mrs. Dalloway is a good starting place for Virginia Woolf, it’s shorter and the opening just feels fun and fresh. I started with her on To the Lighthouse, the book she wrote after Mrs. D which I think her best (so far), but Mrs. Dalloway is probably the most popular and accessible one.

    • Carolyn says:

      Thanks Audrey, it was actually the Persephone Post that made me look for more of his paintings, when they recently featured this lovely one of his. I really like this layout too, before I was just using the layouts a lot of other bloggers used and didn’t feel as comfortable with them.

  4. Amateur Reader says:

    Ho boy, I just moved from the Big City Library to the Small Town Library, too. Mostly, everything is fine, but I do sometimes feel the pinch. I even wrote a farewell post about the wonder that is the St Louis Public Library system.

    “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown” is more of an argument for Modernist literary techniques, actually. Bennett and Galsworthy, Woolf’s main punching bags, wrote a lot about “regular women.” But Woolf thought their techniques (“naturalism”) kept them on the surface. Or, maybe this is more accurate, they try to write about Mrs. Brown, but they always get her wrong, so they don’t really write about her.

    I wish I had advice on the time managment question. I’ve had similar thoughts. What a puzzler!

    I learn so much from my commenters. The peculiar side arguments are just a cost of having a discussion. How else can you test your ideas?

    • Carolyn says:

      Hi Michelle, it’s nice to hear from you and glad you like the blog! I don’t know if it’s possible for me to change the font and keep this layout. I like the smaller font, it feels more calming and quiet, I never liked the bigger ones I’ve used here, they seemed so loud to me. Perhaps you could subscribe to the posts by email and then get them in whatever font you want?

  5. Elizabeth says:

    Interesting to read your thoughts on Virginia Woolf as I’m about to read my first book of hers next month and am really looking forward to it.

    I am always rethinking how I want my blog to be and what is the point of what I’m doing and am I presenting it in a way I want. I have only had the blog since September and my ideas for it have changed quite a bit since the beginning. I really like Jillian’s idea for printing it in the end to keep and will probably do the same. Mine has, so far anyway, evolved from a review format into more of a journal as I read and that feels more comfortable to me, for what I’m doing.

    I really like the look of your blog. It is lovely. I prefer visiting ones without too much going on, I find it distracting otherwise. Just how my brain works I guess.

  6. Georgina says:

    I’ve only been reading your blog for a few days now, having found it via Virago Reading Week, but I just wanted to congratulate you on your previous post – I thought it was an absolute corker. I enjoyed the wide-ranging coverage of women authors and their work, and have been thinking about your analysis of Jane Austen’s singleness — I suspect there’s something in it.

    In relation to blogging and the discussion it can generate when you least expect it, I wonder if it has to do with our expectations of the printed word. As you note, you blog for a range of reasons, some of them personal, but I think we’re still used to reading print as something that’s finished – ie ‘ready for print’ as it used to be in the olden days – and respond accordingly. The ‘Comment’ box lets us do this with an immediacy that wasn’t an option in the days of yore and so there are lots of comments and opinions pressing for an immediate response.

    Is shortening blog posts the answer? I’m not sure. I, for one, thought your post yesterday one of the more interesting posts I’ve read for ages: heaps of reading for me to follow up, heaps of thoughts to chase and heaps of good writing to admire (including the capacity not to overuse certain words). I think it’s often in meditative, discursive writing that true gems are revealed and it strikes me that this applies to your post. I’m wondering out loud now but perhaps you could just include ‘meditation’ or ‘musings’ in the title of your post to flag its nature – to indicate it’s thought-in-progress. Not sure that’s very helpful but I really enjoyed your post of yesterday and I would be really sad not to see its ilk again.

    Thanks so much for a lovely, thoughtful blog.

  7. bookssnob says:

    I really like the new layout. It’s very aesthetically pleasing. Rather Elizabeth Von Arnim-like, actually!

    I sometimes struggle with writing something that could be controversial or not fully thought through and pressing the ‘publish’ button, but most of the time when I do, the comments that come in and the discussions that ensue are very helpful and thought provoking and give me a new perspective, so I think they’re great posts to have on a blog. You can have disagreements, but essentially, it’s just literature. We all read things differently, no one is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ and we can differ respectfully and enjoy ourselves doing it.

    Write what you want. It’s your blog. It has to be a reflection of you and where your thinking and reading is leading you. I love looking back at my old posts and seeing from my posts what mood I was in at the time – I can really read my frustration at life in some of the book reviews I’ve written. If I hadn’t written so from my heart, that ability to read myself in my words wouldn’t be there. So write from your heart, would be my advice. I like the way you write. It’s refreshing. And I like the discussions that ensue from your musings. They certainly make me think!

    • Carolyn says:

      Aha, maybe I will switch the Oscar Wilde quote for an Elizabeth von A one, thanks for that! I love flowers and gardens and wanted to incorporate it all into a quieter mood, to somehow find my own style in writing and blogging and all of this.

      My fear is that I try too hard to copy other people in my writing (for instance, you and Amateur Reader up there), we may have already discussed this though. I am starting to feel more confident with doing my own thing and thank you for the encouragement.

  8. merilyn says:

    What a great painting. I find your blog a joy and a great inspiration.I must try Mrs Dalloway. I have Woolfs diaries and Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell A Very Close Conspiracy so far I’ve only dipped into the diaries but the one with Vanessa is really good.I am finding them as fascinating as the Mitfords.

    • Carolyn says:

      Thank you Merilyn, I’m always glad to see you! Yes, Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse are Woolf’s best books I think and her most accessible too. I don’t know much about Vanessa or the people they lived with, besides E.M. Forster who is just adorable, but I do want to read more of Woolf’s diaries and literary criticism as well as her novels.

  9. Iris says:

    I like the new layout 🙂

    As for personal TBR lists. I think I may be using your blog for my own personal challenge things. You are definitely an inspiration to me.

    I really like your thoughts, even if they are spur of the moment. Maybe it is because I find it hard to do more than that on my blog myself? I can’t get myself to research before I post, to think through too much. That is what I write essays for in university, I want to keep my blog as a hobby. But then at times I do wonder why I spend so much time thinking and developing myself through my blog, instead of spending all that time on my uni?

  10. Josh's mom says:

    Gosh, this is my 4th or 5th comment tonight at 12:30am. I should probably head off to bed but want to keep reading. Your posts are excellent – your voice comes through loud and clear and these are the words I would use to describe it: honest, real, deep, intelligent, and thoughtful.

    I have wrestled with the content on my reading blog, especially since it is devoted to my deceased son. I wanted to have a place to post how books are helping me deal with his tragic death. And I’ve concluded that in the end, it is for me and people can choose to read or not read. And I guess if I’m not sure of everything that I am posting, I can caveat it, can’t I? Say something like “these are raw thoughts, uncensored and perhaps not where I will eventually end up.” That should let people know where my head is at.

    I am a new reading blogger and so far, all I’ve seen is a very encouraging, support group of people.

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