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.