This blog is a combination of information compiled as an element of a seminar course revolving around Virginia Woolf.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Critical Reflection #3

Virginia Woolf and the General Strike

Kate Flint

Kate Flint’s article regarding ‘Virginia Woolf and the General Strike’ is insightful in many ways. Taking the most obvious literary devices incorporated in “Time Passes,” Flint argues for a specific understanding regarding the baffling nature of the middle passage. Arguing that Virginia Woolf may have been thinking of the general strike regarding the reduction of wages for coal miners in the 1920’s when writing “Time Passes,” Flint shows the reader the ways in which the passage reveals one uncertain event and its relation to society as a whole. When talking about the destruction of the Scottish residence in the section, Flint states, “Its near destruction is being used, potentially, as an image of fear greater destruction. If this whole house had ‘plunged downward to the depths of darkness’, so, in a sense, the set of social and cultural values which occupied it…might be said to have fallen too” (329). In the end, the only thing that saves the house is human nature and the work of Mrs.McNab and Mrs. Bast. (Which may I add is interesting in itself because up until this point in the course I think we have seen a negative view of human nature by Woolf. To have the goodness of human nature triumph and save the house is an important distinction between this section and other portions of Woolf’s work we have read).

Similarly, Flint argues that Woolf’s feminist ideals are portrayed through the triumph of the feminine spirit. She states, “ The destructive forces of patriarchy and the dangers of impersonality are countered by female effort.” She alludes to Woolf’s commentary on the negative influences of World War I through her destructive and violent language, reiterating that unity must be more powerful than the “forces of division” (333). This is where we see the comparison to the General Strike. Because the General Strike was mainly centered on middle class unfairness, Woolf seems to be commenting that society as a whole must be united to function successfully and thus is degrading the wage reductions.

As a whole, the article is very informative. Although I personally believe Flint could have included a little more detail regarding the General Strike, I think the article really explains in-depth the meaning behind “Time Passes.” Examining almost all portions of the text from Woolf’s use of language to references to other literary works, Flint creates a successfully functioning article. I can honestly say I now understand ‘Time Passes’ in a more historical context due to Flint’s interpretations.

I particularly enjoyed the inclusion of quotes from Woolf’s diary. The personal thoughts and feelings of Woolf greatly helped in supporting Flint’s argument. Similarly, Flint did a great job of analyzing Woolf’s thought from all perspectives. Not only does she support her argument, but also addresses rebuttals a critic may commonly devise; therefore, I am convinced that Virginia Woolf’s ‘ Time Passes’ has historical undertones concerning the General Strike of 1925 and World War One.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Critical Reflection #2

Commentary on Reginald Abbott's What Miss Kilman's Petticoat Means: Virginia Woolf, Shopping, and Spectacle

MFS Modern Fiction Studies, Volume 38, Number 1, Spring 1992, pp. 193-216 (Article

In his critical essay concerning Virginia Woolf and the aspects of commodity culture, Reginald Abbott opens the reader’s eyes to underlying values of shopping and the influence of commodity exchange in Woolf’s work. Primarily discussing Mrs. Dalloway, Abbott depicts Woolf’s ability to subtly comment on the emergence of department stores in the England. By analyzing the distinction between upper and lower class influences on or from commodity, Abbot shows readers the way in which commodity varies between classes. While the Dalloway’s have a control over their spending habits, lower class individuals such as Miss Killman do not. They are inferior to the exchange of commodity.

Throughout the course of Abbott’s commentary, one notices his very specific attention to detail. Very small moments in Mrs. Dalloway illuminate the core of Abbott’s argument; therefore, he shows the reader the in-depth research he has done to support his argument. Small instances such as Rezia and Clarissa’s reactions to the queen, illuminate larger issues for the reader that may have gone unnoticed without Abbott’s description. Abbott should be praised for his ability to pull specific details from the text.

Similarly, Abbott should be praised for his application of the novel to external life contexts. Many critical articles seem to address the work in relation to itself rather than an outside source, but by including historical information such as the development of Oxford Street over time Abbott justifies his argument concerning the “boom” of commodity spectacle. Abbott says that in Woolf we see then tension and excitement of commodity spectacle without the blatancy of actual commodities” (209). Because Abbott includes historical developments to trace this notion, one can see the article as a more reliable piece of literature. In addition, Abbott also includes the insight of other scholars to help make the work seem more applicable and justified.

The only qualm I have with Abbott’s article is his inability to discuss the subject in common terms. Often times he uses scholarly terms that may have be substituted for a more approachable term. Similarly, at points, Abbott seems to get ‘bogged down’ in the meat of his subject. Not giving the reader enough credit to understand his argument leaves a lot of room for confusion when he adds too much detail. Also, many of his sentences are a little wordy and confusing. Although there are small qualms, the article as a whole offers a fresh view of Mrs. Dalloway. Having read the novel three times, I have heard the same interpretations over and over again, but this was a new way to approach the reading. Personally, I appreciated the article and would praise Abbot for his insight into how Mrs. Dalloway illuminates aspects of commodity exchange as a whole.

A look at lesbians in Slater's Pins Have No Points

After reading the collection of middle short stories, one can see huge transformations in Woolf’s writing style. While the beginning short stories are less complex and possibly a little easier to understand, the middle short stories throw the reader for a literary loop (or at least they did me anyway). Of the four, the one story I found most intriguing was “Moments of Being: Slater’s Pins Have No Points.” While the body of the story was somewhat manageable, the last paragraph is an accurate depiction of the way Woolf can completely baffle the reader to leave them wanting more. All of a sudden Julia and Fanny kiss? Needless to say, that surprised me a little.

Instead of throwing the story aside in my frustration to decipher what was actually happening, I begin to think of this paragraph as the moment in the text where Fanny finally pinpoints (hint hint: this could be how the title relates to the work) Julia’s enjoyment. Through the body of the work, Fanny speculates regarding Julia’s happiness and shows the reader an existence between Julia’s past and present. She wonders whether Julia is a lonely women for she seems that way, but then also discusses Julia’s strength as a strong woman for ‘she had not sacrificed her independence.’ Through Fanny’s descriptions, we as readers have NO IDEA if Julia is a happy or unhappy person, but in the last moment of the text it all seems to come together as a coherent explanation.

In the last paragraph, Woolf states, “Julie possessed it.” To me, this statement sums up the entire argument within the story. Julia finally has a chance to possess and have control over something in her life; therefore, the kiss can be seen as Julia’s only sense of happiness. Fanny seems to be the only thing that Julia can possess and take control of so kissing Fanny is seen as Julia’s fantasy because it leads to happiness. This instance along with the use of the word queerly and breast in the next sentence gives the reader the perception of a female love existence. Fanny and Julia may have lesbian encounters to show Woolf’s embrace of the feminine identity.

Additionally, this is the moment during which Fanny finally locates the pin and is able to pin it onto either herself or Miss Craye’s dress (Woolf leaves that detail a little ambiguous). Finding the pin and putting it into its correct position may serve as a reference to the correct positions of both Julia and Fanny in this moment. The pinning of the flower symbolizes closure; therefore, the kiss between the two women can be seen as closure in discovering Julia’s existence. Julia likes women rather than men thus her life is not a series of lonely encounters, but rather a rewarding journey of discovering herself and what she really wants out of life. Therefore, Julia is strong for adhering to her lesbian emotions rather than conforming to the strict standards of marriage to a man.

If thinking of this encounter as one of lesbian happiness, then one can also explain the title of the short story: “Slater’s pins have no points.” If thinking of the title in terms of gender identities, one automatically associates a point with a male’s reproductive part, but if the pins have no points then Woolf may be dubbing the male as inadequate or unnecessary. If a pin has no point then it is not actually a pin and does not actually have any use. I’m a little unsure about what the Slater part is about but those are just some of the immediate thoughts I had concerning the title and the last paragraph of the story.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Mrs. Dalloway and Religion

As this is my second time reading Mrs. Dalloway, I made a conscious effort to locate specific details I had not noticed while previously reading the novel. Although many new thoughts and ideas emerged, one instance in particular constantly revealed itself. The presence of religious undertones seemed to be an impending force within the work. Although subtle, the inclusion of religious references does add an ironic twist to the already chaotic nature of the novel. In a way, I think Woolf presents challenges to the beliefs and ideals of the Christian doctrine through the character of Septimus. Through this comparison, she is able to desensitize the reader’s emotions to the idea of spirituality, and heighten their emotions to the idea of reality. In an essence, the comparison of Septimus to Jesus and the inclusion of additional religious references such as the voice of an omniscient narrator and homosexual encounters work as literary techniques designed to eradicate extraneous influences other than one’s own personal self. The self as the ultimate source of satisfaction is a theme that emerges when thinking of Mrs. Dalloway and its religious implications.

My first thoughts concerning Christianity came to life when Woolf describes Septimus as ‘the most exalted of mankind’ and ‘lord who has gone from life to death’ (94).These descriptions are ironic within the text because they are presented in a moment during which Septimus seems to be going through a bout of insanity. The narrator’s lines describing Septimus present his character as enlightened through the use of words such as lord, exalted, poet, and victim because they serve to emphasize the other character’s inability to understand Septimus. He is different than others and while he is not seen within the work as the superior by the other characters, the description highlights his superiority over the other characters to the reader. Like Jesus, the leader of the Christian doctrine, Septimus is removed from society and feels as if human nature has ultimately led to his downfall. The narrator states,” He had committed an appalling crime and had been sentenced to death by human nature” (94). Human nature condemns Jesus through whipping and crucifixion on the cross while human nature condemns Septimus by judging and condemning his actions as different and somewhat mental. No person seems to realize Septimus’ true feelings and the depth to which his soul reaches. Like Jesus, Septimus eventually dies as a result of human nature. He has to escape the confines of Dr. Holmes and is making a dramatic approach to the windowsill as Jesus made a dramatic march with the cross while being tormented and taunted to his crucifixion. Although this small comparison of Jesus and Septimus is not enough to say that Christianity is completely mocked in Mrs. Dalloway, the realization of this parallel contributes to one’s thoughts concerning Septimus’ suicide. It helps the reader understand Clarissa’s willingness to accept the suicide.

Aside from the comparison of Septimus and Jesus, there is an omni-present and all-knowing narrative voice within the work. The narrator seems to be inside not only Mrs. Dalloway’s head, but also inside every other character’s mind included within the novel. This all-knowing narrator is much like an all-knowing God in which the Christian religion believes. Through the use of an all-knowing narrator, this novel destroys the established Christian belief that God is the centralized controller of the universe because the characters have the ability to think and act upon their own accord. The narrator does not control them. Septimus flings himself out of a window, Clarissa fantasizes over a woman, and the upper tier of society judges and torments to the point of ripping different characters mentality into separate pieces. If God were an all-powerful and mighty God then he would not allow these actions to happen; therefore, Mrs. Dalloway undermines religion by displaying characters who act out against established moral actions.

The last reference degrading the Christian religion seems to be Clarissa’s homosexual tendencies regarding Sally Seton. Although she does seem to reminisce regarding her relationship with Peter, Clarissa describes that the most exquisite moment of her life was when Sally kissed her at a young age (35). Sally has a greater influence on Clarissa than any other character. Their homosexual tendencies may serve to demonstrate the breaking barriers of religion by showing that true happiness can result from an activity that is condemned by the Christian religion. Happiness for Clarissa and Septimus seems to come in spurts during moments when they are remembering Evans and Sally.

Overall these ideas may be a little far-fetched, but I thought the presence of religious overtones was significant within the novel so I wanted to bring a few of my ideas regarding the subject to the attention of other readers. Overall I think Woolf has a great deal to say about the Christian doctrine and Mrs. Dalloway may be her first attempt to break down religious beliefs.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Jacob's Room

Men vs. Women

After reading Jacob’s Room, I was left with many unanswered questions (probably a pretty standard reaction to a Woolf novel). However, through the first chapters, many reoccurring ideas seemed to emerge with vitality. Although I have yet to determine specific meanings behind these motifs/symbols, several thematic interpretations have come to mind. After thinking of the novel in terms of the relations between men and women (because I noticed an ever present pull between the two), one can see a small power struggle at play. One instance in particular sparked my interest in the subject, which fueled the ‘men vs. women’ fire bubbling in my imagination. At the beginning of chapter three, Mrs. Norman, who is riding in the smoking carriage with Jacob seems apprehension of being around a male. She is constantly on edge and at one point the narrator states, “it is a fact that men are dangerous.” AHA, the first small inkling of Woolf’s feminist demeanor is revealed. In addition to this situation, Woolf continues on an underlying rant regarding the differences between men and women when stating that women are ugly as sin and specifically compares them to dogs (31). When reading these lines, one assumes that women are in the subservient position. Mrs. Norman acts as if Jacob is the person in the position of power. She watches as a timid on-looker and women are degraded and ridiculed as the novel progresses.

Thinking that the woman is the lesser-of- the-two- evils, I, as a reader was confused as to where the Virginia Woolf ever-praised feminist voice had disappeared? For at first, it seemed as if the male figurehead received all of the praise and attention in Jacob’s Room. However, Virginia Woolf subtly includes references regarding women’s ability to undermine male’s translucent behavior. When discussing the relations between Mr. Dickens and Mrs. Barfoot, Woolf states, “ He, a man, was in charge of Mrs. Barfoot, a woman.” This is an automatic red-flag to the Virginia Woolf reader. While she is directly claiming Mr. Dickens authority over Mrs. Barfoot, she undermines that authority in later lines when Mrs. Barfoot is discussing her husband’s actual actions. By having Mrs. Barfoot know her husband if off to see Mrs. Flanders shows Woolf’s subtly commentary on a woman’s insight. In reality, Mrs. Barfoot is the more sly and intelligent of the two subjects because Mr. Barfoot believes he has outsmarted his wife into not knowing where he is going when in actuality she knows his deceiving ways, but chooses not to reveal her true knowledge.

This is one of the more specific examples of a woman’s domination over her male counterpart in Jacob’s Room, but the novel is littered with examples of the power struggles between the two parties. Overall, I would state that the entirety of finding out who Jacob actually is comments on a male’s inability to find his true identity. In the novel, we see a variety of female characters who recognize themselves and what they desire from life (most of the time Jacob). Although all the female characters are not society’s top class, they seem to be happy in their various occupations, while Jacob seems mysterious and aloof throughout most of the novel. The reader never gets a full image of the real Jacob Flanders and thus Woolf slyly hints at the downfall of the male gender. Because she includes a great number of derogatory comments against women, she further exploits the male gender’s unintelligence. She allows comments against women to be included within the novel to further show the male’s inability to see a situation for what it really is. Women are the strong point of the text, but Woolf seems to include derogatory comments against them simply so female readers can laugh at the male’s constant inability too see how the world truly works. Knowing oneself and the world around them seems to led to a satisfying life in Woolf’s eyes and she uses the juxtaposition between the male and female characters to highlight this exact point.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Critical Commentary on Edward Bishop

In his critical essay attempting to describe “it” through the vivid interpretation of Virginia Woolf’s Kew Gardens, Edward Bishop seems to reveal a personal respect for what he likes to call Woolf’s ‘voice.’ Although his feelings towards Woolf’s scholarship are never directly stated, it becomes clear to the reader that Bishop’s critique is rather a praise of Woolf’s ability to merge language and reality. Highlighting some of the most influential portions of the text, Bishop develops and displays Woolf’s ability to capture ‘it’ which he dubs the natural and the human world of the garden. One portion of Bishop’s critic that sparks particular interest is his immediate separation between the natural and the human world. For most, the natural and human worlds seem to be one undivided entity, but Bishop makes the assumption that they are in fact two very separate groups. Although this is apparent in Woolf’s Kew Gardens, it is ambitious of Bishop to recognize Woolf ‘s immediate separation between the two worlds. For Woolf, humanity seems to need support from nature, as it is the weaker and somewhat less enlightening of the two realms.

Throughout the course of Bishop’s commentary, he chooses to include a series of additional quotations from other critics. The critics seem to have a positive view of Kew Gardens and thus correlate well with one another. Bishop notes that while many of the mentioned authors have attempted to describe the “luminous halo” that Woolf creates; most have failed to completely realize the depth of her work as it stems from the operation of language. Next, Bishop provides an example of Woolf’s ability to scaffold internal and external action. By using the couple’s movement within Kew Gardens as an example, Bishop simply immerses the reader in what Woolf is actually trying to portray. Rather than using complex language to try and explain the situation, he maps the concept in a visual way and thus the reader gains a clearer image of the perspective Woolf subtly incorporates within the text. Bishop should be praised for his ability to portray the duality involved in many of Woolf’s images.

Although enlightening in many senses, Pursuing “IT” Through Kew Gardens lacks the depth often seen in many critical articles. Although Bishop does a great job exploring Woolf’s concepts, he seems to simply skim the surface of Woolf’s ability to contour language. More detail and a few additional textual examples may have strengthened Bishop’s argument in defining “it.” Negativity may also stem from Bishop’s inability to remove personal perspectives from view. Clearly, he is a Virginia Woolf fan (which is fine), but a critical article may gain more respect if it incorporates more fact and less emotion. Ignoring the minor qualms regarding the article, Pursuing IT Through Kew Gardens is an enlightening source of commentary.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Kew Gardens

Reflection of relations between Kew Gardens, The Mark on the Wall, and Modern Fiction

When brainstorming what to write for this particular blog entry on Kew Gardens, I laughed to myself trying to select one particular aspect of the story on which to focus. There is not one individual instance in the story during which a specific thought or idea jumped out at me, but that is probably because Kew Gardens stirs a constant revelation of thoughts within one’s mind. Not knowing where to begin, I tried to find a way to connect the three stories we have read within the scope of the course so far. In Kew Gardens and The Mark on the Wall, the most obvious connection between the stories is the focus of the stories themselves. In both, the plot only moves due to the snail. I found this interesting because when thinking about a snail, one normally envisions something that is immobile or very slow, but in fact within the realm of Woolf’s work, the snail is the portion of the story that makes everything happen. The snail shows the reader what they “need” to see and keeps the plot moving (especially in Kew Gardens, though Woolf’s constant readdressing the snail on the wall keeps the course of events flowing in The Mark on the Wall as well).

Woolf’s choice to use the snail in both of these stories seemed to be a very deliberate one so I started to ask myself why exactly this was. The only thought concerning snails that came to mind was “a snails pace,” which is a phrase often used to describe someone who is very slow or a process that is tedious and sometimes inefficient. After thinking of this stereotype associated with snails, I began to see a little of Woolf’s personality shine through within her work. It seems clear to me that she chose the animal portrayed in the stories to be a snail simply because it is a slow creature. As she explained in Modern Fiction, the process by which she wants one to engage is a tedious one. It requires looking beyond the surface level and diving into the depths of one’s own thoughts and feelings. Since this was an unconventional method of discovery, Woolf seemed to be using the snail to incorporate a smart-alleck tone into the stories. She knew the reputations of snails, but also predicted the resistance that would come with her unconventional method of thinking. By having the snail control the story, Woolf shows that her method of thinking triumphs others. By taking time to really “see” and interpret the world, one is in the position of the snail and thus has a better outlook and control over their own life. This may sound a little philosophical and like a stretch to some people, but I was very interested in why Woolf chose the snail as her point of focus and I feel this could be one of many explanations for the choice.

Aside from the snail, another point of focus I found within Kew Gardens was when Woolf describes the two women walking through the gardens. One of the women stops to look at the flowers and Woolf states, “ She stood there letting the words fall over her, swaying the top part of her body slowly backwards and forwards, looking at the flowers.” For me, this specific instance really tied the connection between modern art and literature. Specifically, it reminded me of in class when Dr. Sparks described swaying back and forth while looking at a piece of art because one becomes so lost in the brush stroke and color pattern of the painting. I thought this connection was interesting and really helped develop the similarities shared between artwork and literature of the same time period.