Monday, April 14, 2008

Ending with Eliot

Again, Eliot’s work leaves me at a loss for words as I grapple for meaning—as I attempt to connect his four pieces to make a whole—as I attempt to peel back the layers of meaning. I believe to really understand Eliot’s poem, I need to better understand his Anglican perspective, the meaning behind Eastern religion (Hinduism and Buddhism), and his personal involvements with certain others (Emily Hale, Vivien Leigh, and Jean Verdenal). It is also necessary to know Dante’s works as Eliot strives to create a masterpiece that could possible live up to the standards of the one he so greatly admired throughout his life. All of these philosophies and people found their way into Eliot’s prior works, so how is this one different? He incorporated Hale into nearly all of the works we’ve discussed in this course. He has woven Dante’s words into “Prufrock” and “The Wasteland”—and countless others, I’m sure. Eliot has taken everything he has learned and everything he has come to know and not know and carefully crafted his timeless piece. I just wish that I could truly derive ultimate meaning. At this point, I cannot. Through reading the required materials to accompany Eliot’s “Four Quartets”, excerpts from Lyndall Gordon’s biography on Eliot and Peter Middleton’s essay, I have only come to better understand bits and pieces and themes that seem to run consistently throughout the poem.

In “Burnt Norton” the reader is taken into “time past” where “Footfalls echo in the memory / Down the passage which we did not take / Towards the door we never opened / Into the rose-garden” (lines 11-14). Here, Eliot seems to be recalling an unexplored relationship with Emily Hale—as she is often incorporated in his garden images within his poems. This brings me back to something that I posted on several weeks ago regarding his futile wave imagery in connection with Hale in “Prufrock” as it seemed to connect to an image in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. This same connection could be made in Eliot’s first of “Four Quartets” when considering Shakespeare’s “…pale primroses, / That die unmarried” (lines 122-3). A floral setting is placed around Shakespeare’s character, Perdita, just as Hale is in Eliot’s “Burnt Norton”. There is also a reference to garlic and kissing in Shakespeare’s play, which makes me wonder about Eliot’s first line in part two of BN: “Garlic and sapphires in the mud.” I can only extract meaning by reflecting on Middleton’s essay when he “suggests that the ‘garlic and sapphires in the mud’ of Burnt Norton might be allusions to Verdenal (the association of sapphire with hope and garlic with both exorcism and lust adds to the force of this connection” (84). When taking the Shakespeare reference into consideration (as it really seems to have uncanny connections at times—to East Coker as well) and combining the notion of “hope” and “lust,” I can’t help but attach this memory to Emily Hale. Eliot’s reflection recognizes a hope and a lust that is past—“empty” even “[b]ut reconciled in the stars” (BN ii line 15). I do realize that Eliot is incorporating more than just a memory of his past. He also incorporates his other layers of history, philosophy and religion.

Although Harold Brooks “clarif[ies]” the major religious thread that is woven throughout the four pieces, I think it would be unfair to assess the poem as simply religious as a whole. I do believe he incorporates past elements that we saw in “The Wasteland”—only, this time, a little more clearly. “The Wasteland” fit into the Christian myth and parabola, and I see “The Four Quartets” performing a similar operation. Brook asserts, “The Quartets represent four ways of experiencing reality, or God, in three different kinds of time, and in a timeless dimension” (140). “Reality” and “God” are both important elements to consider, and they seem to be interchangeable as Brooke states. This concept of merging reality and God is further confirmed as Dr. Sparks noted, “Ib [is] a vision, lyrical,, often Edenic—always marked by a kind of merger of self with the surrounding environment” (Freewrite 1).

Another element, which I have often envisioned Eliot and Woolf discussing, is the meaning of time in this poem. I felt as though the end result of Eliot’s “Quartets” were similar to Woolf’s “To the Lighthouse.” There’s the common element of memory and what one chooses to do with it. There is also the question of how one will choose to move forward in his/her given situation. In the character Lily Briscoe’s case, she seems to come to terms with her present and accepts herself regardless of what the future holds as she will be unable to determine exactly what it will hold—that’s up to future generations to determine. Similarly, Eliot, in his final “Quartet,” “resonates into a future beyond the poem which is our future as much as the poet’s” (Gordon 386).

I am unsure if I will ever “come to terms with the quartets,” but I will continue to try, for I have found an appreciation for Eliot that I never thought I would. With this poem, I believe he found a peace that he hadn’t discovered within his other pieces. With “Prufrock,” there seemed to be this underlying torment because of his sexual conflict and general disturbance with a disjointed environment. With “The Wasteland,” he seemed to suffer despair because of a failing relationship compounded by a lack of overall control (over himself and his environment). He was only broaching his Christian conversion but had not wholly arrived (as discussed in class). He seems to revisit all of this in “The Four Quartets” but is accepting of it and relinquishes control because of his religious foundation.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Intertwining Fact and Fiction in the Lighthouse

I am fascinated by many scenes that Woolf paints within her To the Lighthouse as many have been, are, and will be for generations to come. “Each generation must read everything over again for itself,” Woolf is noted for stating in Hussey’s introduction of her novel (lxv). Based on all of the critical analyses of her novel, which encompasses the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and today, I would say that these “generations” have read and re-read her 1927 masterpiece and presented their present day critique on the varying meanings that Woolf crafted upon writing her book. In addition to reading Hussey’s introductory essay, I also read Jane Lilienfeld’s essays, which were written (I believe) 26 years a part. In reading these essays, I find myself interpreting the text through biographical means.

I am the first to admit that I cling to an author’s biography and surrounding history in order to better understand his/her writing. However, I have also learned that as much as the author’s life and history may be incorporated into his/her works, there is also the craft of fiction. I have to allow myself to let go of the biography a bit. I have an extremely hard time doing this with Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, and I am not the only one. Her fiction was intertwined with her reality it seems. Hussey asserts, “In any case, To the Lighthouse is the creation of a writer who had thought long and deeply about the relations between ‘fact’ and ‘fiction,’ and specifically about the dubious nature of claims to veracity made by the traditional biography” (liv). Both Hussey and Lilienfeld refer to Woolf’s essay “A Sketch of the Past” as a means to compare Woolf’s life memories with her fictional portrayals. Lilienfeld pulls from “A Sketch of the Past” as she incorporates Woolf’s factual encounter with incest and suggests that this encounter with a masculine violent attack threads through the novel’s fictional portrayal of abuse through James Ramsay’s eyes. Lilienfeld contends: “The use of James Ramsay as a fictionalized surrogate figure for the six-year-old Virginia Stephen would have provided the verbal “wall” that Woolf declared was necessary to stave off self-indulgent deployment of the biographical self…” (115). She further notes Woolf recalling in her “Sketch” essay, “ ‘At times I can go back to St. Ives…I can reach a state where I seem to be watching things happen as if I were there….” (115). Lilienfeld connects Woolf’s reality with her fiction.

She ties the Modernist author’s life history into her novel once more as she examines the Victorian marriage that existed between Julia and Leslie Stephen versus Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay. “To [Sir Leslie] Stephen it was natural law that a wife should have no legal rights, no right to her own property or money, no training for any job, nor any hope for obtaining one. Though he bound Julia Stephen tightly, she resisted covertly” (Lilienfeld 151). The reader sees examples that compare to the fictitious couple throughout. Mrs. Ramsay has an “untrained mind” (Woolf 13) and Mr. Ramsay achieves “Q” (Woolf 37). At the end of the first section of the novel, however, Mrs. Ramsay “triumph[s] again,” and we are told that Mr. Ramsay “knew” that she had prevailed (126). This victory for Mrs. Ramsay and veiled resistance on Julia Stephen’s part stemmed from “mid-Victorian revolt…advocating marriage reform, the widening of women’s roles, political action for women, and an end to sex-role imprisonment for men as well as women” (Lilienfeld 150). We see a specific response to this “mid-Victorian revolt” in the lives of the younger characters.

The Ramsay girls “had brewed for themselves of a life different from [their mother’s]…; in Paris, perhaps; a wilder life; not always taking care of some man or other;…” (Woolf 10). Lily Briscoe was an artist who was disturbed by Charles Tansley’s admission, “Women can’t paint, women can’t write…” (Woolf 51). With the ellipsis at the end, one is left to wonder what else Mr. Tansley thought women incapable of doing and performing. Initially, I likened Lily to Virginia, but I believe she is a biographical blend of Virginia and Vanessa. Moreover, Lily, allegorically, represents a women’s ability to have an autonomous mind and an overall liberty to pursue whomever and whatever she wishes. Lily’s thoughts are independent and seek answers. She is bothered by the masculine perspective that deems women incapable. She presents a moment of discouragement as she imagines it “would be hung in the servants’ bed-
room…[or]…[would] be rolled up and stuffed under a sofa” and questions “What was the good of doing it then, as if she were caught up in one of those habitual currents in which after a certain time experience forms in the mind, so that one repeats words without being aware any longer who originally spoke them” (Woolf 162). It’s as if Woolf wanted to show her readers that all women were stifled by the unlabeled (albeit the reader understands it stands for men’s voices during her time) voice who repeats what a woman cannot do and, if she does, will not be recognized regardless. Fortunately, Lily’s perspective evolves and she ceases to care where her picture will eventually be hung—“…she thought it would be destroyed. But what did that matter” (Woolf 211). Seemingly, she reached a peace—a sense of autonomy that outweighed what her world wanted to convey to her—as she “had [her] vision” that considered the past and her present (211).

Monday, March 31, 2008

The Mighty Political Pen

After learning a great deal about the radical leaders in England’s suffrage movement, Emmeline, Christabel, and Sylvia Pankhurst (as my main focal point), I was taken aback by the occurrences, such as arson and window breaking versus brute force and force feeding, respectively, committed by both sides—suffragettes versus government officials. I realized that the Pankhursts and several other women were impatient in getting their vote and, moreover, being treated as equals to their male counterparts, so suffrage tactics needed to change in order to gain attention. I further realize if the suffragettes did not take such action that lead to a chain of events, such as Black Friday, they may have waited longer than they had to obtain the vote (somewhat) in 1918. What would have happened if the suffragists continued to solely distribute pamphlets to support the suffrage cause?

I guess what I’m getting at is the differing literary approach that was taken by the Bloomsbury group (with a focus on the Woolves and Forster) as they take a much less physical approach to fighting for women’s rights and, above all, human rights. I only ponder the difference because of questions that I left with last week. As I learned where Virginia Woolf fit into the suffrage movement—“doing office chores” (Gilbert and Gubar, Norton Anthology: Literature by Women 1316) and host[ing] meetings “in her home” (Chapman and Manson 60)—I wondered why she wasn’t a more radical participant. This week’s readings served as a reminder and also shed a little more light to aid in my better understanding.

I believe, for the same reason Virginia Woolf appreciated Jane Austen as a writer over Charlotte Bronte, she preferred a less radical (less emotional) suffrage group, the Women’s Cooperative Guild. We discussed in class regarding Woolf’s interpretation of Austen as she wrote as an observer. Austen did not allow irrational emotion to interfere with the meaning she intended whereas Bronte did. This weakened her literary conveyances and art as a whole. Austen was a Classicist, and Bronte was a Romantic in terms of aesthetic rules. In making this parallel, I suggest that if the suffragettes were literary artists, they would be deemed Romantics. Further if suffragists were also literary artists, they would be Classicists. This being said, I do realize that I have taken suffragettes and suffragists out of context because they are not literary artists and, therefore, cannot be analyzed in accordance with aesthetic rules. Yet, I can’t help trying to make sense out of it in this way based on one of the initial questions in Sara Blair’s essay: “How does aesthetic activity categorized as modernist stand in relation to forms of power” (157). I refer to Wayne K. Chapman and Janet M. Manson’s article to come up with a more definitive answer.

[Virginia Woolf] may have seemed to her husband, on late reflection and relative to his career as an advisor to statesman, ‘the least political animal…since Aristotle invented the definition,’ but she was not, as he added, ‘a frail invalidish lady living in an ivory tower…and worshipped by a little clique of aethetes’ (Downhill 27). The roots of A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas, went back to a tradition of pamphleteering and to Labour party and Co-operative Movement activities in which both were engaged during and after World War I (Chapman and Manson 59-60).

Woolf was influential in her husband’s work in addition to taking on her own. It was her writing and Leonard’s writing that spoke out to people on all levels. They crafted their political convictions through their literary art. Through their use of allusion and metaphor, they deliver a political message. We see this in Leonard Woolf’s “Fear and Politics” as he uses alludes to certain leaders as zoo animals. They maintained a (peaceful, yet poignant) political platform through written conveyance—something more than a simple article that appealed directly to the people and asked them to join their cause. I think we see this poignant appeal in Woolf’s “Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid” as she goes from German’s flying over her house at night “with a gas-mask handy” to “send[ing] fragmentary notes to huntsmen.”

E.M. Forster also seemed to take a similar stance to Woolf in his essay “What I Believe” when he professes that he “do[es] not believe in Belief” (165). Instead, he abides by Montaigne and Erasmus and seems to follow similar threads in his essay when compared with Montaigne’s “Of the Useful and the Honourable.” I won’t go into the comparison, but what I do find useful is Montaigne’s introductory quote by Terrence, “No one is exempt from saying silly things. The misfortune is to say them with earnest effort” (Frame 599). I believe Forster addresses this on page 169: “…the evidence of history shows us that men have always insisted on behaving creatively under the shadow of the sword; that they have done their artistic and scientific and domestic stuff for the sake of doing it, and that we had better follow their example under the shadow of aeroplanes.” Forster doesn’t see much change from those who have come before him. He’s read it from Montaigne’s perspective and adapts it to fit his own, which doesn’t seem much different. Unfortunately, I don’t think Forster had an optimistic view, but he certainly seemed to maintain that violence wasn’t resolving anything for humankind.

I want to conclude with this final thought: it is not my intent to portray Virginia Woolf as lacking an emotional attachment to political actions taking place during her lifetime. I realize that the thought of war taking her life in addition to those around her has been stated/implied several times throughout the course of the semester. She simply seems to convey her position with such strength that one would think she would display some sort of irrational emotion as she wrote about women's rights and the war. On a slightly different note, perhaps her androgynous shift at the end of A Room of One’s Own is simply meant for her reader to pause and consider not only the women’s cause but humankind’s cause?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Austen and Bronte in the Room

I had read an exerpt from a “A Room of One’s Own” several years ago, and it interested me and continues to interest me even more now. It focused on Virginia Woolf’s character, Judith or Shakespeare’s sister, who could never be given the opportunity that her brother had. She could have equal intelligence and talent, but no one would ever discover this. “To have lived a free life in London in the sixteenth century would have meant for a woman who was poet and playwright a nervous stress and dilemma which might well have killed her” (50). I think this still rang true for women in later centuries. However, there were some, despite the depressed conditions of women writers, who were seemingly less affected and, therefore, admired by Woolf.

The author of her essay (in addition to several of her other essays) pointedly acknowledges her fondness and admiration for Jane Austen in the fourth chapter. She also pays respects to Charlotte Bronte—just not as wholly. Although the two authors stemmed from similar conditions, both writing within their nineteenth century confines, they wrote differently. She states, “…all the literary training that a woman had in the early nineteenth century was training in the observation of character, in the analysis of emotion” (67). Austen prevails over Bronte because how their ultimate truths through fiction were depicted. Austen had to “hid[e] her manuscripts or cover them with a piece of blotting paper,” yet her “circumstances were not “harmed in the slightest” (67-8). Woolf parallels Austen to Shakespeare. Austen was able to convey, clearly, human truths based on her observations without intertwining the irrationalities of emotion. I believe Woolf felt that if one mixes her personal emotions into her work, it will be discredited. “She will write foolishly where she should write wisely. She will write of herself where she should write of her characters” (69-70). This is the very problem that she has with Charlotte Bronte.

Bronte was not rational; she acted impulsively and seemingly incorporated too much of herself into her writings. “In other words, we read Charlotte Bronte not for exquisite observation of character—her characters are vigorous and elementary; not for comedy—hers is grim and crude; not for a philosophic view of life—hers is that of a country parson’s daughter…” (Gilbert and Gubar 1330). She failed to separate her emotions to convey a sense of truth to her reader. She contends that Villette is Bronte’s “finest novel,” which connotes her respect for Bronte. I have to wonder, however, if Woolf knew that Bronte’s ending was altered because of her father’s wishes—regardless of her own wants. “Mr. Bronte was anxious that her new tale should end well, as he disliked novels which left a melancholy impression upon the mind; and he requested her to make her hero and heroine (like the heroes and heroines in fairy-tales) ‘marry, and live happily ever after’ (Bronte 538). Bronte, it seems, was easily influenced and affected, which made her a better (romantic) poet than writer in Woolf’s opinion.

Although this was not included in her essay, Woolf was not alone in her opinions of Austen. One of her Bloomsbury male counterparts also held Austen in high regard—E.M. Forster. I bring this up because of some of the assertions Forster was included in Jane Marcus’ “Sapphistry: Narration as Lesbian Seduction.” She contends that “E.M. Forster, Lytton Strachey, Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson, and their friends were misogynist in their lives as well as in their writing. Virginia Woolf, already exacerbated by her own sense of sexual difference was, I think, confused and disturbed by the woman-hating of her male homosexual friends….” (177). I am certain that there is truth to Forster’s misogynistic tendencies based solely on his preference for men, but Austen was influential in his writing. If he hated her, he would be either hypocritical or unconscious of his writing behaviors. He admits fully that he enjoys Austen’s humor. He even refers to himself as a “Jane Austenite” in a review published in 1924. He further explains in the same publication that he has “read and re-read” Jane Austen. He hasn’t done this in an attempt to deconstruct and destroy Austen as a woman writer. If anything, I believe he connects with her points of view on human nature and common observations—despite the 100-plus year difference. Possibly, we can see Forster just as much of a manx cat as any of the women—not that he lacks the “tail,” but he is different from his male heterosexual or bisexual Bloomsbury companions. He is an outsider on the Isle of (hetero)Man. Just as much as Austen had to hide her manuscripts from a busy room, I believe Forster had to hide his sexual preference from a busy hetero-man driven world.

To end, I believe there was an unforeseen foreshadowing to Woolf’s statement concerning Judith in relation to the author’s own life. Although she wrote as more in Austen’s steady and effective likeness versus an emoting Bronte, her society and emotional mentality created the “stress and dilemma” which led to her untimely death. I wonder how she would feel about the progress that has been made in the literary world today.

Monday, March 3, 2008

An Untitled Attempt at Understanding Eliot's Land

Again, I find myself searching for Eliot’s meaning. I do not think that I will find a parallel that works as smoothly as Emily Hale did for his “La Figlia che Piange.” I initially misinterpreted the meaning in that poem. I am certain I will do the same here, but I am going to try.

During my last two years of my undergraduate career, I found my way through Shakespeare's works, Erasmus’ Praise of Folly, Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Decameron, and a variety of other Renaissance related pieces. This is what I bring to the literary table when reading Eliot. As such, I can only attempt to relate to T.S. Eliot through what I have come to learn and somewhat understand. I am certainly not a Latin scholar and am not versed in an assortment of other languages. I am not the erudite reader; I confess. In turn, I read and re-read T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” to find meaning. I further tried to find connections of Eliot through biographical links, but I found, in order to make these connections, one must weed through his great work of erudition. As I attempted to plow my way through Eliot’s plaguing masterpiece, I could not help but think that this scholar conveyed layers upon layers of meaning and could be playing with his readers as they attempted to unearth meaning beneath the literary strata—specifically his learned critics who would analyze his cryptic piece. Was he trying to dupe his fellow scholars by making them scrutinize not only his work but all the other works he placed within the lines of his own? Once again, I found myself turning to Lyndall Gordon’s biography of Eliot to answer this and other questions:

It was fashionable for long stretches of the twentieth century to read the poem as an intellectual game for scholars who could identify allusions. Lesser readers were to have access to it only through their guidebooks. Many erudite readers of Eliot’s century actually had no idea what the poem was about, while readers with any sort of religious background knew at once: they saw through the crust of erudition to the residue of timeless forms—sermon, soul history, confession—almost drowned out by the motor horns, pub talk, and the beguiling patter of a bogus medium, all that noise of wasted lives” (148-9).

Gordon’s assessment of past scholars made my thoughts validated, at least. Yet, I found comfort in knowing that Eliot’s elegy was not a game and held more value than to simply play with all of the concepts—literary and biographical—that he had come to know in his life. I, unfortunately, still find myself in need of a “guidebook” to find my way through Eliot’s 433 lines of searching through this poet’s land of life and death. I turn to both Philip R. Headings excerpt and, again, Gordon, to clarify any connection I might possibly make.

I turn to the second section of this piece, “A Game of Chess,” because of its seemingly biographical linking. I realize that there is a more allegorical thread to follow, and I will take the word of the more learned critics on this level. For now, however, (and as I am reading this poem for the first time) I will stick to a more biographical reading. Headings notes, “‘A Game of Chess,’ depicts the stunting effects of improperly directed love or of lust mistaken for love. In this section we see the pawns moving about in two games that end not in checkmate but in stalemate” (61). This section could seemingly portray the stale relationship that existed (and, eventually, ended) between Eliot and Vivien. “For a year and a half after Eliot’s marriage he felt as if he had dried up” (Gordon 157). It is further explained by Gordon that “Eliot’s most confessional fragments have to do with a mismatched couple…the wife is playing a scene in a love-drama while the husband is absorbed in a quite different, more sinister plot of life and death” (158). We hear the disenchanted discourse between a man and woman/husband and wife in lines 111-125 within this section of Eliot’s work. There is a further connection with the inability to have children in reference to line 164 when the question is posited: “What you get married for if you don’t want children” (10). Seemingly, this line could suggest that there is not a lack of desire for children but an inability to procreate—just as there is an inability to refresh the notion of (mismatched/mistaken) love between the man and woman viewed earlier within this section. It is also interesting to note, when examining the Gliederung as it refers to this section, that it begins with the upper class, finds its way into the middle class, and ends with the lower class—a digression and downward spiral of sorts.

This is solely my novice attempt to find meaning in Eliot’s fragmented journey through time and place, which seemingly discovers an answer and supersedes secular realities. Maybe I will find clarity in class and/or through other blog postings. I can only hope.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Mansfield's Movement

I don’t even know where to begin when broaching a person/subject, such as Katherine Mansfield and her short stories. I did not realize she was such a woman of flux as she bounced from New Zealand, England, France, and Switzerland, in addition to bouncing from man to man to woman throughout her lifetime. I had researched her a little at the beginning of class as I believed she might be more liminal in nature (I quickly discovered that “flux” was certainly more appropriate). I also found it odd that her relationship with Ida Baker/Leslie Moore/L.M.) was not described in greater depth in any of our readings as she was coined as Mansfield’s “wife” in Hermione Lee’s article (382). Further, she seemed to know Baker from 1908 until 1923 based on information provided in the “kirjasto” biography on Mansfield. Another article contends, “‘The Daughters of the Late Colonel’ is a gentle satire on Mansfield’s close friend, Ida Constance Baker, and on Ida’s moody and irascible father, a ‘dried up old stick’ who shot himself after World War I” (Meyers ix). Maybe I’m more interested in Mansfield’s complex and somewhat disreputable side of life as opposed to her short stories that portray threads of her life’s perspective?

Nevertheless, she certainly posited a lot of her life’s views into her work(s). Beginning my reading of Mansfield’s Prelude was appropriate as it placed its reader in her New Zealand homeland. It also exhibited another parallel as Linda, Lottie, and Kezia Burnell began their move from one place to another at the short story’s start—similar to Mansfield’s childhood. As the title suggests, this move leads the reader to a more significant and deeper meaning. As I read through this story, I felt that Linda and Kezia were very Mansfield-like. Linda’s relationship with Stanley seemed similar to the New Zealand writer’s relationship with men, possibly Garnet Trowel. One of her biographical accounts noted, “She returned to Garnet, travelled with his opera company, became pregnant…” and later gave birth to a “still born child” (New Zealand Book Council). Mansfield’s personal experience seemingly evolved into Linda’s horrific dream. She sees the “lovely kingfisher perched on the paddock fence” and, in the following paragraph, she “caught the tiny bird and stroked its head with her finger…. As she stroked it began to swell…it grew bigger and bigger and its round eyes seemed to smile knowingly at her” (Mansfield 89). The “loud” attractive male kingfisher presents the musically inclined Trowel, and the swelling “tiny ball of fluff” that “had become a baby with a big naked head” presented a glimpse of Mansfield's stillborn infant who never truly came to be. Linda Burnell is also viewed as a “delicate sensitive invalid” (Meyer viii). Mansfield, too, was an invalid—not simply because she had tuberculosis. She longed for security and stability in her life. “Mansfield’s marriage stories reflect[ed] her own fear of abandonment and betrayal, her self-destructive jealousy, and her guild about being an invalid” (Meyer xiii). As much as Mansfield delivered her adult perspective, she also presented a child’s view.

Hermione Lee comments about this story’s “funny child’s eye view, its tiny coloured details, [and] its fluid movements between banal realities and inner fantasy”(385). I mentioned earlier that Kezia held Mansfield-like characteristics. I say this as it directly relates to another vivid depiction of a duck’s graphic death. As Pat chops off the duck’s head, Kezia is horrified and wants to fix something that cannot be mended. She has been horrified for an instant, but moves on within minutes as she finds the servant’s earrings. Mansfield seems to reveal her nature’s essence—an event can change one forever and alter one’s view, but one will move on without a second thought. I could be completely off, but it certainly seems fitting for Mansfield. For me, thirty years of this author’s life is wrapped up in the few stories that we’ve read.

The “coloured details” and “fluid movements” that Lee points out are reminiscent of what appear in Woolf’s short stories. I find construction of Woolf’s and Mansfield’s stories to be very different. They bare similarity because they incorporate bursts of color, images of nature/gardens. Yet, their styles are very different. Woolf’s short stories flow, but only as the clips of memory connect somehow, and, at the same time, are deliberately fragmented—dashes and clips of repeated words and images seem to burst forth. It seems more progressive than Mansfield’s stories. Mansfield’s works were more traditional as they maintained a more cohesive thread. Her words thread together to present a scene, which has the ability to burst forth. I realize that Woolf was six years older than Mansfield, but I am a bit confused, however, regarding who influenced whom. Was it typical for women writers to use the images of the garden and specific flowers—or was it Woolf’s influence over Mansfield or vice versa?

Overall, I would say that I am intrigued by this author more than the others we have discussed in class. Stating this, however, I find a greater respect for Woolf and Eliot and their works. Moreover, Mansfield’s flux is far more interesting than Forster’s—at least from a biographical account.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Laboring Woolf

With all of Virginia Woolf’s short stories, I cannot help but question my mind’s eye. I question interpretation and who and/or what is real. How is one to impose order on perception? This, I believe, is some of Woolf’s intent as she delivers stream of consciousness within her short stories. For in her short stories, I have developed a flipbook of sorts, building a fuller picture as I read Woolf’s pieces, but it is not the kind that begins with a piece of an image on one page and builds little by little until I see one full picture of “sameness.” Instead, each page holds a different and unique picture that shifts quickly from one page to the next. Yet, they build upon one another to create a meaning—with color, repetition, reflection, rhythm, and perspective.

The reflections that seem to stare back at us in Virginia Woolf’s short stories, such as the “reflected apples” in “A Haunted House” and the incessant “rubb[ing] hard at a spot” in “An Unwritten Novel,” depict both a still life flash and an active clip of memory, respectively. Throughout the stories, there are flashes that are filled with dimension, color, shadow and light, as well as angled perspectives. The memory seems to go from scene to scene and, somehow, manages to tie it all together. There is a sense of unity, which, I feel, is different than what we receive from T.S. Eliot’s fragmented poetry.

As I mentioned last week: Eliot’s imagery and language lend themselves to a disjointed snapshot taken in the dark—as Prufrock has “seen them riding seaward on the waves” and the “wind blow[ing] the water white and black” (lines 126-8). Eliot’s poetry seems to connect through his disconnections with in both his poetry and his personal life. Similarly, Woolf’s stories are pieces or “things.” However, “one thing…open[s] out of another” (Kemp 72). One sensory action or image flows into the next. In “An Unwritten Novel,” we see one woman, “rubb[ing] as if she would rub something out forever…” (21) Then, we see another woman compelled to take up the same action as, “[s]omething impelled me to take my glove and rub my window…” (21). A third offspring created through this sequence is “…the spasm [that] went through me” (21). Not only are the actions somewhat transferring from one sentence to the next, but the actions of the “she” and “me” characters transfer from one to the other. There are other images that Woolf presents in her work that parallel the narrative structure.

“Woolf shared T.S. Eliot’s wish to present the boredom, the horror and the reality of the everyday world rather than to construct a fictional one” (Kemp 63). As I follow the snail and dragon fly in “Kew Gardens,” I cannot help but place these images against Eliot’s “ragged claws” in “Prufrock” to gain a greater grasp on narrative and/or poetic structure. As we discussed in class two weeks ago, the “ragged claws” image in Eliot’s poetry emphasizes his concept of fragmentation in his personal life and, thus, his poetry. In contrast, the snail seems to portray this deliberate and laborious creature as it “…began to labour over the crumbs of the loose earth” (41). It plans its slow and determined movement, as “[i]t appeared to have a definite goal in front of it” throughout the story (41). The dragonfly, on the other hand, “went round and round” in reference to the past (40). Woolf’s stream of consciousness narrative is deliberate, yet it is repetitive and cyclical. This could be applied to Woolf’s personal life, as well. From the little biography that I have read on Woolf, her interior and exterior worlds—her struggle (“horror and reality”) with mental illness and her struggle with living and writing in a predominantly male society—were taxing and recurring.

Woolf is equally as complex, in my opinion, as Eliot or any of her literary companions. She brought her own vision to the Modernist-Bloomsbury table, which provided (and continues to provide) a picture of her time; a time filled with her perspective of color and nature. On critiquing E.M. Forster’s Howard’s End, she asserted: “Mr. Forster is extremely susceptible to the influence of time. […] He is acutely conscious of the bicycle and of the motor-car; of the public school and of the university; of the suburb and of the city.” (Forster 392). It was not that Woolf did not see these changes and modern advances that surrounded her; she did. However, her sense of realism within her narrative needed to delve deeper into the realm of art. There seems to be a subtle divide between imagination and reality creating one large canvas out of several flashes of words, rhythms, colors, and objects and/or creatures that develop out of Woolf’s elaborate world.