Multiple Narratives In and About Virginia Woolf

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‘Pack of Woolfs’ – Digital Composite

Sometimes it is better to let an author speak for themselves, which is why I have included some long quotes from Virginia Woolf’s novels. Having only recently re-read both Mrs Dalloway and To The Lighthouse the choices for January are limited. ‘A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.’ I read this many years ago, and always remembered it fondly, so it has been real. However, The Waves has the ramblings of the narrator. Not one of my favorite points of Woolf’s novels. Ramblings aside, it is also the narrator’s inclination for prose that is most similar to Between the Acts, though for me, it had none of its beauty. Though Woolf’s writing is, as always, reason enough to read the book, I found the slight tendencies towards the meaning and purpose of life, of work, of war, of relationships, all very well and good, but as well, now having read more from Woolf, I can agree with many others that Between the Acts is one of her more accessible texts. The structure of reality is not only the world of men and women: the opportunity has come for the dead poet to emerge from Woolf’s novels most fully formed.

“I have torn off the whole of May and June,” said Susan, “and he will not come. It is for that that I love him. Bernard is a storyteller.” Susan was keen to put in the course of her paper that Shakespeare had a sister; but she do not look for her in the life of May and June. She said “Twenty whole days of July: I have torn them off and screwed them up so that they wrinkle and shrivel. For hours, being here and there exactly at the right moment will make me crack. If I am out of the train and stand on the platform at six twenty-five then my freedom will unfurl, and all these restrictions will seem real.”

Her characters were so of London, of course, a particular love of Woolf’s, and she writes that it maybe frustrated her as a writer. Despite her best efforts, its cast was also her audience. The wind of London carried the words of her actors, but away, and before they reached her audience, so that only random words and phrases would reach their destination. Thus London was a move both towards and away from the impressionistic, stream of consciousness style of her most famous works such as To the Lighthouse. Her audience would ponder over the meaning.

The structure of Mrs Dalloway was such that in the world of the novel, the feeling of meaning is almost like the creative act of writing itself. It was published in May 1925, and was an example in which she explores the various members of a family: who will marry, die, those who have always been poor, and not for two hundred years merely, but from the beginning of time. So money, according to her own unique way, in simple terms, makes the book tell the story of a life.

In Waves, we follow her characters only through the eyes of each other. Between the sections of soliloquy which chart each stage of these characters’ lives, childhood, school, young adulthood, middle-age, are brief interludes. These interludes, which might describe, say, a coastal scene, will have each one depicting a different time of day, from sunrise to sunset. I found these interludes to be strangely poignant. They add to the feeling of connectedness between human beings and the natural world, the ebb and flow of life:

“The waves broke and spread their waters swiftly over one another as they massed themselves and fell; the spray tossed itself back with the energy of their fall. The waves were steeped deep-blue save for a pattern of diamond-pointed light on their backs which rippled like the backs of great horses.”

With each of the characters, their thoughts and experiences become rather meaningless, as there is no opportunity to become invested in them. The Waves and Orlando must have been incredibly difficult novels to write about the inner life of women. Writing was often like a body she wore that stopped at the present moment. It was now. Ourselves. So that was her little game!

Perhaps we need to give a history on her unhappiness, and that, Feminists do kill joy in a certain sense: they disturb in a very subtle way the character and relationship, not only with other people, but the world in general. The outlook was and is one of empathy that the writer shows for her own gender as well as the male, and the subtle sarcasm and the loss one feels strongly, that empathy for she who is misunderstood by the doctor. The history of mens opposition to women’s property, as she points out, was about the generous endowments to colleges for the further education of males.

Waves is certainly not as conventional as The Voyage Out or Night and Day. Its prose is dissimilar to Between the Acts, which had a compelling story and characters as well as beautiful writing. While The Years certainly has its moments, there is a lack of room, just as in A Room of One’s Own. Woolf cites myriad interruptions that women in fiction experience; her talk about female authors is a talk about women who are like the thud of a great beast stamping. Woolf’s prose is glorious, there is a rhythm and flow which I read with self-doubt.

It is a doubt mirrored by her as an outsider who seeks acceptance. Her writing is one of the plight of women in Britain and the writer is one who shows in her own gender as well as the male, the subtle sarcasm in people and their way of life. The prose, of course, is just wonderful; vibrant and very much, far more than I expected. The beginning and the end are my favourite sections!

But the style and treatment of her material may have been, and very much seems to be, a world away from the dry marshalling of beginnings and endings. She cites as a reason for the unimpressiveness of their relation to each other our relation to reality; it is with the sky, and the trees, or whatever it may be able to write down in stories. The use of point of view in narrative makes her one of the greatest writers the English language has ever produced.

The above article is a multiple narrative entirely composed from words in the following blog posts. Much respect to the respective bloggers for their unwitting role and, most importantly, their enthusiasm for an author whose work has exerted an important influence on explorations of textual plasticity in writing.

Virginia Woolf & Self-publishing at Jennifer Menninger

Virginia Woolf – A Room of One’s Own at Lady Fancifull

Review: A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf at Drink Coffee and Read books

All in a summer’s day… (#woolfalong) at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings



This Unseizable Force at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings

Book Review — The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: Manic Depression and the Life of Virginia Woolf at Evilcyclist’s Blog



The Waves – Virginia Woolf (1931) at heavenali



This entry was posted in Authors, Culture, Literary Criticism, Literature, Woolf, Virginia and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Multiple Narratives In and About Virginia Woolf

  1. Ste J says:

    Nicely played, fascinating and no doubt a bit of a jigsaw puzzle but with lots of sky…or in this case water. Woolf is a challenge to read that slowly becomes easier over time I find and becomes more fulfilling with every page.


  2. Lucy says:

    I’ve just started collecting her diaries. I have a thing for personal diaries and collections of letters, and I look forward to many hours of Woolf’s company.


    • Jeff says:

      I notice how it’s unusual to see men reading diaries. I’ve only read some of Kafka’s – that’s about it. But women seem to hoover them up. There’s something about it that’s a bit like confiding over tea and biscuits. Rather Alan Bennetty. But women’s diaries especially – Diane Athill, Doris Lessing. I have Marguerite Duras’ Wartime Notebooks to start, having loved Practicalities. I don’t expect them to be much like diaries though.
      I shall have to consider scanning some diary material someday. I’d love to generate / edit a synthetic biography or autobiography.

      Liked by 1 person

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