Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Blog Ten: A Room of One's Own

Blog Ten

A Room of One’s Own

Most of what we have read by Woolf shows how incredibly British society was affected by WWI, and this book is no exception. Though not one of the main points of the book, this is one of the early ideas that stood out to me. Her discussion beginning, “Shall we blame the war?” indicates to some degree how much people were affected, mentally and emotionally. (15) One of the major themes of the book is the problem of money. This first comes up in the discussion of building the women’s college. The initial problem is that women of the previous generation had no money to give. This occurred for various reasons, especially the law (which did not allow women to have or control property until relatively recently in the context of the book) and women’s historical role of bearing and raising children. Another idea explored in the book is power relationships between men and women. Historically, men have been “in charge” of women and have assumed women as their inferiors. Woolf explores this in an interesting way; she concludes that men have insisted upon women as inferiors to build their own self-confidence. Who wouldn’t be confident if at least half the world is inferior to them with no effort or accomplishment required? On the other hand, how could this treatment result in anything but bitterness by women? Woolf resolves this problem through independent income. Independent income allows a woman to go about her business with no negative feelings toward men because men are not necessary to her survival: “I need not hate any man; he cannot hurt me. I need flatter any man; he has nothing to give me.” (38) Women need, in short, money and privacy to work and write. Additionally, this lack of bitterness will generally improve writing; her example here is Bronte.

Several parts of this book were especially interesting to me. I enjoyed her thoughts on women’s place in poetry (good) versus history (bad). “Imaginatively she is of the highest importance; practically she is completely insignificant.” (43) What a fascinating dichotomy this is and one that I had never before considered. I was also struck by her Judith Shakespeare idea, which was so incredibly poignant yet at the same time so believable.

The latter portions of the book seem to be presented as a series of difficulties which have been and are now faced by women writers. Though Woolf acknowledges the “turning point” for women as the career of Aphra Behn (“Aphra Behn proved that money could be made by writing…” (64) and “Money dignifies what is frivolous if unpaid for.” (65) ), conditions are still not that good. Women still have little “tradition” from which to work: “But all the older forms of literature were hardened and set by the time she became a writer. The novel alone was young enough to be soft in her hands…” (77) Men’s values were the dominant set of values, and I really question how much this has changed even today. Is not war still seen as a more significant subject than transactions among women in a drawing room? She ends by giving advice to a fictional writer, Mary Carmichael, which is likely advice to all women. Finally, she explains her motivations, one of which is because she is out of good books. This must have elicited a giggle from the audience and was charming even just reading it. However, she also wants intellectual freedom for women. She wants women to be able to purse writing and to contribute to the world: “Thus when I ask you to write more books I am urging you to do what will be for your good and for the good of the world at large.” (109)

“Sapphistry:” This essay basically sets out several forms of historical context for the book. The book was created out of a series of lectures that Woolf gave at two women’s colleges in October 1928. These talks, which were for women only, were a kind of conspiracy among Woolf and the audience members: “The conspiracy she sets up with her audience is of women in league together against authority.” (166) This “discourse of feminist conspiracy” was partially an attempt to convert her friend Vita (who accompanied her to the lectures) to feminism. (166) The article also sets up the lectures/book in the context of a trial that was going on concerning the obscenity of The Well of Loneliness. This article states that the lectures/book have two purposes: “to inculcate sexual solidarity by establishing difference and claiming that difference as superior, and the recruitment and enlistment of a new generation of women in the cause of feminine scholarship.” I’m not sure about the first claim, as Woolf seems to lean more towards what she calls the “androgynous” writer. She calls Shakespeare androgynous, for example. The second goal stated here seems correct.

CCM: Dekoven explains first that the early years of Modernism were also the early years of feminism. Second, women were important in defining the important characteristics of Modernism. The male writers may not have liked it, but women were important in Modernism. Woolf was especially important. “Woolf revised the association of Modernism with masculinity by associating it with femininity instead.” (187)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Blog Nine: Mrs. Dalloway

Blog Nine: Mrs. Dalloway
MD: For the first time this week, I read the work itself before reading the assigned articles. I think this gave me a better idea what each article was about, and it left everything in the book a surprise. Two things drew attention pretty quickly: World War I and Big Ben. Reference to the War seems to be how time is referenced in the big picture. June 1919 seems to be the day covered in the book. “The War was over…” “For it was the middle of June.” (5) Many events are set either before, during or after the War. Trotter notes the impact of the War on several modern novelists, including VW: “Apocalypse was one of the things modernist writers imagined most fondly.” (77) He discusses VW, DH Lawrence and F. Scott Fitzgerald in terms of “literature of crisis.” (77) Big Ben, striking different hours, is a repeated image.
Grammatically, I noticed a pretty extreme use of semi-colons. I think this is part of her overall strategy of showing how thoughts come, how the mind works. The mind doesn’t always move forward in terms of complete sentences. This book has stories and incidents, but it seemed to be more about characters and how their minds worked than about a plot, at least in the way we usually use the word plot. The main character is Clarissa. Everyone else (except maybe Septimus and Rezia) seems to be moving around her. The most interesting thing about this book to me is that all the characters are likeable. There is no villain, no one that you really hate. Everyone is sympathetic, at least to a degree. I liked Clarissa. I liked Peter, but I also liked Richard. It was so sad that they both couldn’t be with her. Clarissa became more complex as the first half of the novel progressed. When it is revealed that she had a sexual interest in Sally earlier in her life (she called the kiss with Sally “the most exquisite moment of her whole life” (52) ), she becomes a much more complex character. My favorite part of the story was Peter’s remembrances of their adventures at Bourton. This story (which he remembered as the night he knew Clarissa would marry Dalloway) is beautifully related. This is the first time you feel you really know Peter. By the end of the book, I thought the most surprising thing was that it was all one day. I think this shows the level of evaluation, details, memories, etc. The ending, where Dr. Bradshaw relates the Septimus story, reminded me of the Mansfield garden party story.

“Modern Fiction:” Several sections of this article perfectly describe MD. VW first describes what is wrong with outdated fiction. Mainly, it is of “unimportant things” and “often misses than secures the thing we seek.” (3) A better goal is to “look within.” (4) “The mind receives a myriad impressions—trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel. From all sides they come, an incessant shower of innumerable atoms…” (4) This seems to me to be about MD; this is what MD does. She admires Joyce, whom she says attempts “to come closer to life, and to preserve more sincerely and exactly what interests and moves them…” (4)

Steinberg: In this article, Steinberg looks at the relationship between Eliot and the Woolfs to support his theory that MD and TWL are connected and that Septimus is based on Eliot. This was a really fascinating idea, and he is able to support it. Three connections really made sense to me. First, the Jean Verdenal episode seems to line up quite well with Evans in MD. Second, Steinberg notes that Eliot married very suddenly after Verdenal’s death; in MD, Septimus marries soon after the end of the War. Evans was killed just before the Armistice. Finally, they were very similar in occupation. (See p. 12.) On top of this, Eliot was on VW’s mind as she was writing MD; they were becoming really close, and her letters often refer to him.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Blog Eight: "The Waste Land"

Blog Eight: “The Waste Land”

Headings: This article was about the development of the poem through its shape. Headings looks at each section and explain how it relates to the poem as a whole. Each sequence involves “a death-and-resurrection sequence” and each “implies an awareness of positive potentialities growing out of the initial waste and barren conditions.” (1) So, there is a repeated pattern with the final conclusion being that there is hope, despite how bad things seem at the start. This explanation makes sense, and I just generally like this explanation, due to my desire for happy (or at least hopeful) endings. Interestingly, Headings notes that Eliot “denied that his poem was intended to express the disillusionment of a generation.” (5) Before I read this article, I had assumed that this was exactly what Eliot had intended, which would fit him comfortably into the changes of Modernism. After I thought about it, though, I can see the argument for its universality. It’s not just about the WWI generation, in other words, it’s about all generations and their particular and individual disillusionments. Unfortunately, despite all these good points, Headings also confirms one of my major concerns about the poem: “Only by experiencing the works of art, literature and other, on which Eliot’s poem draws, can the reader arrive at a truly comprehensive and detailed understanding of ‘The Waste Land…’ The protagonist will fit the reader to put the Western traditions of literature…to what Eliot regards as their proper…use.” (4-5) In other words, Eliot is following his own advice from “Tradition.” Reading all the sources for this poem could be its own class, with a few readings each week then the poem itself in the last two or so weeks.

Brooks: Brooks begins by stating that he is different from other critics of the poem: he is going to explain the symbols of the poem and how they relate to each other. That may seem simple enough, but it is misleading. This poem is a gigantic mishmash of symbols that can have all sorts of meanings. Brooks, like Eliot in the notes to the poem, acknowledges the centrality of Weston’s work. (This kind of surprised me, by the way, as it seemed like we had talked before about Eliot being a little sexist. Perhaps I misremembered that.) In addition to trying to break down the symbols one-by-one, Brooks also proposes to explain the “basic method” of the poem, which is “built on a major contrast:” life without meaning (bad) versus sacrifice/sacrificial death (good). (186) His major ideas about the theme are that “men have lost the knowledge of good and evil…”(186) and that “life at its highest moments of meaning and intensity resembles death…” (188) and, finally, “the rehabilitation of a system of beliefs, known but now discredited.” (209) My favorite part of this article is the portion where Brooks explains the use of the battle at Mylae in the first portion of the poem. Mylae was a battle in the Punic Wars; Brooks interprets this to mean that “all the wars are one war” and “all experience, one experience.” (191) This is very nicely written. The problem, however, is that this itself illustrates that extreme level of detail and minutiae required to understand this poem. It isn’t even one of the most important or well-known battles!

TWL: I have never read this poem, and it is incredibly daunting. The references to other works seem impossible to get. For example, I just read Antony and Cleopatra, and I wouldn’t have picked up on the reference in Line 78 without the notes at the end. I understand “the big picture” but only thanks to the articles and the two documents that you posted. Otherwise, no way. This leads me to wonder, then, for whom was this poem intended? He must have wanted someone to read and understand it, and it was obviously an incredible amount of painstaking work. I was a little skeptical about the conclusion of Headings that the poem was hopeful, but after reading Eliot’s notes, I think he was right. I was convinced by the ending (“shantih”) and Eliot’s explanation of it: “The Peace which passeth understanding.” (note 434, 56).

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Blog Seven: Katherine Mansfield

Blog Seven

Katherine Mansfield

I was excited to read the stories this week, at least partially because they are by another female author. Unfortunately (at least for my taste), Katherine Mansfield seemed determined to be different from one’s common ideas about how women write. I suppose what I mean is that she seems determined to be unpleasant. I was happy that we had the introductory articles, as they seemed to explain what some of her mix of bitterness, negativity and pessimism was caused by. First, she was sick and often in pain. Second, she had a troubled relationship with her husband.

What interested me most was her relationship with Virginia Woolf. As Hussey writes, it was “complex.” (153) Hussey and Lee both recognized that the relationship had ups and downs. The problems seemed to be caused by a mix of Katherine’s illnesses (tuberculosis and arthritis), their rivalry and by Katherine’s personality generally. As a more specific problem, Lee discusses how upset Virginia was by Katherine’s review of Night and Day, which was quite negative. Nevertheless, they seemed to genuinely appreciate each other. They each recognized a kindred spirit in the other; they were women writers working in a time when this profession was uncommon. They both really cared about writing and wanted to be the best at their craft. Lee also notes that Virginia continued to think about Katherine after she died; only then did she recognize how important Katherine had been to her.

The Hanson article was interesting because it questioned how short stories and women are considered together. There is a relationship among writers that are women, writers who are considered “minor” and writers that concentrate on short stories. Which of these factors came first? Which is more causative? It’s an interesting question. Hanson also notes that Mansfield didn’t do much critical writing (in contrast to Eliot) but that she did do some influential criticism of other writers. She too mentions Woolf but notes that there were other influential reviews done by Mansfield.

I enjoyed her beautiful ability to write descriptions. Her description in the first paragraph of “At the Bay,” is fabulous! She uses so many colors and very nice adjectives. She always does a nice job of describing flowers. “Prelude” (in the sixth part) is a great example. (See p. 22.) Though both of these are environmental examples, she also had a real ability to describe thoughts and make you feel like you could really get into a character. Bertha in “Bliss” is the best example. You feel so hopeful and happy when you are reading it. And yet, of course it comes to a bad ending, being Mansfield. Meyers calls “Bliss” a “fictional portrait of her marriage to Murry” (x) and that the “marriage stories reflect her own fear of abandonment and betrayal, her self-destructive jealousy…” (xiii) Even though I know from reading the articles that this probably comes from her own disappointments, I was still bothered by the endings of several of these stories.

Despite all her negativity, she seems to have a little hope that love exists. Linda loves Stanley, and Bertha loves Harry. One worries, of course, that they can’t have happy endings, as Mansfield seems to frown on happy endings. I was actually surprised that Beryl didn’t get raped at the end of “At the Bay.” Also, men seem to be dispensable. In the same story, all the women are happy when Stanley leaves the house and only women are left.

Reading Mansfield, one gets a sense that things in her life, and in the world generally, weighed heavily upon her. For example, she is certainly bothered by the class system, which she illustrates in “The Garden Party.” Laura is sympathetic about the death of a person who could, by distance, be classified as the family’s neighbor, yet everyone brushes aside her concerns. Her mother tells her that she is being “absurd” and that “people like that don’t expect sacrifices from us.” (205) Laura, on observation of the men setting up the party, wonders when “these absurd class distinctions” will be gone. (199) Mansfield is also worried about patriarchy, which she wrote about in “The Daughters of the Late Colonel.” The sisters are so worried about making a decision independently that they worry that their father will posthumously scold them for planning his funeral incorrectly. Mansfield also seems concerned about the fate of intellectuals; this is symbolized by Jonathan in “At the Bay.” He is smart, spends his money on books, speaks well, and yet he is forced to slave away at an office. For what? He seemed to me a less annoying version of Leonard Bast. Another main theme is children learning about reality. In “At the Bay,” Kezia is worried about her grandmother leaving her and wants reassurance that she will never die.