Having finally read two Virginia Woolf classics, I thought I would share my views. Firstly, I am exhausted! Ms Woolf is most definitely not easy reading (well not for me anyway.) I will start with ‘A Room of One’s Own.’ This book grew out of a lecture that Virginia Woolf had been invited to give at Girton College Cambridge in 1928.
In the book she begins to contemplate women and fiction and on page two we have one of the best quotes I have ever read: ‘A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction; and that, as you will see, leaves the great problem of the true nature of woman and the true nature of fiction unsolved.’ What a brilliant piece of observation and how true! Woolf then goes on to discuss women in literature, women in history and the differences between how women are portrayed in fiction and how they actually lived in reality.
I found this book fascinating, beautifully written and a real revelation, in so far as it raised questions about both women and women as writers, that I had never even thought to contemplate before. Woolf is a master of description and expressing deep personal reflections in exquisite literary form. Honestly I can’t do justice to the book. There are so many good quotes, you just want to read it all again once you have finished. As a wannabe writer, I found her advice useful, such as “So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say. ”
I did think she was very hard on women at times. Near the end of the book she says of women ‘you are in my opinion disgracefully ignorant,’ but in the context it is a call to arms for all women to shine and step out of the shadows of men. She imagines Shakespeare’s sister coming forth as a poet and how we all need to be that poet. This book is one I feel deserves to be read by women and men alike and re-read several times. A classic.
Now, moving on to ‘Mrs Dalloway’. How I wish I could have loved this book, but I didn’t. I felt I should have, as there is no doubting it is a work of literary genius. But for me, it was just too hard work. The book tells the story of Clarissa Dalloway, who is preparing for a party she is to give at her home in London. We experience her thoughts and feelings as he goes out into London to do her shopping and then returns home to prepare for her party. We then experience the views and feelings of others about her as they weave in and out of the story. A former lover Peter Walsh who has returned from India. Her friend Sally Seton and a few others. There is a parallel story running alongside that of Clarissa Dalloway – that of Septimus Smith, a war veteran who is descending into madness. The action takes place over the course of one day and although they never meet, their stories run parallel and intertwine somewhat at the end.
Honestly I just felt the descriptions were too crowded and too many and the interior monologues were too intense at every moment. I can appreciate the lyricism of her writing and the beauty of her descriptions, but I couldn’t care enough about any of the characters and I became worn down with the lack of anything actually happening. I would love to know your thoughts. I am not sure I will be picking up any more Virginia Woolf, but if you can persuade me I would love to hear which of her novels you loved, if any. I am however delighted to have read ‘A Room of One’s Own.’