This installment of Woolf in Winter is hosted by Emily.
I think there is a danger in reading too much Virginia Woolf, too close together. For the past week, I've been living in a bit of a fog, or time warp. I see a Rice Krispie bar for sale at a coffee shop, and first it makes me smile as I remember my oldest son at age 2, trying to ask for one, and completely befuddling me by stating he needed a "tippie car." But then I remember a neighbor we had that was my friend at the time, and how later that friendship turned toxic, and we don't live there anymore, and I wouldn't want to be her friend, but maybe I understand now a little more about her and the way she behaved, and and and...
Never mind the train of thought that went off when I thought about making spaghetti for dinner tonight. God help us all if I ever decide to tackle Proust.
But of course, what I don't do well is what Woolf did so brilliantly. The lives of these people, of Mr. Tansley and Mr. Ramsey and Lily Briscoe and Minta and Paul, and James, sweet James (musical pun intended), all encompassed by Mrs. Ramsay, are so intricately wound together and beautifully portrayed. The little bits and pieces of thoughts that people have, how opinions are often so tenuous and can be swayed, sometimes by so very little, and sometimes can never be swayed at all (did Mr. Carmichael really not ever like Mrs. Ramsay?).
There's so much that's just beautiful about this book. At first, I felt like it was suffering from comparison to Mrs. Dalloway, but the more I read, the deeper I went into it (this is a second read for me on this one). I could quote endlessly some of the passages I found thought-provoking and lovely; I think this pretty much sums up the nature of the book for me: "She felt, too,...how life, from being made up of little separate incidents which one lived one by one, became curled and whole like a wave which bore one up with it and threw one down with it, there, with a dash on the beach."
Or Mrs. Ramsay's sad but true thought about her children: "They were happier now than they would ever be again."
Did anyone else find their heart stopping just a little bit when Woolf tells us Mrs. Ramsay has died, rather suddenly? Yet we don't see that, and in the end it's a bit of a mystery how she died--did make me wonder about that temper of Mr. Ramsay's.
In the book Beowulf on the Beach by Jack Murnighan, the author suggests skipping the middle section, Time Passes. I'd argue against that. I think it's critical to bridging the other two sections. You could simply go from The Window to The Lighthouse and pick up the story, but the hallucinatory tale of the decline of the house over the years after Mrs. Ramsay's death is a heartbreaking metaphor for the decline of the family without its grounding member: "So loveliness reigned and stillness, and together made the shape of loveliness itself, a form from which life had parted."
Given the tension between Mr. Ramsay and James in the early pages over James' dream of going to the lighthouse, the middle section tells us without being overt that things have not gone well, and in such a beautiful, sad way, that the ending of the book is even more heartbreaking, knowing that James and Mr. Ramsay have made one small step towards each other, and it may not be enough. Their relationship may be permanently damaged by the loss of Mrs. Ramsay, and yet there's still a glimmer of hope.
So, this is all very gushy of me, but I do love this novel. However, I have to confess in full geekitude that reading it helped me make some other connections. I'm a bit of a fanatic about the work of Sylvia Plath, and having read her journals and letters, I know she in turn was a fanatic about Woolf, reading and re-reading her novels compulsively and wanting to be like her. So I offer up a few comparisons:
Mrs. Ramsay thinks about her children: "The door sprang open and in they came, fresh as roses."
Plath, from her poem Kindness: "You hand me two children, two roses."
Mr. Tansley noting that "he was coming to see himself, and everything he had ever known gone crooked a little."
Plath in her journals (and possibly in The Bell Jar), noting that "the world had gone crooked and sour as a lemon overnight."
From the middle section: "Toads had nosed their way in. Idly, aimlessly, the swaying shawl swung to and fro. A thistle thrust itself between the tiles in the larder. The swallows nested in the drawing room...Poppies sowed themselves among the dahlias."
From Plath's poem Mushrooms:
Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air
Nobosy sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room
We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot's in the door.
My interpretation, of course. :-) But I'm finding this close reading of Woolf to be beneficial in other ways too.
Now, if it just doesn't cause me to become too absorbed in my past, present and future...Well, in any event, I am now off to see what everyone else has to say about this book, as I've been holding off reading the blogs until I finished.