Woolf in Winter Part I (Mrs. Dalloway and To The Lighthouse)

This is a much belated post for the first two books in the Woolf in Winter Read Along.  I promise to post on time for the next two.  The last time I read Mrs. Dalloway and To The Lighthouse was in my junior year of college (2003) for an upper level college lit class on the works of Virginia Woolf and William Shakespeare.The course description read in part “However, one thread tying together our work on these two authors will be their common interest in the ways human beings lose their frames of reference and their sense of themselves in madness, lose and find themselves in love or in sexuality, and find or make both self and world in the shaping act of the imagination.  On the first day of class, we all went around and gave our names and what we were studying.”I was the only person there who wasn’t studying theater/literature or women/gender studies.  I was studying environmental science and environmental policy, but I took the class because I love books and writing about them… The professor had also adored me when I took her “Southern Writers” class as a first year and had said that any time I wanted to take one of her upper level lit classes I was welcome to (despite my science and policy focus)…Anyhow…Going back to Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse, I’m surprised at how little I remembered about them.

One thing I did remember and that I enjoy immensely about Woolf’s work is her sheer genius at description (of characters of movements of places of ideas of feelings).

The tower of Westminster Cathedral rose in front of her, the habitation of God. Doggedly she set with her parcel to that other sanctuary, the Abbey, where,  raising her hands in a tent before her face, she sat beside those driven into shelter too; the variously assorted worshipers, now divested of social rank, almost of sex, as they raised their hands before their faces; but once they removed them, instantly reverent, middle class, English men and women, some of them desirous of seeing the wax works.-Mrs. Dalloway

While I enjoyed both books, I ultimately like Mrs. Dalloway more.   I think Woolf does a better job at capturing the dangers of getting trapped in ones own head  and the difficulty of communicating with others in this book than she does of exploring related themes in “To the Lighthouse.” I’m also a city girl at heart, so I enjoyed the “landscape” of Mrs. Dalloway more as well… The characters are also better fleshed out. I feel deeply for Septimus and his wife as well as for Clarissa (although not as much).  Peter I find to be a thoroughly annoying prat.  Mrs. Dalloway also clearly lays out how Virginia Woolf felt about the mental health profession (no doubt from her own experiences with mental illness).

In “To The Lighthouse” Mrs. Ramsey and Lilly feel like the most fleshed out characters to me,  and my feelings about each have changed from the first time I read the book (at least as far as I can remember the first time I read it).  The first time I read the book I was definitely on Lilly’s “side.” when it came to the issue of the horrors of married life for women.  I think as I “age” (I’m only 27, but that’s still older than the 21 I was upon first reading this book), I’m less interested in just  bohemianism and my ambitions lie job wise (although one of those would still be nice (ugh job hunting)) .  I’m becoming more interested in settled domestic life (even if it is a much queerer domestic life than that of many) …Then again I have choices about it, than women of Woolf’s time typically wouldn’t have had, and that makes all the .

Also,on “To The Lighthouse” I found that the painting and light and ocean imagery didn’t do much for me. The middle section,”Time Passes” is absolutely brilliant writing, however.

Finally, I’m looking forward to tackling (at some point  soon) the Hermione Lee biography of Virginia Woolf I got out of the library.  It will shed useful light on Virginia Woolf’s parents (the inspiration for the Ramses) and on all her books. I’m also looking forward to the discussion of Orlando on February 12th. It’s my favorite Virginia Woolf book.

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