Hello all! My name is Drew Blanchette. I'm 21 years old and a class member of the Virginia Woolf Seminar. First and foremost, I must warn potential viewers that I have no knowledge of Virginia Woolf's work. I am hoping that as the class progresses and I have a chance to read her apparently fabulous works (or so I have been told) I will develop some knowledge and appreciation. As my blogs increase perhaps the reader will pick up on my progression! Hopefully whoever looks over my site will enjoy my posts and not be too bored by my analyzing attempts. Thanks ahead of time for viewing my site!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Critical Commentary: Sun Cycles=Fertility Rituals

Patricia Cramer

Jane Harrison and Lesbian Plots: The Absent Lover in Virginia Woolf's The Waves

Patricia Cramer opens her article, Jane Harrison and Lesbian Plots: The Absent Lover in Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, with Virginia Woolf’s intentions behind her novel The Waves. Cramer says that Woolf wanted to invent a new type of literature and take modern conventions beyond anything done before. In doing so, Cramer believes that Woolf was taking a step away from male modernist’s conceptions on gender and sexuality, and was experimenting with a feminist and lesbian mindset. In earlier works, Woolf states that she finds it difficult to capture the female narrative, and in A Room of One‘s Own insinuates that someone should embark on writing a lesbian plot. Cramer says that Woolf was inspired through Jane Harrison’s description of a ritual drama centered on women. Cramer reveals through letters, diary entries, and essays that Woolf considered Harrison, who was a classicist and archaeologist, a visionary for women and respected her deeply. Furthermore, Cramer reveals that Harrison’s own lesbian relationship mirrored Woolf’s affair with Vita Sackville-West. The article explains how Harrison and Woolf both held the same atheist mystical views as well as a feminist mindset. Cramer says that Harrison believed in the mystical forces that lurked beneath the surface of everyday life, and this was the same essence that Woolf wanted to capture in The Waves. The pagan worship of the female and fertility that interested Harrison are reflected in The Waves. The sun cycle that organizes the novel is based on what Cramer says are fertility rites that were identified by Harrison. Cramer believes that Harrison’s gynocentric rituals helped to mould Woolf’s idea of a novel that keeps women in the center and not existing around the edges.

Cramer, Patricia. "Jane Harrison and Lesbian Plots: The Absent Lover in Virginia Woolf's The Waves." Rpt. in Virginia Woolf. Stamford: University of Conneticut. 443-63.

Critical Article

Erwin R. Steinberg

Mrs. Dalloway and T.S. Eliot's Personal Waste Land

Erwin R. Steinberg’s article, Mrs. Dalloway and T.S. Eliot’s Personal Waste Land, adds expanded critical theories to James E. Miller’s book, T.S. Eliot’s Personal Waste Land. Miller argues that Eliot’s poem The Waste Land was written in memory of a French medical student that lived in the same boarding house in Paris as Eliot in 1910-1911, and who later died in a battle of World War I. Steinberg says that reviews have been critical of Miller’s theory and say that more evidence is needed. Steinberg suggests that more evidence can be found in the relationship between Virginia Woolf’s novel, Mrs. Dalloway, and The Waste Land. Steinberg opens his article by showing the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Eliot that began in 1918 and blossomed during the years of 1922 and 1925 when Mrs. Dalloway was under construction. Steinberg claims that through that year of interactions between Woolf and Eliot he can provide circumstantial evidence to support Miller’s theory that The Waste Land depicts Eliot’s sadness over the loss of his friend. Steinberg refers to Miller’s book many times throughout the article to reinforce his new theory. Miller has multiple examples of Eliot claiming through letters and other documents that Prufrock and Other Observations were based on his friend. Steinberg believes that Septimus in Mrs. Dalloway reflects Eliot’s life and his grieving over the loss of a friend. Furthermore, he points out that there are passages around Clarissa in the novel that allude to young men going into battle to meet their death. Steinberg believes that the connections between Septimus and Eliot are too closely related to be coincidental and that it reinforces Miller’s argument behind the inspiration for The Waste Land.

Steinberg, Erwin R. "Mrs. Dalloway and T.S. Eliot's Personal Waste Land." Carnegie-Mellon University. Web.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Waves and Rhoda

Our class was forewarned multiple times that Woolf’s The Waves would be a wild surf ride. On the back of the book it is proclaimed her masterpiece and greatest invention. I didn’t know what any of these statements meant specifically. The only detail that I was given was that Woolf broke away from any superimposed literary rules.
I didn’t take the warning (is that the right word?) too seriously. I planned on reading the introduction after I had dipped my toe into the waves first. Sometimes it’s fun to start out with no biases or expectations. It also seemed fitting for the book (I don’t think I can say novel) that was meant to be free of conventions.
I used the word “warning” above because The Waves is a tough read. Molly Hite speaks true when she says in the introduction that the language is not difficult, it’s the structure and the allusions/metaphors that can leave the reader quite confused. I don’t know whether or not to be comforted with the knowledge that most find the work difficult or to be hurt that I am what Leonard referred to as the, “common reader”. Oh well, I never presumed that I was on Woolf’s intellectual level; the generation of TV is not likely to produce the greatest genius.
Oh Rhoda, Rhoda, Rhoda…(sigh) I have been assigned to the darker part of the human psyche. What a depressing soul. But, in all honesty, for anyone that has dealt with depression or was close with someone who suffered from the disease, it’s a very accurate portrayal of what goes on within that person’s mind. It goes beyond mere awkwardness or shyness. Woolf captures the brutal beating that the depressed mind continually gives to the sufferer. It’s this self defeat and depreciation that never ends and it keeps chipping away at whatever resilience the person might be holding onto. The depressed person gets so caught up in the negative voice that permeates into every thought and situation that eventually they become lost within their own mind. Rhoda says, “…Susan and Jinny have faces; they are here. Their world is the real world.” The negative voice dictates so much of their life that the depressed person becomes so consumed within. Then they don’t know what to do when faced with reality. There is no doubt that Rhoda is terribly shy and self-conscious. She spends so much time dreaming that she doesn’t know what to do in social situations. But she makes sure to punish her awkward mistakes severely with constant personal negative thoughts.
Rhoda hates to see herself in the looking glass. Jinny doesn’t like to just see her head, but doesn’t mind when she can see herself full-length. They are allusions to how we see ourselves, and not just pertaining to how we feel about our physical self. Rhoda hates everything about herself. Her depression makes her see the negative side to everything. Her self-degradation is so intense that she imagines herself as being invisible with no face. Jinny’s interpretation of herself seems like the average healthy person’s response. She realizes she has some faults, but overall, she is content with the whole. She approaches her character in a reasonable, logical, and fair way. No one is perfect, but there are overriding good qualities that make the entire person something to be proud of. Again, like the other works, perception is everything. How a person sees and interprets the world means everything.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Critical Commentary: Orlando and the Sackvilles

Frank Baldanza’s article, Orlando and the Sackvilles, is a quick insight into Virginia Woolf’s human inspirations behind her novel Orlando. Though the article, published in 1955, would probably be considered dated by modern literary critics, the information provided does give the general reader a good impression of the background for Woolf’s characters and setting. Baldanza gives a brief introduction of Orlando and its thematic elements. He says that it was Woolf’s desire to capture the essence of people and the multiple personalities, or selves, which people carry around on a day to day basis. And from this, Woolf wanted through the character of Orlando to show how it all depends on time and circumstance to reveal certain traits or aspects of the self. Baldanza goes on to say that Orlando was based on Woolf’s friend Vita Sackville-West. He does imply that Woolf was able to explore sexual differences and gender discrepancies through the basis of Vita, but he doesn’t mention anything about the modern day assumption that they she and Woolf were lovers. Whether he personally chose to forgo this information, whether it was unknown, or whether the fifties considered it impolite to discuss lesbian affairs is up to another, more knowledgeable critic to decide. Baldanza compares many similar quotations from Vita’s Knole and the Sackvilles, her work about the Sackville family’s extremely large country house called Knole, to passages and descriptions in Orlando. Also, he notes that as Orlando is a depiction of Vita, many of the other characters are inspired from her ancestors or portraits that line the walls of Knole. Baldanza’s article is not so much a literary criticism as it is a view into the historical context that motivated Woolf.

Baldanza, Frank. "Orlando and the Sackvilles." PMLA 70.1 (March 1955): 274- 79. Clemson University Blackboard. Web. 19 Oct. 2010.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Jacob's Room

I never really enjoyed Jacob’s Room. I didn’t want to necessarily say that when I first read it because I wasn’t sure if that’s how I would feel about all of Virginia’s novels. I’m actually glad that I can write about it now from a more, I don’t know, educated perspective? Looking back with more knowledge of Virginia’s work, I can see that much of my dislike probably came from her difficulty of establishing the narrator’s position. It was a beginning work for her, and she was still experimenting with the modern style. At certain points in the novel, it was hard to actually follow along with what was going on or who was saying what. She would transition from one character to another so quickly without enough literary clues that the whole process of reading the work became difficult. I can see why some of her critics didn’t enjoy Jacob’s Room. Obviously, she has amazing talent and the genius is there, it just needed some direction. I think Virginia just got so excited with letting herself be free and being able to try something so different she wasn’t worried about the average reading trying to follow along.
There is no doubt that Virginia’s greatest talent in life was capturing the human spirit or soul. The reader would be introduced to a stranger, like the woman on the train with Jacob, and we would only be given a short passage with her involved, but there would be such life involved. And not only that, but we are given something that every person can identify with. One gets the sense that in the end, as much as we might life to think that we are all so different, we are all very much alike. Of course we might have our own personal quirks and preferences, but we all share many qualities. Virginia has a way of finding those similarities between all people while at the same time showcasing how unique everyone can be. I think this is such an amazing talent because it’s hard to imagine how other people perceive the world. Perhaps the greatest difficulty for any writer would be forgetting their own self while writing. It’s a natural tendency for people to sympathize or insert their own experiences into everyday conversation, movie, and music, let alone your own novel! And Virginia is there, her experiences are there. We know that Jacob represents her brother and she describes him as she knew him.
As much as we get to know “strangers” in the novel, the reader never really knows Jacob. Everyone is trying to find Jacob and attach themselves onto this elusive and mysterious person. He is beautiful, but unknown in many ways. All of his women try to find a way into his heart, but even they can’t really reach him. Even as a child, while he is searching for creatures at the beach, his brother calls for him in vain while at the same time his mother wonders where he has gone. Everyone is trying to find him and they never do. It could be an allusion or metaphor for the loss of Jacob. He dies at so young of an age during the war. He dies before he even knows who he truly is or has had a chance to establish his place in the world.

First Half of Orlando

In the introduction to our edition of Orlando it says that the story was written as part love letter to Vita. In some ways I suppose I see the romantic aspect. However, if it was my lover writing about me I think I would be highly offended to be Orlando. He/She (I will just refer to Orlando as a he for the rest of the post because he is mostly a male in the first half) is not a very faltering portrayal of a person. I couldn’t get over how privileged a life Orlando leads. He is so beautiful that wherever he goes things are handed to him and women fall in love with him. Even Queen Elizabeth is so enthralled with Orlando that she appoints him to a high place in court without him having to say a word. He has never had to work a day in his life. He stays locked up in his grand house away from society and spends his hours thinking because he has so much money. This laziness and perhaps dare I say, pointlessness is something only reserved to the fantastically rich of the world. Poor people, or even normal people can’t sit on a hill and wonder what the meaning of love, friendship, or life is forever because at one point we will starve! Virginia realizes this though and she has Orlando suffer for his riches. Orlando’s deepest yearning is to be a poet and be an amazing one at that. He wiles away hundreds of hours contemplating how to write the perfect prose. Yet, in the end, his writing isn’t worth much and Nick Greene laughs at him and writes his own poem at Orlando’s expense. The reader doesn’t necessarily feel sorry for Orlando because he hasn’t done enough in his life to actually be able to write about anything. To write, one must write what one knows, and to know something, then one must actually do something! His idleness has perhaps been his own downfall to his writing.
I really enjoyed the parts where Orlando would fall into a deep slumber that resemble something like a coma. There is a passage where the narrator philosophizes on why people, in general, need sleep. The narrator claims that sleep is the closest time we come to death while we are living. He (since we can suppose that the narrator is meant to be a man) says that when we sleep we actually die. The narrator claims that we need to die to get through our day to day lives. Without a peaceful pause we could not live. “Are we so made that we have to take death in small doses daily or we could not go on with the business of living?” I had never considered before sleeping as a practice towards death. I suppose if any wonders what it’s like to be dead they could just sleep for a while. Orlando does seem to die in some ways during his comatose sleeps. Whenever he wakens he enters into a new phase of his life. Could these sleeps be a metaphor for the different phases we all go through in our own lives? At some point every person has a transition period where the old self is shed off and we emerge as a better, more intelligent version.
In class we talked about catching the mood or essence of different ages. Before we had talked about that in class I remember reading the part where the narrator describes the Elizabethan era. The narrator describes it as if everything was more brilliant and colorful. “Sunsets were redder and more intense; dawns were whiter and more auroral.” Everything seemed to have intensity to it. It (and it could be anything) was either bold or it didn’t happen or exist. Of course, these descriptions of nature are not to be considered literally true. Things looked the same as they did now. The difference is the way that people perceived them. Everything we do and think and see are all matters of perspective. From the descriptions we realize that the people of that era had a zest and passion that governed their lives. It makes a modern reader jealous of that attitude. If we had to describe the modern era’s mood or perspective, I would say bored. Thanks to technology we are always waiting or wanting the next best thing. I bet Virginia would have had a field day with our time period.