Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Room of One's Own

A Room of One’s Own struck me mainly as a sort of feminine response to “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” though I don’t know if it was meant that way on any level (though I imagined that she must have at least considered it, due to her association with Eliot). Reading it in full (rather than just the excerpt I had read before, taken from chapters three and four to emphasize her “Shakespeare’s Sister” argument), I was glad to see that Woolf discussed some of the earlier women writers of the Renaissance period and was able to consider them in terms of a kind of tradition despite her reservations, since my initial response I think had been the same as the type Gubar mentioned of being concerned that she was overly condemning of what she viewed as anger. But taken in the context of her whole argument about warning against an excessively antagonistic relationship between the sexes or overly gendered styles of writing, it made more sense to me.

I wished that she had discussed more women writers’ works, particularly her actual contemporaries, since I was curious to know just how close to having a “Judith Shakespeare” she really thought women writers were in her time. Her references to Rebecca West made it sound as if she thought West may have been too radical herself (57), which surprised me, since I had previously wondered whether West would be considered modern, or overly Edwardian or materialistic in some way by her standards, due to West’s association with Wells. Woolf’s reference to “the aloe that flowers once in a hundred years would flower twice before I could set pen to paper” (27) also seemed like it could have been an implicit reference to Mansfield’s “Prelude,” though I wasn’t sure if that was deliberate either, since it also seemed like the lack of overt references to her may have been based on Woolf’s own concerns about her work, while the lack of other references to modern women writers seemed as though Woolf was maybe trying to imply that she was actually the sort of woman writer that she spoke of being necessary (or at least tried so hard to be that any other type of writer would appear insufficient), but tried to distance herself from this interpretation by using the “Mary Beton” perspective as a frame (unless she just retained some of the same discomfort with overtly expressing her opinions that she criticized in “Mary Carmichael,” or just really didn’t mean for these arguments to be taken as exactly hers and wanted her audience to disagree with these points, but I’d figured the former idea was more likely given Gubar’s explanation of her struggles with writing about her opinions). With earlier writers, I wasn’t sure if Woolf just really didn’t consider them worth discussion, or if many of them were just so obscure at this time that she really wasn’t aware of them (since so many older works by women it seems get promoted as “rediscoveries” now), though I know it could also just have had to do with the “lecture” format that likely made her want to keep it short (though it still seems way to long to imagine actually given as a speech, or even two speeches, though maybe it would just seem to go by faster if it were being read aloud).

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Mrs. Dalloway, Mrs. Brown, and Modernist Fiction

I was interested in Virginia Woolf’s explanations of Modernist interests in “Modern Fiction” and “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown,” since I had been wondering what contemporary writers exactly that the Modernists were working against in their time. I was surprised that so much emphasis was put on H.G. Wells, since he’s primarily associated with his early sci-fi novels now. I figured Woolf was focusing on some of his other works in her discussions, though I wasn’t sure if that would include his novels like Ann Veronica (which addressed the difficulties of suffragists and women trying to live independently) or not, though I guess it did (though that novel wasn’t really utopian, she may have still thought of it as materialistic, since Wells did generally seem to be more about big ideas than characters).

It was a bit surprising to me to find Woolf putting so much emphasis on characterization, since the more experimental interests of most of her stories made me think that wasn’t as much of an interest of hers, though Mrs. Dalloway obviously featured a wide range of perspectives. “Mr. Bennett and Mts. Brown” and Trotter’s essay ended up primarily making me wonder about how the Modernist movement’s interests varied with the short story in relation to the novel. I know the short story was often seen as a promising new form for writers no longer interested in the novel at that time, but I’m not sure how that affected interest in characterization.

It certainly still seemed to be of interest for Katherine Mansfield, but I don’t know if her approach to the short story was more typical for many Modernists at that time, or if many of those writers wrote more in the style of Woolf’s Monday or Tuesday stories (I also wondered whether more specific forms like the novella, novelette, or flash fiction were being considered yet at all, due to how long or short Woolf’s and Mansfield’s stories could be, but I figured that those categories may have just come later on). I also found it interesting that Trotter included writers like Faulkner, Fitzgerald and Hemingway in his discussion of the Modernist novel, since I hadn’t really been thinking so much about the American side of the Modernist movement, and they were writers I was generally a bit more familiar with than the British writers. Though I know a few of their short stories, they seem to vary a bit as well in their character interests, since Hemingway seemed to focus a bit more on moments, like Woolf (at least with stories like “Hills Like White Elephants”), while the others seemed more interested in particular cultural climates (Jazz Age, post-Civil War, etc), so I don’t know if they, or British short story writers like Lawrence, would ultimately satisfy Woolf’s “Mrs. Brown” criteria for characterization, or if that idea of characterization is really just an exclusively “Female Modernist” one, as Trotter seems to suggest. I also don’t know how exactly Forster would figure in here, since Trotter’s references to the descriptions of German-English relations in Mansfield and others (91) sounded a bit like Howards End, though I don’t know if those writers had considered that themselves.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Eliot and The Waste Land

This reading of The Waste Land mostly struck in terms of its influences, which I hadn’t always noticed on previous readings (this being the second or third time I’ve tried reading this poem). Even before I looked at his notes that were included in this edition, I noticed the influences of the metaphysical poets and revenge tragedians. I think this came mostly from “The Burial of the Dead” (with the kind of imagery of death and memory with the references to aspects of nature like the seasons and hyacinths), and the part about “Those are pearls that were his eyes” in “A Game of Chess” (34). The other parts struck me more in terms of Pound’s possible influence, with the varieties of voices and languages (probably since I’ve read The Pisan Cantos since my last reading of this poem).

Since I read Eliot’s selected 1920 poems in the Dover edition before reading this one, I also had an overall impression of Eliot being closer to the kind of detached mode of writing he had advocated, since I didn’t feel I saw as much of his personal life in his poems as I thought I did with his earlier ones. With the 1920 poems I did get some impression of Eliot working out issues with aging, the war (“Gerontion”) and faith (“The Hippopotamus”), and maybe even still with his wife (“A Cooking Egg”). Yet they seemed now more like elements that he could have just been manipulating to his own means rather than ones that may have been unintentional to his goals (titling a poem “Mr. Eliot’s Sunday Morning Service” certainly seems to be almost daring the reader to interpret the poem as personal). I gathered from his French poems that he assumed his readers at that time all knew French, unless these were written at a point where he was just writing for a French audience (but I figured the former, and that Dover apparently thought the same). I wasn’t sure what to make of his use of the “Sweeney” personage so many times (I wasn’t sure if these selections were the only “Sweeney” poems or if he had more), other than that these may have been his main warm-ups for actually writing The Waste Land.

The Sweeney poems certainly seem to have more of that “heroic modernist” feel than his other poems in this section, and so seemed to resemble to structure of The Waste Land more than the others, even “Whispers of Immortality.” With Eliot’s essay “Ulysses, Order, and Myth,” I was glad that he elaborated on this aspect of his writing a bit more (though he just discussed it in relation to Joyce, I figured it applied to his work as well). I had still been having difficulties with interpreting The Waste Land, but I felt that the idea of his using a “mythical method” rather than a “narrative method” (178) made sense as a way of understanding what he was trying to do. I was also interested in the fact that he complained of mythological influences not being acknowledged enough in literary criticism (175), even when their influence is as apparent as in works like Ulysses. This seems to be an issue that persists with much modern criticism, even with works using the same influences as Joyce and Eliot (such as with many postmodern novels).

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Katherine Mansfield stories

Katherine Mansfield’s stories mainly struck me as having the same sorts of domestic concerns that Woolf’s stories often have, though Mansfield didn’t seem quite as concerned with experimentation. I noticed that her natural references (particularly with flowers) were a lot more specific than those in Woolf’s stories, though I wasn’t sure if there was any particular symbolism in that (though it seemed with the aloe in “Prelude” and the pear tree in “Bliss” at least, that there must be) or if it had more to do with Mansfield just wanting to establish a sense of place in her stories (I hadn’t been sure what kind of influence her New Zealand background would have in her writing). I mainly wondered exactly how much influence Woolf and the rest of the Bloomsbury group had on her stories, or if they just had the same interests (though given the dates on these stories, I was more inclined to think the former), especially since Mrs. Harry Kember’s description in “At the Bay” (259) sounded like it could have been inspired by Woolf, though it seemed Mansfield may have just meant this character as a more general representative of New Woman characteristics, to distinguish Beryl (and possibly by extension, Mansfield) from this kind of stereotypical representation. I was surprised by “At the Bay,” since when I read “Prelude” I’d just figured that its title was indication that it was meant as a single episode in these characters’ lives that wanted you to guess at what would happen to them (with aloe then possibly representing some sort of potential that each protagonist had that you wouldn’t know would be reached or squandered), so I wasn’t expecting a sequel (though the same kinds of questions remain for the most part about what directions these characters would ultimately take).

In relation to these stories, “The Garden Party” surprised me more in how relatively straightforward it is. I’m not sure I agree with the Norton edition’s apparent assumption that Little Women was such a major influence on this story (though having an upper-class boy named Laurie does seem like a big coincidence, but I thought maybe that also could have been a more common name back then, like Meg and Josephine), since it reminded me so much of Mrs. Dalloway (though I know this story came first) and Howards End (with Laura’s struggles to be sensitive to the less fortunate). I don’t know that the latter work was so much of a direct influence, but it did read a bit as though maybe Mansfield was trying to take the basic premise Woolf would use in Mrs. Dalloway (at least as far as the Clarissa/Septimus dyad) and show how it would work with an adolescent, rather than middle-aged, heroine. Her interest in the trials of adolescence (and how they are affected by class) may have been where Little Women could have been an influence, though I wasn’t sure that she was specifically considering adolescent readers as part of her audience. But since the main theme of Mansfield’s stories overall (or at least these ones) seems to be the issue of how women deal with (or try to deny) disillusionment in their domestic lives, it appeared as though this story may have also reflected an effort to show a heroine who attempts to face these concerns more directly rather than when she’s older and either married or considered a spinster.