Monday, February 16, 2009
“‘Really I must—really I must’—that is it. Without investigating the demand, the mind cringes to the accustomed tyrant. One must, one always must, do something or other; it is not allowed one simply to enjoy oneself. Was it not for this reason that, some time ago, we fabricated the excuse, and invented the necessity of buying something? But what was it? Ah, we remember, it was a pencil.”
-“Street Haunting: A London Adventure”
With that, over seven decades ago, Woolf berates the musty old ‘must’ that never tires of plaguing our lives. A pencil seems innocent enough. One might write a long letter, or a postcard, or a novel; or one might write a list of things to do which require our attention. Regardless of purpose, the pencil is needed to propel us outside so we can shirk our other duties for a while.
This is the sad reality, folks. I was in the historic district of Seymour, CT for an appointment at the dentist’s over this past winter break. I was set to meet a friend afterward at the mall, but she was running late due to her mother’s concerns over the icy roads (Read: the roads weren’t making her late; her mother was). At any rate, I had some time to spare and thought it would be lovely to peruse an antique shop or two before heading up to the mall. It was cold and rainy out, so it was doubly lovely to be inside and with all kinds of great vintage jewelry, glassware, and books and such. Since I was killing time, I was poring over various objects for a longer than absolutely necessary. I had a conversation with the shop owner, the only other person in the store, and walked through every aisle. After fifteen minutes, she called out to me, “Found anything?” to which I replied, “Oh! You have so many great things!” Apparently, this would not suffice: “That’s not what I asked,” she said, “What are you buying?” With that, I was suddenly obligated. I couldn’t just take in all the pretty things and go on my way aesthetically satisfied before driving in the winter dreariness for eleven miles to get up to the mall.
So I bought a necklace…..and it was worth it. Not that I had a choice.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
There are some black specks on the wall. I stare at them, certain they are moving. Well, I ought to be able to ignore a few bugs by this time. ‘Il ne faut pas mettre tout sur le même plan…’
I get up and look closely. Only splashes of dirt. It’s not the time of year for bugs, anyway. – p.349 of Good Morning, Midnight by Rhys
And my spot? My spot lacked such depth but successfully diverted my attentions and energies to one focus, rather than many.
Friday, February 13, 2009
In the second paragraph, Woolf gives us the best time to streethaunt. “The hour should be the evening and the season winter, for in winter the champagne brightness of the air and the sociability of the streets are grateful,” she says. She also says that we aren’t longing to get shade and air like we do in the summer, so that makes it more enjoyable. I don’t agree with her: in the winter I like to stay in the house, bundled up in bed with cocoa. I also think that in the winter other people like to stay home as well, so the streets aren’t as interesting. But she thinks the streets are beautiful in winter and talks about the interesting characters she comes upon while streethaunting. “The eye is not a miner, not a diver, not a seeker after buried treasure. It floats us smoothly down a stream; resting, pausing, the brain sleeps perhaps as it looks,” she says. I think this means that we shouldn’t look for interesting things we should just let them come to us.
When Woolf asks the woman what it’s like to be a dwarf, it seems very mean and rude of her. But she seems to almost admire the woman. She talks about how she held her foot out and it was normal-sized. “At length, the pair was chosen and, as she walked out between her guardians, with the parcel swinging from her finger, the ecstasy faded, knowledge returned, the old peevishness, the old apology came back, and by the time she had reached the street again she had become a dwarf only,” Woolf says. This seems like Woolf is saying that we judge a dwarf when we see them walk down the street. But if we get to know them and see who they are we wont see them as just a dwarf.
Woolf also talks about the excitement of entering into a new room. I think her excitement of entering into a new room is the excitement that we get when entering into a new country. “It is always an adventure to enter a new room for the lives and characters of its owners have distilled their atmosphere into it, and directly we enter it we breast some new wave of emotion,” Woolf says. I think she means that we don’t only get these things by the people that are in the room, we also get it by the way the room looks and the objects in it. Streethaunting to her isn’t just walking on the street, it’s walking into shops and observing people.--Baha
The set looked like something that would be in the White Box at Fordham. It was a drawing-room/garden with a couple of oddly placed doors and ladders. The floor and lower half of the whitewashed walls were streaked with bold, seemingly hastily painted strokes of bright green paint—grass. It seemed to say, we are not in the realm of the ordinary—yikes. But I had read too much into it. Megan Carter, the dramaturg, explained later that there had been disagreement over whether to set the play in a garden or in a house. Set designer, James Schuette, surprised everyone with a combination of the two. The play is a farce and the set was farcical—perfect.
Naturally, I did not get every joke and reference, but I got enough of them (and enough bare butt) to laugh regularly. I also understood the plotline of Ellen Terry, the de facto hero of the play. She is constantly posing for abstract virtues in her husband’s paintings. Her husband, George Frederick Watts, keeps imploring that she be glad to be immortalized as Beauty, Grace, Modesty, or what have you, but she feels trapped by her beauty and trapped by art. In the end, she escapes with a strapping young sailor who kisses her instead of paints her. She made me think of Elizabeth in Mrs. Dalloway. Just when Elizabeth is “blooming” and starting to be noticed for her beauty, she longs to be in the country with her dad and her dogs. One of her captors is Ms. Kilman, who traps Elizabeth with lectures. Elizabeth escapes by taking off like a pirate on a city bus. Pirate… sailor… just pointing it out. What’s so interesting is that the confining nature of beauty still pervades; the drawing room play is still relevant (one of the many reasons why it was so wonderful to hear the Sex Pistols blaring at the end). Though, I don’t think that city buses or affairs with sailors are the best escapes from beauty’s shackles. Piracy is the only answer?
One last point: I disagree with my classmate that Ellen Terry was cast too old. The play was meant to be performed by a group of friends. When I was 5 years old and putting on plays with my friends and family, I played Friar Tuck, a part for which I was too young, female, and way too cute. The actors in Freshwater were playing the Bloomsburies putting on a play not unlike my backyard performance of Robin Hood. It seemed completely appropriate and much more realistic that the actors were not physically ideal for the roles.
“Fun and illuminating. Two thumbs way up.”—Becca Webster
The first one, a staged reading entitled Virginia, based on Virginia Woolf’s life was presented at Drama Books on Woolf’s birthday. The staged reading struck me as a piece that did not really have a real reason for being on the stage. It always bothers me when there is no ‘drama’, or action, happening on stage. This staged reading was case in point. Although it followed Woolf’s life from childhood to her ultimate suicide, it was not something that could not have been another literary form, namely an autobiography. Part of the problem was trying to cover Woolf’s entire life in a 90-minute play. Focusing on one aspect of her life might have been more moving, or even if the play had not gone chronologically. To me, the play felt as though I was merely reading an abbreviated Wikipedia entry about her life. One thing did strike me is the choice for three actors to play all the characters, with one play Woolf the entire show and the others play all the male and female roles. It was certainly interesting to see Woolf’s sister and lover double cast as well as her husband and the brother who abused her sexually.
The second piece was a revival of Woolf’s only play, Freshwater. The play is a farce, first and foremost, and to me, the time when I felt like the cast really got the attitude of the play happened as the Sex Pistols version of “God Save the Queen” blasted during curtain call. The rest of the play, the actors seemed to not really understand that their characters were meant to be ridiculous versions of the actual people and instead seemed more insistent on making them more real and creating a crass physical language. This physical language paid off at many points during the play, but during others, it seemed unnecessary. The one thing that bothered me the most, was that Ellen Page, the youngest character in the show, was being played by the oldest actor on stage. When questioned in class, the dramaturg replied that the director does not see age. This, I feel, is a cop-out. It bothered me that the young lieutenant kept referring to her young beauty in their moments, the decision to leave does not seem as reckless and her through line is essentially the only guiding light for the progression of the show, so why miscast the one crucial character? Other than that, the show was enjoyable. The set, reminiscent of a Victorian drawing room painted to resemble a spring weekend was great. The lighting, however, really did need to go to the next level and take us to ultimate-farce land, rather than simply being naturalistic. All in all, the play is a modest representation of Woolf’s only play, but perhaps, since she wrote it as an inside joke for her friends, maybe it should remain that way.
Other than drifting during commutes or "exploring" Manhattan for new restaurants, I never approached my walks around the City with questions such as, "how could something be abandoned here?" and, "how can the abandoned be reintegrated to benefit the community?" Every element of the area had to be examined.
Unsure as to what exactly we were looking for, other than that it would be large and constructed out of steel, we looked anywhere we physically could enter to make sure that we weren't missing anything. Being that the area is mostly occupied by industry storage lots, power generators, and huge warehouses that compress the City’s garbage, there really weren’t many places where we could go. Our search led us to the water bank where we followed a path around the edge of a fenced off plot of generators. We were commenting on the amount of trash on the muddy bank and joking that this sculpture probably didn’t exist when we noticed several flat pieces of metal that were upheld by wooden beams. I don't know who made the observation that we were looking at shelters but, the three of us uniformly turned around and rushed to trace the path back to the street.
We didn't speak for a while.
There was something incredibly disturbing in finding the homeless literally pushed out to the extremes of the City’s space. This five foot wide piece of land between the extent of industry and the natural boundary of water was probably the last remaining physical space that was unclaimed towards the City’s conceptual identity.
I realized that I was so shocked to see the homeless on the outskirts of industry because I've grown so accustomed to seeing them in the highly urban areas of the City. I admit that I interact with the homeless in a similar manner to Richard's interaction with the vagrant woman in Mrs. Dalloway. While Richard "bore his flowers like a weapon," (Woolf, p. 113) it's become my second nature to use a book on the subway as a distraction from having to make eye contact with the homeless. Though I do happen to donate money and occasionally receive a "God Bless," when I say that I don't have any cash on me, which, as a student, is usually the case, I don't feel that interconnection that Woolf so successfully establishes between Richard and the vagrant woman, "still there was time for a spark between them." (Woolf, p.114)
Instead of this sense that everyone is bound by a unifying thread of human existence what remains are questions like Richard's, who initially wonders what could be done about the vagrant woman, presenting her as a problem that must be solved. Here, as discussed in de Certeau's essay, is where the problem of space becomes very real within the City. As Manhattan expands throughout its conceptual space and further develops its own identity, it becomes crucial to regulate its organization since Manhattan is confined to the physical boundaries of the island. Unfortunately, the homeless often fall into the category that de Carteau describes as, "a rejection of everything that is not capable of being dealt with and so constitutes the 'waste products' of a functionalist administration." Organizations and programs are constructed to “solve” these “problems” but they often only create an abstraction of power within the City that extends their administrative and ideal space, while attempting to utilize their limited physical space.
Several Bronx-based groups interested in ecology are currently working on creating a "green path" for bikes from North Bronx to Randall's Island that would run around the outskirts of industry. I can’t help but wonder how this would affect the inhabitants of the shelters.
We did find the Richard Serra sculpture, which was amazing. In that sense, exploring the area really was successful. Still, the shelters linger in my mind.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
[The derelicts] lie close to those shop windows where commerce offers to a world of old women laid on doorsteps, of blind men, of hobbling dwarfs, sofas which are supported by the gilt necks of proud swans; tables inlaid with baskets of many coloured fruit; sideboards paved with green marble the better to support the weight of boars' heads...
Fear no more the heat o' the sun,
Nor the furious winter's rages
The familiarity with this quote from one of Shakespeare's most obscure works marks Spetimus and Clarissa as people of quality; they are not parroting "To be or not to be", or misusing the word "wherefore" as we could imagine the other guests might. Their shared moment is a more quiet, subtle one that can only shine and exist away from the people around them; for Clarissa, the line first surfaces in silence, in the absence of Lady Bruton's invitation, and for the last time when she is alone, away from her party.
Likewise, in The Mystery Guest, the narrator and his former girlfriend are linked by reading Mrs. Dalloway. This isn't in the excerpt we read in class, but the party they're at is filled with turtleneck-wearing, Dostoyevski-in-the-back-pocket-of-my-skinny-jeans-grade pretentious snots; amid all the windbaggery, the small line from Dalloway, "Roses were the only flower she could bear to see cut", describes a clear path between the two souls.
In neither case is the literary reference reduced to trivia; neither the narrator and his former lover nor Septimus and Clarissa are trying to gain street cred by showing off their knowledge, unlike the others at their parties, like Brierly who has made a career out of bloviating on Milton or the other guys at the fete, one of whom actually and inexcusably mentions Sven Nykvist.
In both cases, the shibboleth is silent or quiet; Clarissa and Septimus never meet, and the narrator in The Mystery Guest barely hears his girlfriend among the white noise of the party. In both of these works, so much of the speech is unnecessary, wrong, or misinterpreted. Holmes speaks a lot, but he doesn't understand much of anything. Jim Hutton can imitate Brierly, unsaddled by understanding, and the narrator's fellow revelers can and do titter away into the night without saying anything original. For the 'heroes' of our two works, literature, operating in silence, becomes the language of the link.
My father’s family has been vacationing in southern Maine since the late 1960s. For the entire month of July, my grandparents would rent an old house named "High Water" (Hi-Watah to the locals) on Ocean Point, an idyllic peninsular seaside community populated with turn of the century cottages. My father, along with his sisters and brother, would spend the month fishing, boating, and exploring the craggy beaches and Pine forests, while my grandparents would play host to an array of guests: second cousins and their lovers, neighbors, in-laws. Even as time went by and their children grew up and started families of their own, my grandparents held fast to their traditional summers in Maine. For better or for worse, my big (and often dysfunctional) family would voyage over ten hours worth of highway and cram into the old cottage.
It couldn’t have been more than a few months before she passed away that I found myself sitting in my grandmother’s living room drinking tea and having a conversation over the books we were reading. She had just begun To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf; she told me about a very brief passage in the book in which Woolf describes a summerhouse. She said the experience of reading the short sentences was one of those rare instances where she could not only relate to the text, but felt, almost eerily, involved.
Nearly three years later, I have stumbled upon the same passage, and finally understand the connection that the matriarch of my family must have felt with Mrs. Ramsay:
“She…saw the room, saw the chairs, thought them fearfully shabby. Their entrails, as Andrew said the other day, were all over the floor; but then what was the point, she asked, of buying good chairs to let them spoil up here all through the winter when the house, with only one old woman to see it, positively dripped with wet? Never mind, the rent was precisely twopence halfpenny; the children loved it; it did her husband good to be three thousand, or if she must be accurate, three hundred miles from his libraries and his lectures and his disciples; and there was room for visitors. Mats, camp beds, crazy ghosts of chairs and tables whose London life of service was done- they did well enough here; and a photograph or two, and books…Things got shabbier and got shabbier summer after summer. The mat was fading; the wall-paper was flapping. You couldn’t tell any more that those were roses on it.” (26-7).
For Mrs. Ramsay, her family’s seasonal seaside home lacks glamour; it does not age gracefully and is outfitted with retired pieces of furniture. “Shabby” as it is, with its faded walls and furniture in need of a good upholsterer, the house serves to unify the Ramsays. She believes the eight diverse Ramsay children love the home. It comforts her to see her husband away from the immediate and visible stresses of academia. The home itself is populated by memories- aged chairs and tables which have undoubtedly seen many of her happiest days. Mrs. Ramsay considers the Scotland house both a happy tomb for bygone days and a symbol for the closeness she wishes for her family in the future.
Our summer house, though we were only its lowly summer renters, unified, and continues to unify, my family. Though all twenty of us lead radically different lives, we share memories of creaky wooden floors, paper-thin walls, antique beds, mismatched consignment sofas, and dusty watercolors of torrid seas. No matter what change the winter months usher into our individual lives, the house stands as a concrete symbol for what it means to be related to one another. For us, as for Mrs. Ramsay, the house transcends its condition.
I have only been back to Maine once since my grandmother died, and it was only with my parents and my brother. We rented a different house. The whole time I couldn’t fight the haunting feeling that we were intruding upon another family’s memories.
While Woolf explicitly mentions only her work on To the Lighthouse in the personal diaries she kept during the General Strike, she also reveals in these worrisome journals the impressions, sensibilities, and sense of fear that guide "Street Haunting.” If World War I revealed uncertainty and madness in the state of the world, the General Strike revealed uncertainty and madness in Woolf's immediate context-- her beloved London. Gone are Mrs. Dalloway's flowing passages on skywriters, encounters with heads of state, or other such communal experiences. In "Street Haunting," this sense of British national pride is replaced by feelings of solitude and despair, and the vibrant imagery by grotesque figures and hidden "crevices." Rather than a mysterious and intriguing car that may hold the Prime Minister, in her diaries Woolf describes a "commonplace & official" voice reminding the Londoners in a "very trivial" way that the Prince of Wales is returning (woolfonline.com, personal diaries, “5th May 1926”).
Woolf encounters the strike with similar unease, feeling a similar sense of desolation. She writes, "...there is a brown fog; nobody is building; it is drizzling... There are no buses. no placards. no newspapers..." (“5th May 1926”). The strikers have cut off public transportation, the means of Elizabeth's foray into flaneuse-ing. Hence, any woman who wishes to have a wandering, solitary urban experience must instead stroll, like the narrator of "Street Haunting." One can imagine Woolf taking a stroll during this time of unrest, encountering strange rabblerousers, and marveling at the British working class that seems to have crawled out of the woodwork. As Woolf discovers with fright, if the poor are not driving the buses and building the homes, they gather in the public square. Suddenly, the modern urban world seems much more imposing, much more crowded, much more difficult to grasp within the conventional human understanding of the way the world, or the city, is supposed to work. As in Woolf's lengthy dissertations on the "dwarf" and the two blind men, London seems to her "tedious and depressing," while at the same time it presents an "unprecedented spectacle" (“5th May 1926”).
Woolf's diaries during this period illuminate the point of view of the narrator in "Street Haunting." Though Woolf may have supported the strikers in principle, she fills her diaries with an uncanny sense of fear and instability, rather than with socialist platitudes. "L.(eonard) & I quarreled last night," she writes, "I dislike the tub thumper in him; he the irrational Xtian in me" (“9th May 1926”). In this brief interlude, we understand that Woolf does not stand blindly behind Labor ambitions, and indeed, perhaps holds on to some of the flavor of her bourgeois upbringing. She concludes another entry, "Now to dine at the Commercio to meet Clive" ("7th May 1926"). While we would be unfair to expect Woolf to cease the activities of her normal life, Woolf here reveals that she is clearly not among those taking to the streets. Her following entry of May 20th, which mentions chess, tea, and poetry, suggests even more the objective, outside observer of "Street Haunting."
The conversation with Leonard also allows us to witness an instance that might drive Woolf, an "irrational" woman according to Leonard, to want to "obtain a pencil” (“Street Haunting”). Leonard unfairly attributes Woolf’s perspective purely to her fright, and to what he perceives as prudishness. At the same time, in the wake of the war, Woolf may be right to suggest that more violence and unrest will only make things worse. Woolf hence elucidates why a woman would then turn to her diary, or to a long walk through the dangerous but fascinating streets.
After we leave our homes, which themselves have over time acquired our identities, Woolf writes, “We are no longer quite ourselves.” This shedding of our skin that we wear so proudly, or with shame, can be entirely liberating, as “who we are” is forgotten whilst shuffling through crowds of “anonymous trampers.” Clarissa Dalloway, felt comforted when she, “…felt herself everywhere; not ‘here, here, here’; and she tapped the back of the seat; but everywhere”(Woolf 167). This feeling of smallness, but also the feeling of being a part of everything can be a relief. It reveals for a moment that “our own temperaments” are not really our “own”, that we can toss them away.
Woolf writes, “But when the door shuts on us, all that vanishes. The shell-like covering which our souls have excreted to house themselves, to make for themselves a shape distinct from others is broken…” When we leave our homes and the objects which sit in the glow of “the memories of our own experience”, our identities become vague and like puddy; we have nothing to support the claims that, “this is who I am,” no objects to use as proof. Immediately, Woolf’s narrator exalts at this moment thinking, “How beautiful a street is in winter!” Moments prior, the narrator says, “The evening hour, too, gives us the irresponsibility which darkness and lamplight bestow,” as if staying true to one’s identity is a responsibility, as if shedding our skin completely is a childish, reckless act. The narrator’s excuse of going out to buy a pencil is significant, as she is still carrying out the responsibilities of her identity. Though we might attempt at times to completely rid ourselves of “ourselves”, be it, “banker, golfer, husband, father,” we do it hesitantly, not delving too deeply into the experience of another, knowing we should “be content still with surfaces only.” Woolf writes, “We halt at the door of the boot shop and make some little excuse, which has nothing to do with the real reason…” And then, “…we may ask… ‘What, then, is it like to be a dwarf?” Rather than superficially and mockingly observing, I believe the narrator is deeply intrigued by the idea of being someone else- that instead of separating or distinguishing herself from this dwarf, she is blurring the lines by attempting to understand and determine her thoughts.
Though this essay reveals the differences of people, of genders, of classes, it also shows that, “we are streaked, variegated, all of a mixture; the colours have run.” Like Clarissa Dalloway, the narrator of Street Haunting asks, “Am I here, or am I there?”
I believe the essay continues Clarissa Dalloway’s thought that, “… the part of us which appears, [is] so momentary compared with the other, the unseen part of us, which spreads wide…”(Woolf 167).
Yes, suddenly it began to seem as though our separateness was bringing us back together, managing the impossible while we stood in front of that bouquet, in that silence. And during those freighted seconds everything grew more and more beautiful and harmonious and red and white and orange between us, and I wanted to believe in it... (78-79)
The narrator in "Street Haunting" meditates, "One is forced to glimpse and nod and move on after a moment of talk, a flash of understanding, as, in the street outside, one catches a word in passing and from a chance phrase fabricates a lifetime. It is about a woman called Kate that they are talking, how "I said to her quite straight last night . . . if you don't think I'm worth a penny stamp, I said . . ." But who Kate is, and to what crisis in their friendship that penny stamp refers, we shall never know; for Kate sinks under the warmth of their volubility; and here, at the street corner, another page of the volume of life is laid open by the sight of two men consulting under the lamp-post. They are spelling out the latest wire from Newmarket in the stop press news. Do they thin, then, that fortune will ever convert their rags into fur and broadcloth, sling them with watch-chains, and plant diamond pins where there is now a ragged open shirt? But the main stream of walkers at this hour sweeps too fast to let us ask such questions" (Woolf).
This interrupted thought-manner of writing is mirrored in much of Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didion’s collective work. In "On Writing A Notebook," Didion recalls various single moments throughout her life that she captured in her journal. Those moments are not explained with the help of length anecdotes, but random phrases, years and names. Woolf’s "If you don’t think I’m worth a penny stamp," is Didion’s, "So what’s new in the whiskey business." Didion writes:
"So what's new in the whiskey business?" What could that possibly mean to you? To me it means a blonde in a Pucci bathing suit sitting with a couple of fat men by the pool at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Another man approaches, and they all regard one another in silence for a little while. "So what's new in the whiskey business?" one of the fat men finally says by way of welcome, and the blonde stands up, arches one foot and dips it in the pool, looking all the while at the cabana where Baby Pignatari is talking on the telephone. That is all there is to that, except that several years later I saw the blonde coming out of Saks Fifth Avenue in New York with her California complexion and a voluminous mink coat. In the harsh wind that day she looked old and irrevocably tired to me, and even the skins in the mink coat were not worked the way they were doing them that year, not the way she would have wanted them done, and there is the point of the story. For a while after that I did not like to look in the mirror, and my eyes would skim the newspapers and pick out only the deaths, the cancer victims, the premature coronaries, the suicides, and I stopped riding the Lexington Avenue IRT because I noticed for the first time that all the strangers I had seen for years - the man with the seeing-eye dog, the spinster who read the classified pages every day, the fat girl who always got off with me at Grand Central - looked older than they once had."
One hotel, one scene, one passerby Didion overhears, creates the very "fabricated lifetime" Woolf’s narrator is speaking of. In both passages there’s the men in conversation; there’s Kate and there’s the blonde. There’s capitalist and feminist undertones. There is the judgment. But more than that, there is the answer to Woolf. In "Street Haunting" there is too much visual stimulation to stop and ask questions with regard to what one is witnessing. Perhaps we can only ask the questions later on. Didion is writing her rereading of the notebook. She's had many of these "walks" and is now in a position to ask questions, to reflect on why she noticed the things she did or continues to. Both the narrator and Didion are affected by the same sights and remake the same sights. In a small way, Didion’s sad spinster is the narrator’s dwarf; her mink coat, the narrator’s diamond pins; her whiskey business, the narrator’s wire from Newmarket. And the reader is left to form their own opinions about the two women judging them.
More importantly, both authors are living in the mind frame of war. As a progressive woman and writer, Woolf is a form of counterculture in her own right, and in effect, the narrator of "Street Haunting" owns a small part of that. Didion happens to be a woman who embodies those qualities as well. She lived during the era that defined counterculture, the time to ask questions and demand answers. Whether it is the unique conditions these women worked under that is responsible for the minor resemblances, is something to think about. Whether Didion was influenced by Woolf, I do not know. Still, in essence, buying a pencil and writing a notebook can be one in the same.
Throughout the movie, the audience follows the intertwining lives of three different women, one of whom is Virginia Woolf herself. The other two women add interesting depth to the story; one an unhappy housewife living in the 1950s, the other a woman throwing a party for her writer friend in the present day. Part of what makes the movie so complex and so enthralling is the way these two women reflect Woolf’s protagonist, Clarissa Dalloway, for a modern audience. Clarissa Dalloway felt that her life had become trivial, and thus felt a certain kind of despair that her contribution to society had amounted to throwing parties for fellow socialites.
This kind of deep-rooted dissatisfaction for the direction her life had taken is seen in the women of “The Hours” as well. Just as Virginia Woolf feels confined and imprisoned by her life in the country, Laura Brown (the aforementioned housewife) feels imprisoned in her suburban environment. Laura lives a quiet, desperate life and consoles herself through reading; her current papery companion being Mrs. Dalloway. Although Laura Brown makes bolder choices than Clarissa made, her similarities to Clarissa are undeniable. Through her, we see that people like Clarissa can be found in the real world—and in a fairly modern world as well. The film does an excellent job of showing that the same sort of emotions Woolf may have felt while creating the character of Clarissa can translate into the emotions felt by a severely depressed housewife living just a few decades before our time.
Clarissa Vaughn obviously shares many qualities with Clarissa Dalloway, seeing as Vaughn is her present-day counterpart. What makes Clarissa Vaughn so fascinating is that although she is leading an alternative version of Clarissa Dalloway’s life (ie. living with Sally and reminiscing about her past with Richard) she is still the woman throwing parties, feeling a persistent sadness for her lost youth and happiness. This is seen mostly through her relationship with Richard in the film, and it appears that the characters of Richard and Peter are oddly combined within a single character in “The Hours.” Although, the character’s name is Richard, it seems that the kind of passion he feels for Clarissa Vaughn and the way she clings to Richard and their past is more reminiscent of the original Clarissa’s relationship with Peter. In any case, Clarissa Vaughn is the staggering reality that Woolf’s protagonist is just as likely and just as relevant a figure in our time as in Woolf’s time.
Overall, I would highly recommend watching the film because it offers very intriguing portrayals of Woolf’s life and the lives of alternative Clarissa Dalloways. If that isn’t convincing enough, there are also some plot twists you might want to check out that I shan’t give away for the sake of first-time viewers. = )
Monday, February 9, 2009
Saturday, February 7, 2009
As I was going a little crazy trying to make sense of the flower images in Mrs. Dalloway, I decided to look up what other people thought about it. I was shocked but I was not at all satisfied by my research. From the deciphered meaning that “Woolf uses flowers to signal that an erotic experience between women is immanent” (p.60)in Communication and Women's Friendships: Parallels and Intersections in Literature and Life by Ward & Mink to the meaning from Quamar Naheed’s D. H. Lawrence: Treatment of Nature in Early Novels that “flowers and green fields in the novel again and again symbolise peace and contentment" (p.13), I didn’t feel like these interpretations spoke for Woolf’s obsession with flowers. Therefore, I abandoned my search on flowers and focused on roses. I specifically looked at Septimus because I like him.
After Rezia is disturbed by Septimus trying to throw them under an on-coming omnibus or train, both Rezia and Septimus ponder their miseries. Septimus wonders why his life has been spared and “his weakness” (p.68) pardoned. He and Rezia are on an outing to Regent’s Park and he listens while slowly becoming lost in his thoughts.
"Now he withdraws up into the snows, and roses hang about him—the thick red roses which grow on my bedroom wall, he reminded himself.” .” ~ p. 68
The image of the blanketing, enveloping cold clashes and enhances the red rose image. The snow is white, frigidly enveloping, while the roses are described as a red comfort. The roses protectively cushion Septimus from the snow with their red amassing presence. Yet, the roses with soft petals and searing red warmth appear to be protective but also to be harming. Sure their beauty is reassuring but roses do have thorns. They can hurt the unwary who tries to grasp their beauty.
I think this might reflect the reality of life. Life can be beautiful and damning. Some people reflect more on the bad side of life and others on the good side of life. For Septimus, the balance of the good and the bad became skewed. We see him tortured by life and looking forward to death but we also see the dead making his life agonizing to live. He could have focused on the comforting aspects of flowers while displacing danger from the thorns to the snow. He could also be trying to ignore feeling by blocking out the prick of the thorns. His apathy to the thorns and coldness of the snow might be his way of realizing life’s dangers but protecting himself with a weak, snow and rose barrier.
It brings new thought to stop and smell the roses; Septimus envelopes himself in them.