I finally picked this book up three days ago after an unsuccessful dabble last Summer. After the first chapter, I’d judged Virginia Stephen’s draft writing more bland and archaic than Jane Austen’s (and I’m actually an Austen fan). Out of boredom and determination I gave it a second chance. After all, how could Virginia Woolf’s early stuff be entirely unlike her later works? By the third chapter I realized that the heroine of the book was a slighly underdeveloped tragic feminist and that the whole book was something of a parody of a Jane Austen novel. In fact, there are several open stabs at Austen over the course of the book (“Poor Jane Austen! She was impotent beside this body. She talked of unreal things.“) The plot is a platform for Stephen-Woolf to weave moral, social and religious questions into. She openly flouts Christianity, questions the purpose of life and love, grapples with the differences between the sexes, explores the lifelong aloneness we all face and illustrates the final effect of a life: the tragic feeling of blessing and loss those who love us may feel after we die.
Was it worth reading? If you haven’t already read Virginia Woolf’s other works, it would be better to become familiar with her through her more polished writing. The grammar, punctuation and syntax of this novel is lacking since it is “reconstructed” from various drafts (some of which became her other novels). If you’ve already run out of her other works, by all means pick this one up. It was worth the three days I spent with it imbetween other activities; at 350 pages it’s a quick read.
There was no reason, life being a compromise. (p. 3)
Cows draw together in the damp; ships in a calm; so, too, do men and women when they are unoccupied. Is it to prevent ourselves from seeing to the bottom, as a child disturbs a shallow pool to create phantom caves and submerged ranges, is it that we love each other, or is it that we have learnt nothing, know nothing, but leap from moment to moment as from world to world? p. 147
“But you are married,” said Rachel.
“There’s no cure in that,” said Helen. “I’m just as alone as you’re alone…” p. 278.