I’m joining in HeavenAli’s #Woolfalong read for May/June, the shorter fiction leg:
Phase 3 – May/June – shorter fiction – any collection of short stories. This list of possibles from Wikipedia:
• Kew Gardens (1919)
• Monday or Tuesday (1921)
• A Haunted House and Other Short Stories (1944)
• Mrs Dalloway’s Party (1973)
• The Complete Shorter Fiction (1985)
• Carlyle’s House and Other Sketches (2003)
Oxford World Classics now produce a collection called The Mark on the Wall and other short Fiction – though I don’t know which stories it contains.
I’ve read the first two pieces in the Complete Shorter Fiction, and have begun the third, which promises to be delightful. It’s about a woman who’s chosen scholarship over home and family, having left her own behind in pursuit of learning – a distinctly Woolfian theme.
The first piece, “Phyllis and Rosamund,” was Woolf’s first short story. It reads like an old-fashioned Victorian piece, has little plot to speak of, makes only the slightest movement, yet manages to be quite telling. The title characters, two single women in their 20s, contemplate a future which depends solely on whether they manage to marry a decent man.
It’s a common refrain in Woolf’s fiction, an all-too-true circumstance for women who had not yet earned the “right” to move in society of their own accord.
“It is a common case, because after all there are many young women, born of well-to-do, respectable, official parents; and they must all meet much the same problems, and there can be, unfortunately, but little variety in the answers they make.” – “Phyllis and Rosamund”
Virginia and her sister Vanessa, born in the same era, choose the radical path of leaving home to live Bohemian lives, entertaining poets and artists and other dreamers in their home in Bloomsbury. It’s true they came from money, enough to allow them the luxury of choice, something women of other social classes did not enjoy.
By the time the group formed, it was the 20s, a period more tolerant of such behavior. Still, opinion then and now varies on this free-thinking group, whether they were as much intellectual as self-indulgent, snobbish and insular.
Especially Virginia Woolf.
I don’t find everything equally attractive about her. I’m no prude, but from my admittedly not fully informed knowledge of the Bloomsbury Group, they behaved outside my comfort zone. I am equal parts literary elitist and not completely proud of it, at the same time.
I’m nothing if not conflicted.
The second story, “The Mysterious Case of Miss V.,” is a work of short-short fiction about a woman who, resolving to pay an impromptu visit to a another woman she’d known but cares little about, arrives to find the ultimate irony.
It speaks bald truths about the forgotten, through a cocky and unsympathetic main character the reader knows only through her caustic, cruel observations:
“Oh how mad and odd and amusing it seemed, now that I thought of it! – to track down the shadow, to see where she lived and if she lived, and talk to her as though she were a person like the rest of us!”
And then on to story number three, “The Journal of Mistress Joan Martyn,” which I’m enjoying very much, indeed.
Intially, I was drawn to Woolf by her reputation, knowing of her only vaguely and peripherally. In my study toward my B.A. in English literature, I read not a word of her writing; the small, Catholic-affiliated college I attended offered precious little outside the mainstream writing of white males. There were survey courses covering the history of literature in very broad strokes, courses on Medieval literature and Chaucer, and of course Shakespeare, but nothing much beyond that. I read Austen’s Northanger Abbey, but almost nothing else outside the Norton Anthology.
I was a young mother when I first picked up To the Lighthouse and it blew apart my world. I borrowed it from the library because I missed literature and knew there were huge gaps in my reading. Having been home caring for my daughter for a year or more, I felt as if my brain would atrophy. Then entered Woolf.
It would be a while before I realized in how many ways our lives ran parallel, that she’d killed herself on my birthday and we’d shared the scourge of bipolar disorder unleashed by childhood trauma. By then I’d fallen under the spell of the graceful, fragile-but-fierce Virginia, and a group of intellectuals I can’t say for sure I completely understand.
After a pause of years, I entered another Woolf phase, accumulating incomplete sets of her diaries and letters and other works by and about her, reading much more of not just her work but that of Lytton Strachey, Vita Sackville-West and others in their set. But then that faded, as well, as urges inevitably do.
Coming across HeavenAli’s blog, I realized I was overdue for another visit to Virginia Woolf. So, alongside my newly re-awoken Bronte and also Lewis Carroll fixations, I am reading her shorter fictions for the first time.
From my present seat on the sofa, next to one of the fourteen bookcases filling my apartment to bursting with books, I can reach out and lay hands on at least one volume each of her letters and diaries. It’s inevitable I’ll open one or both.
And then become obsessed, all over again.
Because it’s what I do.