Thursday, November 18, 2010

New York Time Review of Between the Acts

Check out Hudson Strode's review of Between the Acts.  Check the date:  1941.  Strode calls Woolf, "the sole indisputable genius among contemporary British women-of-letters."

I agree.  


In his review, Strode begins by contemplating Virginia Woolf's suicide.  As his review was published in October1941, this sets Woolf's death at a mere seven months (or rather, six given that her death occurred at the end of March) before the review's publication.  Strode concerns himself with the possible reasons that Woolf ended her life, all of which we have touched upon in our course this semester.  

In quoting Woolf (para. 4), Strode recalls Woolf's philosophy of writing, something we discussed in correlation with T. S. Eliot's philosophy:  the best writing comes from the unconscious.  Indeed, Strode hails Woolf's novels as "ephemeral," and they are; yet he also notes the importance of her work as a whole, including her critical movements, which he details as having "extraordinary perception."

Strode goes on to say that while Between the Acts carries the most simple plot in all of Woolf's works, that its genius lies in her continual harnessing of life's connection, citing the human, animal, and spiritual realms embedded within the novel.  Ultimately, Strode tells us that the plot itself is not important, relating this sentiment back to the novel itself (the "pageant within a pageant and all within the vaster pageant of creation and infinity").

Strode also notes the connections/reflections in Between the Acts that recalls Woolf's earlier novels, Mrs. Dalloway and Orlando, both of which we read this semester.  

Although Strode does not express this explicitly, the connections to India and Africa that are present in Between the Acts, suggest British colonialism and empire.  Much like Strode states, "'Between the Acts' has no more ending, no more conclusion than English history."  Again, we see the ways in which Woolf commentated upon not just her society and gender, but her country.   

Sunday, November 7, 2010

"The Death of the Moth"

When I read, I often wish I could see the world the writer creates exactly how the writer must have seen it in his or her mind.  I suppose that is one reason why I tend to be easily frustrated by those movies based on novels—never will the films uphold the vision of this story world as I would have imagined it being created and existing inside its creator.  And yet, there are some writers who do wield that elegant power, the power to use language to create and freeze moments for us, and they do so with a vibrancy that illuminates the story world in such a way that we, as readers, know that we, too, are looking through the same lens as the writer, and in such moments, there is a bond that is soldered between reader and writer, in which the reader must be struck by the grace of what is occurring in a way that he or she may never forget the particular passage and what he or she witnessed there.

While Virginia Woolf’s “The Death of the Moth” is not a story (fiction), but rather, it is an essay, Woolf’s skill at harnessing words and phrases, making them bend to her will, gives the reader the illusion that he/she is not reading a work of nonfiction.  It seems perfectly natural that we would pick up this essay, and within moments, find ourselves transported into Woolf’s story world before we even recognize that not only are we embedded in the universe she has created with language, but we have forgotten to be on our very best guard, as we have sat down to pour over an essay, not a short story. 

As I read “The Death of the Moth,” I felt as though I was sitting next to Woolf, and the both of us were watching all she describes transpire.  I, too, felt the pity and awe that she divulges feeling while observing the moth.  Never did I have to wish I could see the world created by the writer—Woolf put me right beside her the entire time I lived in her world. 

The great thing is, is that I am really beginning to realize that I very well may like Woolf’s essays more than her stories and her novels.  Every time I read one of her essays, I begin thinking about certain things (whatever is prompted by any one essay) in new and exciting ways.  This particular essay caused me to actually, consciously think about the death of an insect—it sounds so strange, even to me; however, I recall in those moments after I finished this essay, feeling a weird detachment from death, as though I would always be the one watching the moth as it died, never the dying moth. 

The things Woolf makes me think!