Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Nonverbal communication in To the Lighthouse

In To the Lighthouse, non-verbal communication between people expresses important sentiments through people. Mostly this nonverbal communication comes between men and women. The two sexes never say what they are thinking to one another. Mrs. Ramsey hints at this when she says, “She would never know him. He would never know her. Human relations were all like that she thought, and the worst . . . were between men and women” (Woolf 95). However, it seems that the men are the ones that stifle the women’s verbal communication, espically Mr. Ramsey.

As Lily Briscoe is painting, Mr. Bankes walks up to her and see her painting. She thinks, “[b]ut it had been taken from her. This man had shared with her something profoundly intimate” (57). There is no verbal communication about the painting, and yet Lily still believes that something (her emotion reflected in the painting) has been shared between the two, but it has ruined Lily’s painting.

Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey share several moments of nonverbal communication in the novel. One is while they are sitting at the dinner party, and Mr. Carmichael asks for another bowl of soup. Mrs. Ramsey reads her husband’s expression of anger. “What on earth was about? she wondered. What could be the matter? Only that poor old Augustus had asked for another plate of soup—that was all. It was unthinkable, it was detestable(so he signalled across to her across the table). . . ” (97). The nonverbal communication between the couple continues throughout the dinner. The ability for the couple to “comprehend each other seems to transcend words in the this instance; they are able to communicate effectively without them However, Mrs Ramsey claims “It was only she never could say what she felt” in response to Mr. Ramsey’s nonverbal commands for her to tell him ‘I love you’ (125). When she knows he is watching her, “instead of saying anything she turned, holding her stocking, abd looked at him. And as she looked at him she began to smile, for though she had not said a word, he knew, of course he knew, that she loved him” (126). Mrs. Ramsey in this case is regressing to the nonverbal communication in order to “tell” her husband that she loves him because she cannot express herself verbally, just as he does not ask her verbally. Mrs. Ramsey dies the night of this encounter, and her husband stealing her verbal power away from her seems to be to blame.

Another nonverbal encounter that is stifling to a woman is the one between Lily and Mr. Ramsey when the return to house after many years. As Lily is painting, Mr. Ramsey approaches her and talks to her. However, nonverbally he is begging her for sympathy. “That man she thought, her anger rising in her, never gave; that man took. She, on the other hand, would be forced to give” (153). She does not give it to him but complements his shoes. She subsequently feels guilty about not fully giving him the sympathy that he demanded.

In the presence of their father, Cam and James are stifled into nonverbal communication, on the boat to the lighthouse. They make a compact not to speak to their father or e kind to him on the trip “to resist tyranny to the death” (168). They exchange glances with one another, James thinking that Cam will give in. They are resisting the tyranny of their father with as little verbal communication as possible because it is the opposite of what they think he wants. However, by resisting verbal communication they are letting him control them still. Cam thinks of Mr. Ramsey’s tyranny that has stifled the children and all the others around him. She wonders, “was that the crass tyranny of his which had poisoned her childhood and raised bitter storms, so that even now she woke in the middle of the night trembling with rage and remembered some command of his; some insolence” (173).

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Modernism and Politics

As if I didn’t dislike the personalities of Ezra pound and T.S. Eliot enough, I find out they are anti-Semitic fascists. This should have been something that I knew as an English major who had studied these famous poets, but I did not. I knew there was a reason I found them detestable. In all seriousness, I felt like this is something that I should have learned before now. My favorite part of the chapter was the ruling that Pound suffered from “delusions of grandeur.” I think this is evident in his article on little magazines and his manifesto of what poetry should be. It was interesting to see that there are letters coming about T.S. Eliot that might disprove the longstanding idea that he was anti-Semitic and uncaring. I wonder how much the letters will actually prove to debunk these ideas about Eliot and how long it will take for the characterization of Eliot to change.

Leonard Woolf’s “Fear and Politics” seemed to be more represented of a liberal standpoint on politics. I love the way that he used the animals and humor to get across his political message. It seemed the verbal equivalent to the political cartoon. My favorite section is the ne where the animals believe that the humans are gods/god. The paragraph takes us through history of polytheistic religions to monotheistic religions. Having the animals talking about religion to explain the unexplainable, humans’ purpose and role, both attacks society’s sense of religion and our sense of ourselves. The assertion that human society is a jungle and cannot be fixed shows how disillusioned people, like Leonard Woolf, were with the war and with society.

Forster’s “What I Believe” showed the same types of disillusionment with the war and politics that Woolf’s “Fear and Politics” showed. Forster emphasized the individual rather than society. He says, “personal relations are despised today” (166). He goes on to say how we put the government first, and we should be putting our loyalties to our friends before the government. Showing he is disillusioned with the results of war, Forster says, “if people continue to kill one another as they do, the world cannot get better than it is, and since there are more people than formerly, and their means for destroying one another superior, the world may well get worse” (169).

This disillusionment with the war is something that takes a different tone in Virginia Woolf’s “Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid.” She is writing to convince Americans to help the British in the war. She says, “Let us send these fragmentary notes to the huntsmen who are up in America, to the men and women whose sleep has not yet been broken by machine-gun fire, in the belief that they will rethink them generously and charitably, perhaps shape them into something serviceable. And now, in the shadowed half of the world, to sleep” (3). She uses the same narrative style that she uses in A Room of One’s Own. The tone also sounds similar and she is also addressing women in specifically in her essay (though the end seems to call for everyone’s help). Her example of the restriction of child bearing in relation to restricting men from weapons is one example of her appeal to women. All the other essays seem to be addressing men and how they can work in politics, where Virginia Woolf takes on how women can help with the war/politics.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Room of One's Own

Going back to A Room of One’s Own, the image that stood out to me the most from the first time I read it was when the narrator tries to enter the library and is told that since she is woman she cannot enter alone. I think the first time I read this I was completely revolted by the idea because it seemed completely ridiculous. I, like the narrator, was angry. I was seduced by the narrator’s intense emotions into feeling the same way as the same way, being sympathetic. I don’t think it is the same type of seduction that Jane Marcus suggests in her article “Sapphistry: Narration as Lesbian Seduction in A Room of One’s Own.” However I feel Woolf makes a strong rhetorical appeal to women’s emotions and reason. In “Modernism and Gender,” Marianne Dekoven says, “Woolf revised the association of Modernism with masculinity by associating it with the feminine” (187). I believe Woolf does this in A Room of One’s Own and her other fiction.

On the second reading, I noticed how the narrator, Mary, goes from an essentialist’s view of women to an anti-essentialist view of women. I believe that she must make this conversion or growth in order for the woman reader to relate to her. Most women would see themselves as inherently different from men, helping them accept their subjugation. They would need to see the problem through the differences of men and women to ultimately accept Mary’s conclusion that there should be no distinction between the two. Mary begins to hum a Tennyson poem and says, “What that what men hummed at luncheon parties before the war? And the women? [quotes another poem] . . . Was that what women hummed at luncheon parties before the war?” (Woolf 12). She separates the minds of women and men in this passage, adhering to the idea that there is something inherently different that would cause men and women to hum different tunes/poems. Mary also talks about the differences between the short and concise language that men use in their writing and women’s wordy and flowing sentences that was considered sentimental. She says of Jane Austin and Emily Bronte, “[t]hey wrote as women write, not as men write” (74). She makes it clear that there is something inherently feminine that is expressed when women write, possibly due to the circumstances that women face. It seems Mary believes by the end of the narration that the only reason that men and women are not equal, are not capable, or do not appear the same is because of the subjugation of women by men.

She says at the very end of her narration, “it is fatal for anyone who writes to think of their sex. It is fatal to be a man or woman pure and simple; one must be woman-manly or man-womanly” (102-103). She has come to the conclusion that sex should not be taken into account. There should be in some ways a bisexuality of each person. They should not identify with one sex or another but should be sexless, a combination of both sexes. If both men and women are a combination of both sexes, there is no sex identification, nothing inherently male or female.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Virginia Woolf and her Characters

In Both “Modern Fiction” and “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown,” Virginia Woolf emphasizes the importance of characters and characterization in the novel. In “Modern Fiction,” she talks about how old form of the novel is centered on plot and writing style, and this is the reason why modern writers do not like the old form of the novel. She says the way they write is not how life is and that free of this model writers would base writing on their “own feeling and not upon convention” (Woolf “Modern” 3). She says of Mr. Bennett, “His characters live abundantly, even unexpectedly, but it remains to ask how do they live, and what do they live for?” (2). This shows the concern with character and the relation to the focus on the writer’s concern, which for her is psychology (she notes this later in the essay as the concern of the modern writer). This focus on psychology makes the character more important than a focus on the plot. In “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown,” Woolf says, “Most novelist have the same experience. Some Brown, Smith, or Jones comes before them and says in the most seductive and charming way in the world, ‘Come and catch me if you can.’ . . . they flounder through volume after volume, spending the best years of their lives in pursuit . . .” (Woolf “Mr. Bennett” 234). This is chase after a character or an idea for character, and Woolf says in the next paragraph, “men and women write novels because they are lured on to create some character” (234). To Woolf, the characters are more important to the reader (and to her, the writer) than any other aspect of the novel.
In Mrs. Dalloway, we see how important the characters are to Woolf. Her seamless, and sometimes confusing, transitions between voices show that she is focused on the characters of the novel rather than the events. The characters mull over their life, which gives us insight into the psychology of the character. The majority of the novel is focused solely on thoughts, feelings, and emotions; the plot is secondary to this. The events that happen take place in the span of one day, but Woolf is able to fill 200 pages. Virginia Woolf says of Mrs. Dalloway, “[i]n this book, I almost have too many ideas,. I want to give life & death, sanity & insanity. I want to criticize the social system, & to show it all at work, at its most intense” (qtd. in Steinberg 6). Woolf intertwines her ideas about life and death, and sanity and insanity into her characters emotions. From the switch between Septimus’s voice and Rezia’s voice, we understand the insanity that he is going through. The scene in the party is particularly interesting because we get society’s view of death, through Clarissa. At first, she is angry that this death would be talked about at her because it would ruin the party. Clarissa thinks, “[w]hat business had the Bradshaws to talk of death at her party? A young man had killed himself. And they talked of it at her party” ( Woolf Dalloway 179). However, later Clarissa begins to relate to Septimus, and she thinks, “death was an attempt to communicate. . .She felt glad that he had done it; thrown it all away” (180-182). Woolf uses Septimus’s death and Clarissa’s reaction to it to show all the things that she said she wanted to show in this novel.
The end of the novel also reveals her focus on character. Instead of focus on what is going on around them, Sally and Peter are engaged in a deep talk. In the last glimpse of the story, we get Peter’s intense emotions. Instead of knowing that Clarissa has entered the room through a description of her, we get Peter’s emotions and the revelation of her presence.
"What is this terror? what is this ecstasy? he thought to himself. What is it that fills me with extraordinary ecstasy?
It is Clarissa, he said.
For there she was" (190).
Here the character’s emotions are put before the action of plot, and it shows how Woolf saw her character as more important than anything else in the novel, and it elicits more emotion from the reader.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Waste Land

I was put off at first by The Waste Land because I was unfamiliar with all the references that Eliot makes in the poem. Originally, I read the poem in order to work on a section of my honors thesis about the literary allusions in Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. It seems that King, in a less talented way, was following Eliot’s example. Possibly it is a hindrance to the poems, but I can’t disassociate the two works. As I read it this time for class, I was a bit more (surprisingly to me) enthusiastic.

In reference to the Hero’s journey, I cannot help but think about the poem as being the hero returning to master the two worlds and share what he or she has learned about on the journey. Since the speaker is the one experiencing the journey, it is the poem that is message to others what he has learned on his journey. Headings says that in the last line of “The Burial of the Dead,” “You! hypocrite lecteur!--mon semblable,--mon frère!,'” Eliot is directly addressing the reader, which important (Eliot l. 76; Headings 1). Brooks says that this quotation “from Baudelaire completes the universalization of Stetson begun by the reference to Mylae. Stetson is every man including the reader and Mr. Eliot himself” (Brooks 192). Also in the second stanza of “The Burial of the Dead,” the speaker speaks directly to the reader about what he is going to show the reader in the poem.

(come in under the shadow of this red Rock)

And I will show you something different from either

Your shadow at morning striding behind you

Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;

I will show you fear in a handful of dust. (Eliot l. 26-30)

When the speaker addresses the reader, he is asking him or her to relate to the story and trying to tell the reader what he has learned from his journey through death and rebirth. Campbell’s hero’s journey consists of death and rebirth. The Hero must cast aside his life go down, sometimes to hell, reemerge and begin living life again. Eliot has images of death and rebirth, according to Headings, throughout the poem. Headings says, only when the life of temporal involvement is transcended, only when the towers and cities crumble as central psychic foci, only when the emptiness of the material . . . can one approach the grail chapel, hear the crow of the cock in a flash of lightning on the rooftree, and feel the damp gust that brings the rain so long awaited” (Headings 3)

I am fascinated with the water, or lack there of, references. The lack of water is most prevalent in “The Burial of the Dead” and “What the Thunder Said.” In the first stanza, it seems the speaker is remembering a time when there was water. Eliot says, “Memory and desire, stirring/ dull roots with spring rain” and “Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee/ with a shower of rain” (Eliot l. 3-4, 8-9). The use of the word memory and of the past tense with surprised show that the rain is something the speaker remembers. In the second stanza, Eliot says, “the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief/And the dry stone no sound of water” (l.23-24). This lack of water is a lack of basic nourishment for the people in the waste land. Again at the beginning of “What the Thunder Said,” the speaker talks about rocks with no water, rain or sound of water. It seems that all the people of modern times are lacking the knowledge that Eliot is giving them in the poem, through his knowledge because at the end of the poem it finally does rain. The structures of society fall apart and the cock crows, a symbol of enlightenment and then it rains; there is a stripping away of the modern society and then the people are provided with the nourishment of life, water (Brooks). “In a flash of lightning. Then a damp gust/ bringing rain” (l. 394-395).

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Mansfield, Women, and the Moon

I found the relationship between Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf particularly interesting. It seems that both women had their own set of problems. Mansfield’s was her deteriorating physical condition and Woolf’s was her mental condition (bipolar disorder). It is interesting that neither one of these women take the other’s condition into consideration when they are mad at one another. Hermione Lee describes Woolf and Mansfield as “mutually inspiring but competitive” (Lee 381). It is interesting that after Katherine Mansfield’s death Lee describes her as haunting Woolf. “Katherine haunted her too, not as a literary rival but as an object of ‘deep feeling’ (Lee 394). Both of their lives seem tragic in their own right.

The close female relationship that Woolf and Mansfield shared, as troubled as it was, is depicted in her stories. In the short stories that we read there seems to be, at least at some point in the story, a pairing of two of the female characters. In “Bliss,” Miss Fulton and the narrator stand at the open window and stare out at a flowering tree. The two women come together to have a unique experience. “Both, as it were, caught in that circle of unearthly light, understanding each other perfectly, creatures of another world, and wondering what they were to do in this one with all this blissful treasure that and dropped, in silver flowers, from their hair and hands?” (Mansfield 153). At the beginning of “Prelude,” you have Kenzia and Lottie sitting together, while Isabel was “perched beside the new handy-man” (79). Often Lottie and Kenzia are depicted together and Isabel is on the outside. In “The Daughters of the Late Colonel,” the two sisters, Josephine and Constantia, are together the entire story. I found that they did not seem to even have personalities of their own but functioned more as a pair than as individuals. In “At the Bay,” Beryl Fairfield is paired with Mrs. Harry Kember in section V. This is the scene where Beryl decides to bathe with Mrs. Harry Kember instead of her family. They talk and Mrs. Harry Kember encourages her not be as shy as she is because she is beautiful. There is not as much a pairing in “The Garden Party.” However, Jose and her mother stick together against Laura when she wants to cancel the party because a poor neighbor has died.

Another commonality between the stories is the reoccurrence with scenes where the moon is present in the description. Excluding the “The Garden Party,” every story that we read had a scene where the moon was described or used and most of these scenes involved the female characters only. In the scene from “Bliss” that I quoted before, Miss Fulton and the narrator are staring out at the moon as the light shines on them. In “Prelude,” old Mrs. Fairfield has pin or necklace (I could not determine which one because it only said “at her throat”) with “a silver crescent moon with five little owls seated owls seated on it” (92). Also in “Prelude,” “[s]taning in a pool of moonlight Beryl Fairfield undressed herself” (87). In the first scenes of Prelude Kenzia and Lottie are traveling under the moon. In the last scene of “The Daughters of the Late Colonel,” Constantia remembers, “the time her wonder was like longing. She remembered the times she had come in here, she crept out of bed in her nightgown when the moon was full” (229). In the last scene of “At the Bay,” Beryl is romping around out in the moonlight with Harry Kember. The last section says, “[a] cloud, small, serene, floated across the moon. In that moment of darkness the sea sounded deep, troubled” (279).

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Virginia Woolf's Poetic Prose

There are some things that we struggle to define in literature. One of these seems to be poetry. I feel it can only be defined in opposition to prose. But what happens when an author uses the conventions of poetry in prose? Do you have a prose poem? This is not always the case. Virginia Woolf seems to weave the conventions of poetry into her short stories and it seems in some of her short stories, she is writing a prose poem. It seems that poetry and prose are defined as the author defines them. Woolf’s short stories blur the line between poetry and prose by using conventions from poetry with the presentation of prose (the continued lines without line breaks that create white space).

Kemp says “Woolf also expressed admiration for the Russian novelists, and shard with them a sense that chaotic or incoherent experience should be included in fiction” (62). I believe that this is why Woolf seems more poetic than conventional prose writers. One convention that Woolf uses that is present in all of her short stories is stream of consciousness. Though poetry is not considered to be stream of consciousness, modern and contemporary poetry lack a plot. Rather this poetry presents images and words that evoke the emotion.. Often these images and emotions can be seemingly unrelated. However, the poet strings them together in order to elicit an emotion. Compare how Dean young uses several images in his poem “Poem without Forgiveness” to the way Virginia Woolf uses stream of conscious to do the same thing for her readers.

You want to take back

the ugly thing you said, but some shrapnel

remains in the wound, some mud.

Night after night Tybalt’s stabbed

so the lovers are ground in mechanical

aftermath. Think of the gunk that never

comes off the roasting pan, the goofs

of a diamond cutter. But wasn’t it

electricity’s blunder into inert clay

that started this whole mess (Young 5-14)

Here young is using several different images, ideas, and metaphors in order to talk about an emotion/reaction to an event in a more abstract way, rather than just creating a straightforward plot. Woolf does this also in her short stories. For example, she says in “Monday or Tuesday,” “red is the dome; coins hang on the trees; smoke trails from the chimneys; bark, shout, cry ‘Iron for Sale’—and the truth?” In “Blue and Green,” she also does this, and she does it define the emotion or reaction that each color elicits. Woolf also does this on a larger scale with in her stories, jumping from character description to object, etc. For example, in “An Unwritten Novel,” there seems to be the cohesive idea of a woman with the speaker on a train. However, the speaker jumps from minute detail to description of inner thought so readily that a distinct plot is lost, and instead, we gain a sense of character and emotion. Woolf also uses concise word choice, something that modern and contemporary poets favor.

Woolf also uses alliteration in her short stories. In “An Unwritten Novel,” Woolf says, “They would say she kept her sorrow, suppressed her secret—her sex they’d say—the scientific people. But what flummery to saddle her with sex” (23). This repetition of “s” sound makes the sentence flow smoothly, and this uses of alliteration reminds the reader more of a poem than of short story. Both “Monday or Tuesday” and “An Unwritten Novel” are rich in these alliterations. Woolf also uses similes, which are not unique to poetry but are found more readily there. Also, she uses the repletion of phrases such as “that’s what always happens” and “hang still” in “An Unwritten Novel.” I feel like “Kew Garden” and “The Mark on the Wall” contain stronger plots and less poetic language. However, they do keep with strong imagery and a less clear plot than conventional short stories.

Having never read Virginia Woolf’s short stories, I was surprised by them. I loved the language and fluidity of the text. There is just so much going on in these short and concise stories that I feel I could read them repeatedly and still find them enjoyable because they don’t rely on plot.

Dean Young's “Poem Without Forgiveness” can be found at The Paris Review website.