Tuesday, August 31, 2010


After the slideshow on modern art in relation to the Bloomsbury group, I realized how much “Kew Gardens” reminded me of a painting. It is an interesting notion that literature and words can recall the notion of a painting, because the two mediums are very different. Still, the amount of color description and Woolf’s concentration on one particular place makes me visualize that one particular part of Kew Gardens on that one particular day with those particular people. It is a bit of a mixture of an impressionist painting, capturing the impression of the gardens throughout a period of time – a bit like Monet’s “Cathedral of Rouen”, which he tried to capture in many painting at different times of the day. At the same time, it is very much like Balla’s “Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash” in that Woolf makes many references to time and space and people’s movement through both. Everyone in the painting of this story would look like the dog, blurry, with almost a trail of themselves dissolving behind them. The first couple especially talks of the past and people’s ghosts that inhabit the places they once visited, as if our existence is continuous, unending and we leave these seemingly imperceptible traces of ourselves everywhere we are. Thus, the couple walks away, eventually becoming transparent, as if dissolved in time and space.

What is also very interesting is Woolf’s repeated usage of imagery that often relates to her own childhood and her life in general. St. Ives, Talland House, lighthouses, flowers are all intertwined with her writing and I wonder whether a memoir such as A Sketch of the Past and even writing in general provided  Woolf with means of coping with various traumatic things that happened in her life – many deaths, sexual abuse, mental illness. She is very different from other writers, which is what makes me wonder about this – would she write as much, or at all, had she not experienced all these things? I suppose I just cannot think of another writer that includes so much of his or her own life and memories into writing, although all writers do this to varying extent. It definitely works to show just how the mind works – the influence of childhood, past events, traumatic or not, various, even the smallest things, and how all of this, whether we are conscious of it or not, stays with us for the rest of our lives and shows in different ways – in Woolf’s case, through her writing. But at the same time, does it show how an ordinary mind works, or how Woolf’s mind works. I guess this is what I have been struggling with for these past couple of weeks – even in “The Mark on the Wall”, we do not experience a real person’s mind, we experience what Woolf believes to be this character’s mind, but one can never truly know the mind of another person. We cannot experience other people like that, we only see them like other people see Jacob Flanders – from the outside.

“The Mark on the Wall” was a bit problematic for me, because Woolf uses the ambiguous mark for one purpose only – to start a chain of thought. It is very arbitrary to me, because the character sits there, staring at the mark and thinking of various unrelated things only because Woolf wants her to and the flow of thoughts we read is one that Woolf has made up, and so we are left with what perhaps Woolf would have done and thought had she seen a mark on her wall. Someone else might have just stood up and actually checked what it was. At the same time, I am writing this today, a century later, when literature has gone through a lot of changes since the time Woolf wrote. I understand that at that particular time, not many people wrote these kinds of stories and England was still reading the “materialists” as Woolf called them. She was one of the first to write about the human mind and how she thought it works. So perhaps I would have looked at it differently had I lived then, but now, after many stream of consciousness novels and experiences, I find “The Mark on the Wall” a little arbitrary. 

Monday, August 23, 2010


The broad range of topics covered over the years by the Annual Virginia Woolf Conference shows just how much readers and enthusiasts of Woolf are able to uncover within her writing and other aspects of her life. For the 2010 Conference on Woolf and the Natural World, there was analysis of flower, water, landscape images in her works in addition to the other various ways nature is portrayed in Woolf’s writing. What I thought was most interesting were the discussions concerning animals: horses, dogs, birds. I have only read Mrs. Dalloway and I don’t really recall much of a presence of animals in that novel, so I think it would be interesting to see how they are relevant in other works. Especially interesting would be the idea of a “doggraphy” as one’s biography that one presentation mentioned, as well as the topics concerning birds, for example, “Birds as Social Deviants in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway”. I am really curious as to what arguments these presentations made.
The older conference concerning Woolf and the City also caught my attention. Some presentations in this conference seemed to be interested in women and their movement through urban areas, the importance of the distinction between the city and the countryside, as well as the bustling emotions and mindscapes that big cities contain and how these cities influence emotions, mindscapes and thus, the creative process. What particularly interested me from this conference was a presentation on Bloomsbury and Fashion, a notion that is very closely tied with metropolitan areas. I do not know much about Virginia Woolf in the context of fashion, but I believe that a group of people such as the Bloomsbury group she was a part of, one with distinctive ideas about life and literature must have some sort of aesthetic theory and practice – and we already have said in class that interior design of their house was part of this aesthetic, so I am hoping fashion may somehow be intertwined with this as well. I do recall Clarissa mending her dress and Miss Kilman paying particulate attention to the difference in her own dress and that of Mrs. Dalloway and so I am sure fashion plays at least a marginal role in Woolf’s novels, or maybe I did not pay close enough attention and maybe its role is a bit larger.
What I am really excited about with this class is the idea of the altered book. I have never encountered this kind of practice in any other class and find it very appealing and very creative. The only thing I would be worried about is actually destroying a book. However, at the same time, you are creating a kind of piece of art yourself. I hope we talk more about this idea in class though – does the book have to have a certain topic? does it have to be about a certain novel? I still have some questions. But I am looking forward to making one!