Sunday, September 12, 2010


Your part is to insist that writers shall come down off their plinths and pedestals, and describe beautifully if possible, truthfully at any rate, our Mrs. Brown. You should insist that she is an old lady of unlimited capacity and infinite variety; capable of appearing in any place; wearing any dress; saying anything and doing heaven knows what. But the things she says and the things she does and her eyes and her nose and her speech and her silence have an overwhelming fascination, for she is, of course, the spirit we live  by, life itself” (212).

In the literary manifesto that “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown” is, Woolf essentially repudiates the writers of the previous era, because, according to her, any insight into human nature, into life, was effectively lost among various and numerous descriptions, such as the houses the writer did not write any life into. However, at the same time, she acknowledges the difference between writers – based on nationality as well as the writer’s temperament. She writes, “You see one thing in character, and I another. You say it means this, and I that. And when it comes to writing each makes a further selection on principles of his own. Thus Mrs. Brown can be treated in an infinite variety of ways, according to the age, country, and temperament of the writer” (200). This, I feel, undermines the rest of the speech, in which she rejects the approach of previous writers. Literature is, truly, always about some aspect of human nature at least. And thus, while I have not personally read any Wells, Galsworthy or Bennett, I do believe they wrote about human nature in some way, only maybe this way was different than what interested Virginia Woolf. After all, she does say that the writer treats Mrs. Brown according to his own set of principles. At the same time, I do understand that at this particular time in the beginnings of the twentieth century, life was changing quite drastically and people like Woolf felt there was an unbridgeable gap between them and the older generation in various matters, literature included. Still, I guess every generation has its own values and sets of principles with which it looks upon life and Mrs. Brown. And here, Woolf tries to get her listeners to further define theirs. What I do like about this particular speech/essay is that she seems to want to make literature a more accessible thing – a sort of unity between writer and reader, no pedestals for either one.

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