Archives for posts with tag: Virginia Woolf

I’ve come hard up against a writerly situation that I can’t quite figure out. This comes from the part of my life that’s as a published author, not the write, submit, rinse, repeat part. When one of my stories was published by a prominent magazine, reactions by reviewers and regular (as opposed to irregular?) readers were split right down the middle. The first review I read was negative, and to me seemed mean spirited. It basically accused the story of using dialogue to info dump, annoy, and offend the delicate sensibilities of discerning consumers of fine science fiction. The half that were positive reactions mean the world to me, as they were lovely and insightful. If only human nature would always skew toward the positive. Instead, while I treasure the wonderful reactions, the negative ones nag at the back of my mind.

The major nag is an almost subconscious stream of consciousness pondering of the process of short story writing and aftermath–ing. The way I see it, there are two ways to project story from the writer’s mind to the readers’. One is exposition. I’m of the less is more school on this one. The idea of subtlety allowing…forcing…a collaboration between the imaginations of writer and reader is so appealing to me. I’ve always loved that experience as a reader, though I enjoy the more wordy authors too. One of my favorites, Virginia Woolf, wrote prose of great beauty, using her particular kind of magic to still leave room for reader imagination participation in among gorgeous foot long sentences. But we can’t all be Virginia Woolf. In fact, none of us can. Which is as it should be. We can only be ourselves. Write our best. Leave the rest to collective imagination. And hope for the moments when one instance of meeting of the minds or a collective experience reaches near zeitgeist status…in a good way.

The other way of expelling story from one brain to another is through dialogue. I’m big on that one. Some readers love it, others apparently really don’t. The beauty of dialogue…is the opportunity to create beautiful dialogue. I’m far from claiming that my characters’ conversations are always like jewels dripping from their papery tongues. Or often. But sometimes…sometimes…. The things characters say to each other can do so much more than move story along. They tell their own stories of personality, hardship, joy, courage, and honor. You can either have characters express themselves as only they can or sometimes clumsily try to force your vision of their lives into a reader’s head. The reader may resist. The character may as well. Then nobody is happy, fictional or flesh and blood.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to just carry on, writing what I want and how I want, and trust that the readers who get it will enjoy what they’ve read so much that they think about it long after the last word has drifted across the bridge from my mind to theirs. The ones who don’t get it aren’t going to suddenly stop looking for things to dislike. They’ll be the way they are whether I try to change my weird, wonderful way of writing by instinct or write the way I love and keep loving it. So I’m who I am, they’re who they are, and that’s fine.

I think that maybe when you write fiction for long enough, you come to care about your characters as much as you care about the real people that pass through your life. You listen to them. You watch them. If you’re lucky they don’t judge too harshly. And if you’re really lucky they build their own bridge between minds. And hearts. Then you know you’ve done your job as a writer, and what critics say fades into the background. If, sometimes, it doesn’t, it makes you more determined to do the best you can. Better than you can. Being better than you think you can is like armor. Armor that creaks and sometimes rusts, but stands strong. Just be prepared to fall while wearing it. Getting back up is a nightmare, but the entire process of the writing life can be the stuff of dreams.

Here’s a lovely article about Virginia Woolf as a photographer. I find it so captivating that she enjoyed capturing moments of her life through photography, as she captured mental snapshots of her characters’ lives. Her writing is so vivid that the imagery it conjurs can be like stills taken from a movie that plays out in the reader’s head. The photographs in the article seem like a continuation of this, only in this venue it is we who must make up our own mental stories to accompany images that only Virginia Woolf knew the true meaning of. What she was thinking as she pressed the shutter, then as she later looked at the developed images…that is a mystery only she knew. For her admirers, however, it’s a book lover’s thrill to be given the privilege of seeing her world through her own discerning gaze..

This article is an old book and old movie lover’s dream. Names like Woolf, Dickens, Forster, and Bronte are scattered throughout, like beautiful, slow burning leaves flavoring autumn with their timeless scent. Their related books are the crispness in the air. Mr. Rochester and Jane Eyre, Mrs. Ramsey, her family and their guests, Mr. Wilcox and his younger bride overshadowed by his late wife…these are the people of some of my favorite literary treasures. They all leave their footprints preserved in this article, along with the houses that serve, in their way, as characters as well. Some of the houses that inspired stories like Howards End, Rebecca, and Jane Eyre are described in a way that brings back memories of reading the novels and wanting to read them again. My favorite segment is about Talland House that inspired Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. There’s a black and white picture of the actual house that makes me wish I was in Cornwall, so I could photograph it myself and perhaps look to the lighthouse from the garden. Some of the article’s descriptions evoke imagery from the books or scenes from screen adaptations. Reading it is a mental tour through cherished places brought to life by authors with often surprising connections to their characters’ homes. 

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jul/29/pemberley-manderley-howards-end-real-building-fictional-houses?CMP=twt_gu

Anything related to Virginia Woolf catches my eye and I am drawn into a closer look. This piece from Brain Pickings quotes from Mrs. Dalloway, my favorite of her books so far, which gives me a little thrill.

That’s something I love about Wolf’s writing. All throughout a passage, a chapter, a novel, I get little thrills from reading the exquisite beauty of her prose. I have never in any other writer found such consistent beauty. She can take such simple things, like buying flowers or watching a lighthouse as it stands sentinel across the water, and turn them into imagined art. I see what she sees in her mind with my own. My imagery may not exactly match hers, but I see it so vividly it’s as if I am there with her, two minds on literary vacation in an inner landscape. Other authors evoke the sensation, but no other to the same extent as Virginia Woolf.

There’s a deeper element as well. I come to know her characters differently than those of other writers. As if I stand on the porch with Mrs. Ramsay, watching the lighthouse, watching her friends, caring for her family… my lighthouse and friends and family too, while I read about them and care for them.

I’ve read Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse, with more waiting to be read.  This article reminded me of how much I love those books. How much I admire Woolf’s tremendous mind, delicate and fearfully complex at once. Her musings take on an enviable depth and height, with the same quality of other and same that is so striking in her fiction.

I read it with admiration and regret, wondering what more she might have written if she could have lived.

Coffee with Virginia Woolf
by
Muri McCage

Kerri was having coffee with Virginia Woolf.  Of course, Virginia wasn’t drinking any because she was in printed form, and Kerri was engrossed in the deceptively simple life of Mrs. Ramsay.  She sat hunched over the open pages, the noisy ambiance of the city street all but disappearing into the greater mental clamour created by the beauty of Woolf’s prose.  Lingering over a particularly lovely description of Mr. Ramsay’s features, Kerri sighed wistfully.

Just as she was reading of Mrs. Ramsay’s visit to the colorful and enticing harbor, Kerri caught a glimpse of a man’s face as he passed by.  Something made her look up fully, and try to locate the momentary attraction.  She saw a casually dressed older man striding purposefully down the sidewalk.

She shrugged and almost went back to the well worn first edition–found treasure from one of the antique book shops she loved to prowl.  Instead, a sudden flash of his features threw itself into her brain, as if a movie were being projected there.  With a gasp Kerri leapt from her seat, and hurried down the sidewalk after him, abandoning Mrs. Ramsay and her houseguests.

Realizing she still clutched her sloshing coffee cup, she tossed it into a nearby trash can, and quickly covered the distance between them.
“Excuse me. Sir?”

“Yes?”  He turned, with a polite smile.

“I’m sorry to bother you, but have we met?  You look awfully familiar.”  Lame, Kerri.  Lame.

He studied her for a moment, a fragment of the smile lingering to turn to slight puzzlement.  “Why no, I don’t think so.”

“Oh.”  She didn’t know what to do next.  He was about to leave and she’d never have the chance again.

The pleasantly weathered features cleared.  “Ah.  I teach law at the university.  Perhaps you’ve seen me there.”

“Perhaps.”  Inspiration struck.  “Actually, I’m thinking of going to law school.  I must have seen you when I toured the campus.”

“Of course.”  Still friendly, slightly dismissive, he glanced at his watch.

“I’m sorry, but I must go.  Young minds await, and all that.”

“Sure.  Well, maybe I’ll see you around.  If I end up there.”

An absent nod, as he took out a worn wallet and offered her a crisp, white card with businesslike lettering.  “Here, have this.  If you decide to attend here, and need advice about classes please look me up.  I try to help the students any way I can.”

Kerri took the card, barely even breathing.  “Thanks.”

They stood there for another awkward moment, and she waited for him to walk out of her life again.  Impulsively, she stuck out a hand.  When he automatically shook it, she grasped the warm, strong fingers for a second too long.  She couldn’t help it, and he didn’t seem to notice.

She watched as he hurried across the street, then looked down at her fingers.  They seemed to radiate warmth, and imagined love.  She could hardly believe she’d been so close to the father she had only seen in the one photograph her mother owned. 

Once he was lost in the crowd, Kerri went back to her table, but she closed the soft, leather cover on Mrs. Ramsay with her embroidery hoop, the tangy sea air, and the lighthouse across the water.  There was too much on her mind to read anymore.  She was too busy trying to figure out how she was going to afford law school.

Related Post–Flash Fiction–To Smell the Roses Again

Though I have had few opportunities to attend stage productions, I have long been fascinated with all things theater. Fortunately, avenues such as public television, stage to screen film productions, and the entertainment cornucopia known as YouTube can give anyone a taste of the very distinctive storytelling form of stage plays.

I’ve mentioned before that Vanessa Redgrave is my favorite actress. I have come over the years to recognize that my list of favorite actors of a certain generation is wallpapered with veterans of the British theater world. There is a certain resonance and authority among the men and an unmistakable bearing and luminosity among the women that makes the briefist performance unforgettable.

Vanessa Redgrave’s talent transcends anything else I have ever seen. The first time I remember noticing her was when I was very young, watching an airing of Playing for Time on late night TV. I’ve only seen it that once, but I never forgot the powerful story of concentration camp prisoners literally performing for their lives.  Ms. Redgrave was mesmerizing, shaven head covered only with passionate dignity.

Her brief scenes in Deep Impact sent me searching out anything I could find with her name in the credits. I learned of the cruelties of Victorian prisons and developed an interest in Oscar Wilde’s writing from Wilde, discovered the support pillar behind Winston Churchill’s greatness as I watched her play Clementine in The Gathering Storm, witnessed regal suffering in Mary Queen of Scots…and that masterpiece of a reveal as the aged Briony in Atonement was simply heartstopping. If I had not watched Mrs. Dalloway entirely because she starred, I might never have discovered how much I love the prose of Virginia Woolf or been so eager to read and watch The Hours, which I also fell in love with, book and movie. Wonderfully, the titles I’ve named are just a small cross section of a remarkable and enduring career.

I just read this New York Times article , where, with Jesse Eisenberg the playwright and her costar in The Revisionist, she discusses the play and gives insights into her thoughts and experiences. It is a rare treat to discover articles like this, where a person, a talent, and a legend come to light through the written word.

A moving trailer for Playing for Time

Mrs. Dalloway Trailer