Monday, July 07, 2014

A Month of Short Stories and Their Authors
July 7th: Virginia Woolf

now finished: F Is for Fugitive by Sue Grafton
now reading: Best Short Stories/Die schönsten Erzählungen by Franz Kafka
and Men Against the Sea by Charles Bernard Nordhoff and James Norman Hall
up next:  a few mystery thrillers and more William Styron

So, today I may be kind of cheating, or at least approaching my July blog project a little differently, because today's story isn't really a short story -- or is it? One is never too sure of these things.

Today's Story: "The Mark on the Wall"
Author: Virginia Woolf
My Rating: A-

It may also be cheating, or simply impossible, to try to explain all of my experience with/feelings about/analysis of Virginia Woolf in one blog entry, so we shan't expect that to happen. But first things first: is "The Mark on the Wall" a short story, and if not, what then should we call a sketch like this by our gal Virginia, or by any other consciousness-streaming author?

I think "The Mark on the Wall" succeeds because it wraps humor, longing, and awareness into one big package of thoughts that carry the reader along on the stream of consciousness. There is no plot and there are hardly any characters, but it's more than just a rumination on life, because the voice is very much a narrator who is doing something, even if that something is mostly thinking. This story makes me think that Virginia Woolf would have been a great blogger. Would she have liked to blog? She might have brought some fretting to the process -- one can imagine, for example, her responding to trolls and getting caught up in some nonsense comment war -- but just in general it seems like something she would have been great at if she had done it. She always found these moments worth musing about, and although she's widely considered to have been temperamentally unfit for all of the poised schmoozing of happy little social butterflies, she still knew people, related stories, and wanted to connect. Bingo! That's pretty much 80% of bloggers, no?

And "The Mark on the Wall" is not just  a flow of thoughts about what the mark on the wall might be, but also a wink-wink reflection on those thoughts:

I want to think quietly, calmly, spaciously, never to be interrupted, never to have to rise from my chair, to slip easily from one thing to another, without any sense of hostility, or obstacle.I want to sink deeper and deeper, away from the surface, with its hard separate facts. To steady myself, let me catch hold of the first idea that passes. . . Shakespeare. . . . Well, he will do as well as another. A man who sat himself solidly in an armchair, and looked into the fire, so--"  (The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Third Edition, 1974, p. 2310)

The layers of writer brain and creation in each paragraph of this story (sketch) are remarkable. With commentary on the past, the future, a ton of the present, and the process of the mind figuring things out, it's like a meta-creation, detailing the process of observing something on Earth and reproducing it as art. But it's also a person sitting looking at the mark on the wall above the fireplace -- and too lazy to get up and see what it actually is.

No spoilers here! You'll have to read the story yourself to find out.

Obviously, I do like Virginia Woolf. A lot of people aren't at all prepared for her when they first read her, so they just have no idea what's going on (which is, simply put, a lot) and for those people I guess I recommend starting with Night and Day -- although you'll have to go back and read it again later anyway once you totally get her more. I read Jacob's Room early on in my Woolf-life, and it became one of my top ten novels. I have also read a bunch of other stuff: To the Lighthouse  and Mrs. Dalloway, obviously, and Orlando, and The Voyage Out, Kew Gardens, A Room of One's Own, The Waves (which by the way is phenomenal) plus some of The Common Reader and Three Guineas...and maybe one or two others. I thought I had read Monday or Tuesday but if I did, I didn't remember much about "The Mark on the Wall," which appeared in it -- but as I said (and many others have said), whatever Woolf you read when you were twenty years old, you really need to re-read now anyway.

No comments: