Part I, Chapter 17 (through "looking together united them.")
“He could almost pity these mild cultivated people, who would be blown sky high, like bales of wool and barrels of apples, one of these days by the gunpowder that was in him.” - That’s me. They’re all me, imagining that I know what everyone else is thinking and my true mind is the only one that’s not exposed and impossible to express.
What a group! As Mona said, “Everyone feels awkward, unappreciated and miserable.”
Do they do this every night? Is there anyone who wants to be at this table? Mr. Ramsay, “sitting down, all in a heap, frowning“, and later “screwing his face up… scowling, and frowning, and flushing with anger“. William Blake (“it is a terrible waste of time… How trifling it all is, how boring it all is“) and Charles Tansley (“what damn rot they talk“), both of whom preferred to dine alone. Lily Briscoe, trying to “not lose her temper, and not argue“, above all else, was fixated on moving the tree in her painting further towards the middle. Mrs. Ramsay, feeling the need to get everyone together, but wondering “what have I done with my life?“, looks over at her husband, and “could not understand how she has ever felt any emotion or affection for him“. What an emotionally wrought scene! Bon appétit! (At least Augustus was happy.)
"Nothing seemed to have merged. They all sat separate. And the whole of the effort of merging and flowing and creating rested on her. Again she felt, as a fact without hostility, the sterility of men, or if she did not do it nobody would do it" Damn, Virginia. That description of emotional labor. This chapter! Already my copy is stuffed with book darts. Each person's flowing, contradictory thoughts and feelings, merging like a river.
And that line, "he would have whirled round and round and found rest at the bottom of the sea." Sarah Manguso has a sentence that says something like (and I know I'm getting it wrong) suicides are always easy to foretell in retrospect.
Mrs. R takes no pleasure in her work (moving people) while Lily B. Enthusiastically plans hers (moving trees) (this being my twitter worthy comment for day 7). Happy Sunday all.
I really enjoyed today’s read. The marvellous intertwining of people’s thoughts and actions. Mr Tansley huffing about the stupidity of dressing for dinner, when really he was embarrassed at only having one pair of trousers. Mrs R amazed that people continued to exist when she wasn’t thinking about them. The dinner isn’t going well though!
Woolf is, of course, wonderful on all the big stuff: what it means to be a self; how art is a form of "tribute"; etc. But she's also so good on the small comedies of social life.
For example, Mrs. Ramsay thinks of how noble her husband is, caring as he does for "fishermen and their wages." Woolf then writes, "Then, realising that it was because she admired him so much that she was waiting for him to speak, she felt as if somebody had been praising her husband to her and their marriage, and she glowed all over without realising that it was she herself who had praised him." Mrs. Ramsay feeling pleased that Mr. Ramsay is being praised, that her marriage is being praised, forgetting that she is herself the source of this praise: I laugh at this every time.
“But what have I done with my life?”, Mrs. R asks. Again questions here about work vs. domestic life, gender roles. The men think/talk about work and politics. Mrs. R has a rich family life. But she waits for her husband to comment on politics. Lily must conform to expectations and be nice.
I love this observation, Mona: "The party continues on miserably. Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay—at opposite ends of the long table—have a silent, kabuki fight.” There are so many “rules” and obligations and ritual to the art these people at the dinner party are enduring.
As I read Mrs. Ramsey’s painful lines opening Ch. 17-""But what have I done with my life? thought Mrs. Ramsay, taking her place at the head of the table...” I wondered if this was also a reflection of the "scrubbed kitchen table" that represents Mr. Ramsey's work. And in today's same paragraph—she, [had] only this—an infinitely long table and plates and knives. At the far end, was her husband, sitting down, all in a heap, frowning."
The gender tensions (awful Tansley) lie thick in today's reading. “The sterility of men” who depend on women to help their conversation at the table reminded me of the earlier phrase I underlined a few chapters back: “the arid scimitar of the male, which smote mercilessly, again and again, demanding sympathy.” So stifling for all; so awful for the women.
And there is so much foreshadowing, an actual ghost story: Mrs Ramsey " now she went among them like a ghost; and it fascinated her, as if, while she had changed, that particular day, now become very still and beautiful, had remained there, all these years."
If Mrs. Ramsey is the lighthouse, Lily Briscoe seems in a way to be Virginia Woolf, trying to figure out who these people/characters are as well the artistic choices for her work, and constantly hearing voices such as “women can’t write, women can’t paint.” So many undercurrents and images in this narrative stream-of-consciousness, I’m constantly struck by the way Woolf conveys how the boundaries between the perceptions people have of each other keep bumping into the reality of each other as they sit at this dinner table.
"But what have I done with my life?" I'll admit that i ask myself this same question nearly every day of my life, and then I must run through the litany of all the things I have done (accomplished) so as to feel better about myself. This chapter, to me, is life-saving. To go into the minds of others and see the way they torture themselves with their thoughts. Mrs. Ramsey--hating her husband one moment, adoring him the next. Lily Briscoe, at the table, but her head inside her painting. The egos flailing and looking for balance. Everybody a hot mess inside while sitting and struggling to say something, anything. I'll confess I finished the chapter already--who could put that one down???
Point of view shifts within a single sentence! But of course the masters break the elementary POV rule all the time (In AK Tolstoy does something similar on a duck hunt among several nobles, even spending time in a dog's mind.):
"What damned rot they talk, thought Charles Tansley, laying down his spoon precisely in the middle of his plate, which he had swept clean, as if, Lily thought (he sat opposite to her with his back to the window precisely in the middle of view), he were determined to make sure of his meals."
Pretty much sums up the chapter's dozen or so divergent viewpoints and all the mendacity.
Again, we see women catering to the vanity of men ... Lily Briscoe enlisted by Mrs. Ramsay to assist with Tansley. It reminds me of the exchange at the beginning of VII, when Mr. Ramsay demands sympathy, and Mrs. Ramsay responds.
Always fascinated by the presence (or the lack thereof) of the servants at the dinner party. Wouldn't happen without them, and yet they're mostly invisible. Mrs. R "helped the soup" and "ladled the soup" without a mention of who placed the tureen in front of her. Perhaps it is Ellen, who later is asked for the second bowl of soup.
Also—such attention to the soup throughout this section, but it seems notable that the type of soup is never identified, especially given the attention that will be paid to the main course. Does anyone besides Augustus enjoy it? The unhappiness ("awkward, unappreciated, and miserable," thanks, Mona!) of everyone in the first part of this chapter seems somehow connected to the soup.
“…the fact remained, it was impossible
to dislike any one if one looked at them.” This seems to encapsulate Woolf’s message. Lily chides Tansley, perhaps deservedly, for his tiresome, quarrelsome condescension. Then his internal monologue defends him: he strives and sacrifices to avoid burdening his family, he’s embarrassed by his incivility before Mrs. Ramsey, he recognizes that his natural place is his room with his books, where the only pants he can afford will bring no disgrace. Wolf’s shifting point of view seems to emphasize that universal sympathy is the moral of her tale.
Mildred's Masterpiece (Boeuf en Daube)
"Aln exquisite scent of olives and oil and juice rose from the great brown dish as Marthe, with a little flourish, took the cover off. The cook had spent three days over that dish. And she must take great care, Mrs Ramsay thought, diving into the soft mass, to choose a specially tender piece for William Bankes. And she peered into the dish, with its shiny walls and its confusion of savoury brown and yellow meats, and its bay leaves and its wine, and thought, This will celebrate the occasion - a curious sense rising in her, at once freakish and tender, of celebrating a festival, as if two emotions were called up in her, one profound - for what could be more serious than the love of man for woman.
Recipe for Boeuf en Daube. From “The Bloomsbury Cookbook” by Jans Ondaatje Rolls
Provençal beef stew does not have to be eaten 'on the moment after cooking 3 days', as Vanessa Bell thought. In fact, it tastes better after it has been chilled and reheated.
1.5 KG TOP RUMP OF BEEF • 1.5 KG SKIRT OF BEEF
• 60 G BACK BACON, TRIMMED OF FAT
3 TBS PLAIN WHITE FLOUR SEASONED WITH I TSP SALT AND ¼ TSP FRESHLY GROUND PEPPER
¾ cUP SALT CURED NICOISE OLIVES, STONES REMOVED
500 ML FULL-BODIED RED WINE • 45 ML COGNAC
2 TBS EXTRA VIRGIN OLIVE OIL
2 CUPS GOOD QUALITY BEEF STOCK • 1 TBS TOMATO PASTE
1 ONION, STUCK WITH 3 CLOVES • 3 MEDIUM TOMATOES, HALVED I HERB BOUQUET, AS BELOW • SALT AND PEPPER
For the marinade
1 HERB BOUQUET: 3 SPRIGS PARSLEY, 2 SPRIGS THYME,
BAY LEAF, I STALK CELERY
OR 3 STRIPS ORANGE ZEST, WITHOUT PITH ½ TSP GROUND BLACK PEPPER
RED ONIONS ONIONS, THINLY SLICED
FRESHLY CRUSHED CLOVES • 3 CLOVES GARLIC, CHOPPED
CARROTS, ROUGHLY CUT • 10 G FRESHLY CHOPPED PARSLEY
TO G FRESHLY CHOPPED THYME
¼ TSP FRESHLY GROUND NUTMEG
⅓ CUP OLIVE OIL
Three days in advance, prepare the marinade by combining all the ingredients together in a non-metallic bowl. Cut the top rump into 3 cm cubes and the skirt into similar sized pieces. Toss all the meat, including the bacon, into the marinade mixture. Pour the wine and cognac over the top and mix again. Cover and place in the refrigerator for 24 hours, stirring occasionally.
Next day, preheat the oven to 140°C. Remove the meat from the mari-nade, separate, and dry the beef pieces on sheets of kitchen towel. Roll the rump in seasoned flour. Cut the bacon into bite-sized pieces. Heat the olive oil in a large cast-iron casserole dish (Le Creuset is perfect) and quickly brown the skirt, followed by the bacon and the rump. Transfer meat to a plate. Pour the beef stock into the pot, add the tomato paste and scrape off all the delicious brown bits from the bottom using a wooden spoon. Remove the orange peel from the marinade and replace the old bouquet garni with a fresh one. Pour the marinade, fresh tomatoes, onion and olives into the pot and bring it gently to the boil. Simmer for 20 minutes. Add the meat and cover with foil. Place the lid of the casserole on top to seal the dish. Place in the middle of the oven for 1½ hours.
Remove from the oven and cool. Discard the bouquet garni and the onion. Refrigerate.
On the day of serving, skim any residual fat off the top. Reheat gently and season with salt and pepper. Serve with basmati rice and peas. Serves 6-8.
Oh sh**, I'm so sorry! I am an idiot. Did not see the cut -off! Actually relieved because .. yeah I thought I was missing something ... the thing I missed was the actual instructions .. sorry!