Part I, Chapters 13-16
Nothing to it, dinner for “15” (Mona: was Mildred included in the 15?), including Lily Briscoe, determined but full of self doubt (why is it usually, “Lily Brasco“ but sometimes just “Lily“?); Mr. Bankes, incorrigible, stubborn; Mrs. Ramsey, ever the mom (sometimes too much so?); Mr. Ramsay, crusty and ill-tempered (Merriam-Webster: a “curmudgeon“); Paul (suffering what “had been far and away the worst moment of his life when he asked Minta to marry him”’, apparently with the encouragement – pressure? – of Mrs. R.), and the all but fearless Minta (“sitting in a tree …”; with what resolve?); the reclusive Nancy, and Andrew, Prue, Jasper (our marksman; beware beloved crows outside the window); Rose, the sensitive little one who loved the pre-dinner “little ceremony of choosing jewels, which was gone through every night“; why did Mrs. R. have negative prognostications? “Rose would grow up; and Rose would suffer, she supposed“); and, also “sitting in a tree”, the “disreputable old bird“ Joseph (with his “very trying, and difficult disposition“) and his crow companion Mary (Mr. and Mrs. R?). The great clangour of the gong called all to assemble in the dining room for dinner. Let the games begin.
Great dinner guest list! I wasn’t keeping track, but I look forward to what others come up with! I’m also intrigued with the way Woolf quilts the endings and beginnings of the chapters into each other and struck by the wildly different lengths of the “chapters.”
In today’s Ch. 13 section, Lily’s sudden moment of perception reads almost as a writing tip from Woolf:
"And suddenly the meaning which, for no reason at all, as perhaps they are stepping out of the Tube or ringing a doorbell, descends on people, making them symbolical, making them representative, came upon them, and made them in the dusk standing, looking, the symbols of marriage, husband and wife. Then, after an instant, the symbolical outline which transcended the real figures sank down again, and they became, as they met them, Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay watching the children throwing catches."
She perhaps integrates a character's movement to signal deeper meanings. Catching a ball, losing a brooch, (just as Mrs. Ramsey has her daughter choose her own jewelry), being afraid of a bull (just before they sit down to the Bœuf en Daube). The small physical movements of daily life move into high relief amid so much stream-of-consciousness. Much like a painter chooses specific brush strokes......or maybe I’m looking too hard for clues as to how Woolf manages to do all of this!
I love the connections you have drawn.
As a newcomer to this lovely novel made up of profoundly thought provoking stream of consciousness, I am wondering if here we see some intriguing romantic plot turn:
This feels to me like infatuation:
"Certainly, Nancy had gone with them, since Minta Doyle had asked it with her dumb look, holding out her hand, as Nancy made off, after lunch, to her attic, to escape the horror of family life. She supposed she must go then. She did not want to go. She did not want to be drawn into it all. For as they walked along the road to the cliff Minta kept on taking her hand. Then she would let it go. Then she would take it again. What was it she wanted? Nancy asked herself. There was something, of course, that people wanted; for when Minta took her hand and held it, Nancy, reluctantly, saw the whole world spread out beneath her, as if it were Constantinople seen through a mist, and then, however heavyeyed one might be, one must needs ask, 'Is that Santa Sofia?' 'Is that the Golden Horn?” So Nancy asked, when Minta took her hand. 'What is it that she wants? Is it that?' And what was that? Here and there emerged from the mist (as Nancy looked down upon life spread beneath her) a pinnacle, a dome; prominent things, without names. But when Minta dropped her hand, as she did when they ran down the hillside, all that, the dome, the pinnacle, whatever it was that had protruded through the mist, sank down into it and disappeared."
("Escape the horror of family life" made me smile.)
This feels like the hornet's sting of jealousy and disappointed infatuation:
"And Andrew shouted that the sea was coming in, so she leapt splashing through the shallow waves on to the shore and ran up the beach and was carried by her own impetuosity and her desire for rapid movement right behind a rock and there—oh, heavens! in each other’s arms, were Paul and Minta kissing probably."
Am I wrong?
I too wondered whether Mildred might be the 15th person at dinner. Her presence or lack of it, either way, says something significant about class within the family.
Only on looking over the chapters again did I notice that all of Chapter 15 is a parenthetical aside. It makes me wonder why the reader needs to take this digression into the story of Paul and Minta (Nancy and Andrew) in light of the rest of the novel (which I have never read before). I mean, I enjoyed the little jaunt, the budding romance, the sudden "manly" behavior of Paul and Andrew when the brooch is lost--but I wonder why I'm taking this side-journey. And I wonder why Paul's proposal was the worst moment of his life--and I'm irritated by that I have no idea how old Nancy actually is (or Andrew). I wish Woolf gave readers just a little more characterization. Just reading the book without any supplements (and trying to avoid spoilers), I had no idea the characters were on holiday on the Isle of Skye. I just didn't know where they were or what they were doing there. (These complaints do not mean I am not loving the book and enjoying this conversation though).
Now that I'm read the incredible Nussbaum essay (thank you, Anthony for the recommendation), I can only see how much characters don't know what other characters' motivations are. Why is Cam running? Why is Nancy miserable in her family? Why is Paul unhappy to have proposed? Why does Rose like doing the jewelry picking every night? No one truly knows anyone's else's mind or motives.
Nussbaum's essay makes me feel like the novel is more a philosophical-thought-and-aesthetic-experiment than a "novel" (not that this is a bad thing). Again, I'm enjoying the experience--just questioning it as well.
Among all the activities of beach walks and dinner preparations, and the searching for a lost brooch or choosing of the best necklace, there is an undercurrent of loneliness in each character. “We might all sit down and cry,” Minta feels but doesn’t know what for, and Mrs. Ramsay reflects that all feelings felt for oneself make one sad.
“It was her grandmother’s brooch; she would rather have lost anything but that, and yet Nancy felt, it might be true that she minded losing her brooch, but she wasn’t crying only for that. She was crying for something else. We might all sit down and cry, she felt. But she did not know what for.” Did Minta feel she had lost more than a brooch by accepting the proposal? Paul too was uncomfortable and saw the proposal as the worst moment if his life. He felt manipulated, which isn’t really fair Mrs R is not responsible.
Mrs. Ramsay seems like a life force, fostering pairings, love, life, increase. But to what extent is she also fostering conventional roles, roles that limited the agency of women, especially. Thinking back to Section IX. She says an unmarried woman has missed the best of life, and she doesn’t take Lily’s painting seriously.
two friends have asked me to officiate their wedding. In looking for good marriage quotes, I'm compiling a list of quotes I can't use during the ceremony for their anniversary. I'll add to the "can't use" list: "So that is marriage, Lily thought, a man and a woman looking at a girl throwing a ball.”
“Did Nancy go with them?” - repeated over and over. Mrs. Ramsey's dread is both irrational/unwarranted and natural fear of the life's impermanence (which will proved up by the novel's end). The whole "kids go to the ocean, Mrs. Ramsey is worried, but nothing happens" subplot seems like another example of VW's theme that traditional plot's are kind of and embarrassment. In most novels some bad would have happened, or there be some adventure the became a focal point. But here the scene (fairly long in such short novel) is just another ripple.
That's funny. I recently officiated a wedding too. I did not quote Woolf. Her view of marriage may be too nuanced for a nuptial ceremony.
...divining, through her own past, some deep, some buried, some quite speechless feeling that one had for one’s mother at Rose’s age.” Children unbury thoughts of our own childhoods.
Mr. Ramsay feels he is, or fears feeling is, inadequate, a failure as a philosopher/thinker. Or so he says to his wife. (Or is this Mrs. Ramsay repeating his statement verbatim or is it her intuiting what he means to say (ch 7) ?).
Likewise Mrs. Ramsay reports she feels inadequate as the recipient of Rose's feelings, because "what Rose felt was quite out of proportion to anything she actually was" and "it was so inadequate, what one could give in return" (p 81).
This line caught my attention: “...however, Lily Briscoe reflected, perhaps it was better not to see pictures: they only made one hopelessly discontented with one’s own work.”
Hmm..an oddly familiar thought. Something akin to the way it can occasionally feel as a writer to read Woolf? At least now I have words to describe how it can feel: “hopelessly discontented.”