Virginia Woolf (reading-as-a-writer 12)

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This is one of my Desert Island Books! Every time I read Mrs Dalloway (Virginia Woolf, 1925) I gain some new nugget of understanding, spark of inspiration, fresh writerly knowledge. This most recent reading was prompted by a short course in #WW1 literature at The British Library. Oddly enough, I hadn’t previously thought of Mrs Dalloway as part of the WW1 canon, but of course it is: from the early mention of Lady Bexborough “who opened a bazaar … with a telegram in her hand, John, her favourite, killed” to poor Septimus Smith’s terrible breakdown. Three gifts for the writer-reader? Every sentence – every word – is a gift but if you insist: (1) Descriptions: What could be more perfect than “the leaden circles” of the chimes of Big Ben “dissolving in the air” – or the character of Lord Gayton, in whose hands “ponies’ mouths quivered at the end of his reins”? (2) Control: it may seem like a delightful, mad, meandering stream-of-consciousness but of course it’s not. Apart from the recurring motifs of Big Ben, the “strange high singing” of the aeroplane, and the baton-carrying continuity of the action zig-zagging across London, there is the full circle meeting of Mrs Dalloway’s first loves. (3) Enigmas: the singer (“the voice of an ancient spring”) outside Regent’s Park Tube Station – and the OTT repulsiveness of Miss Kilman (and her not-so-subtle name). What does she represent? Emancipation or repression? Should we pity her or fear her? I’ve also just read (for the first time) Jacob’s Room (1922) – and then followed this up by an overdose of online literary analysis. The central character is supposed to be based on Rupert Brooke, who Woolf described as “jealous, moody and ill-balanced”. (Search the London Review of Books archive for a review of three 2015 biographies and a photo of Brooke looking distractingly handsome, even by his standards). I’m not sure about the Brooke connection; I just know I read Jacob’s Room in 24 hours, I’m bewitched by the concept of a character known only in the fragments of other’s connections – and the beginning and the ending are (in turn) beautiful and heart-breaking. #amreading #amresearchingformynovel

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About Hannah

Author of literary historical fiction set in the First World War. Revising my first book, writing the next, seeking representation. Mountaineer, gardener, traveller, off-road runner. Africa, modern history, coffee, roses, films, book and unrealistic romance. NHS midwife in a former life.
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