November’s Autumn Prompt

The August prompt for November’s Autumn is a difficult one for me, it is: write a memorable quote from the book you’re reading.

I’ve just finished Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse which I bought a while ago. It turns out that this is the first book by Woolf which I’ve read, I must have been getting her mixed up with Vita Sackville-West!

Anyway, I really wanted to like this book, for one thing Woolf’s maiden name is the same as my married name – Stephen – and believe it or not it isn’t all that common, in the singular. Also I love lighthouses and this book is set in Scotland, on the Isle of Skye. Apparently, it’s a modernist book and I obviously prefer old-fashioned ones.

It’s quite autobiographical, the Ramsays are based on Woolf’s parents except the Woolf household spent their holidays in Cornwall, where they visited a lighthouse, she has transferred the action to the extreme north of Great Britain. I say action but in truth there’s very little action in the book, nothing much in the way of dialogue and although it’s set on a Scottish island, there’s hardly any description of landscape or atmosphere, it could have been anywhere – or nowhere.

The youngest in the family, James is desperate to visit the lighthouse, but his father in particular seems quite determined to give him no hope of getting there, he’s a ghastly parent who has never quite grown up himself and prefers to behave like a cruel elder brother than a father. The one thing which stuck out for me in the book was the fact that Mrs Ramsay, who is a mother of eight, seems always to be knitting a stocking and she’s knitting it for the lighthouse keeper’s small son. I thought that there can’t be too many women who would be so generous when they have eight children of their own who would always be needing socks too.

Do you know that artist Paul Klee? Actually I like his work, you can see some of it here, he said that when he was drawing he was “taking a line for a walk”. Well I feel that when Woolf was writing To the Lighthouse she took her pencil for a walk and she rambled and rambled, to very little effect, for me anyway.

This is a paragraph from around about the middle of the book, just to give you an idea of the writing style, if you don’t already know it. You might like it, may think it’s quite poetic or something, thankfully we are all different!

Night after night, summer and winter, the torment of storms, the arrow-like stillness of fine weather, held their court without interference. Listening, (had their been anyone to listen) from the upper rooms of the empty house only gigantic chaos streaked with lightning could have been heard tumbling and tossing, as the wind and waves disported themselves like the amorphous bulks of leviathans whose brows are pierced by no light of reason, and mounted one on top of another, and lunged and plunged in the darkness of the daylight (for night and day, month and year, ran shapelessly together) in idiot games until it seemed as if the universe were battling and tumbling, in brute confusion and wanton lust aimlessly by itself.

It says on the front of the book:

‘Woolf is Modern. She feels close to us. With Joyce and Eliot she has shaped a literary century.’ Jeanette Winterson.

I’m not a fan of James Joyce either.

14 thoughts on “November’s Autumn Prompt

  1. I like a little of Paul Klee’s whimsical work (first heard of him through Sister Wendy), particularly Bird Garden. 🙂

    Haven’t read Woolf nor Joyce yet. But I’m currently reading Ford, whose also considered a modernist, I now like his writing a lot, it took getting used to at first. I don’t think he’s quite as extreme as Woolf though, based on the quote.

    Thanks for participating, Katrina!

    • Katherine,
      I wish I had seen the Sister Wendy programmes, I’ve only seen small clips from them, I think I was busy with babies when she was on TV! I have a print of one very similar to Bird Garden and St Germain 6 Junis and Hammamet mit der Moschee.
      Again, thanks for organising it, it’s making me read books which I’ve been meaning to get around to for ages!

  2. I read this some years ago and I did like it – and the passage you’ve quoted. I think it helped that I’d read Mrs Dalloway first, which I prefer. I like the ‘stream of consciousness’ style. I haven’t read any others of hers, apart from some of her essays. I’ve tried some of Joyce’s books, but I’m not a fan. I’m not keen on Klee – sorry.

    • Margaret,
      I’m going to read Mrs Dalloway at some point anyway. I’m not keen on the stream of consciousness style because it reminds me too much of a few members of my family who spoke like that, every second filled with a running commentary – very wearing. I must admit that I did get used to the style of writing eventually.
      Oh, don’t apologise for not liking Klee, I like all sorts of artists, visiting art galleries is a bit of a hobby. I’m intrigued (nosey) to know who you do like as I know you’re arty yourself.

      • I like all sorts of artists too. I like the Impressionists and other 19th century painters, such as Turner & Van Gogh. I also like some of the Pre Raphaelites and L S Lowry – lots more. I’ve been doing posts on some of my favourite paintings for ABC Wednesday posts, along with other favourite things.

        • Margaret,
          Now you mention it – I’ve seen those posts but I didn’t realise it was an ABC thing. I’m with you on all those you mentioned, in fact I’ve got something of them all on my walls – and Redoute, Arthur Rackham, Scottish colourists, Frank Loyd Wright, 1930s railway posters … too much actually.

  3. I really struggled to finish To the Lighthouse and the quote you chose really underscores why. As she rambles, my mind also rambled and I had the hardest time focusing on her words.

    • Jane,
      I was just glad that it is quite a slim volume, compared with other ‘classics’. I’m also glad that I’m not the only one who has had that reaction to the book!

  4. I tried reading Mrs Dalloway and failed … Woolf is really tough stuff. But if you try Night and Day it is quite an easy and plesant read. Interestingly Woolf dismissed N and D as too old-fashioned (being contemptuous of the Victorians). I think we 21st century readers are more appreciative of the Victorians compared to the early modernists.

    • Caroline,
      That’s very interesting, thanks, I will give Night and Day a go. I suppose people tend to despise whatever was ‘all the go’ for the older generation. I know that a lot of the 1930s-1950s writers who are now being read enthusiastically were definitely thought of as old hat not all that long ago. Thanks for dropping by.

  5. This book has never appealed to me as I’m not a fan of books written in the stream of consciousness style, but I did read Orlando last year and enjoyed it. I found it much easier to read than I had expected. Maybe you’d have better luck with that one.

    • Helen,
      Thanks, I’ll bear that in mind and give it a go sometime. I have so many books in my pile at the moment so unless I fall over a Woolf at the library I’ll probably leave it a while before I read any more.

  6. I’m reading Mrs Dalloway now. It’s my first VW and I’m enjoying it far more than I thought I would. I actually like the quote you chose – I love words woven into vivid imagery although I guess too much would become tiresome. I’ll have to read this sometime.

    • Cat,
      The thing about The Lighthouse is that as far as I’m concerned she didn’t manage to describe a Scottish island, and I like to know a lot about the location and setting. I’m going to read Mrs Dalloway sometime, hoping I prefer that one. Thanks for dropping by!

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