Lisa at Eudaemonia mentioned a few weeks ago she was reading Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse, a book picked off my mother's floor years ago to save from donation. I read it, found it murky but interesting and stuck on my own bookshelf. Back then I was not yet living a domestic life in any way, not yet focused on fiction at a deeper level. Passages spoke to me, and I liked how the perspectives shifted, sometimes paragraph to paragraph, because it reminded me of a movie in which the viewer can hear everyone's thoughts aloud.
Thanks to Lisa, I picked up To the Lighthouse again, and was wowed. Within seven paragraphs in one early spot, Woolf starts with Mrs. Ramsay's point of view on her husband and a specific domestic scene, shifts to the son's viewpoint, includes five bits of dialogue, only one using quotes, then wraps up with Mr. Ramsay's point of view. It works, I swear!
Heaven help the woman, of course, if she'd passed that around for someone to critique. What would people say? The rules are such, the scene is confusing; it certainly won't sell. Still, I have tucked this scene and book away as a Guardian Angel, to use Martha Southgate's term for books that show us outstanding use of techniques and approaches we are ready to dare to attempt.
Even when it was published, this book raised eyebrows. It was experimental, pushed the envelope in terms of technique and theme, blending the two together. How do people think, how do they react in life's small situations in a way that reflects on life's greatest questions?
Woolf does offer an answer. As Lily works on her painting, she thinks about what it all means, considers asking the content poet what he thinks. She looks at her picture.
"That would have been his answer, presumably -- how "you" and "I" and "she" pass and vanish; nothing stays; all changes; but not words, not paint. Yet it would be hung in attics, she thought; it would be rolled up and flung under a sofa; yet even so, even of a picture like that, it was true. One might say, even of this scrawl, not of that actual picture, perhaps, but of what it attempted, that it "remained for ever," she was going to say, or, for the words spoken sounded even to herself, too boastful, to hint, wordlessly..."
Maybe one answer writers look for lies in the rethinking, the pushing of the envelope, no matter what anyone tells us the rules might be, so that even if the work is rolled up and thrown under a sofa, it still exists; no matter what, our visions remain.
Thank you, Lisa!
Wednesday, August 29, 2007