BETWEEN THE ACTS by Virginia Woolf | Review

In Woolf’s final novel, villagers present their annual pageant, made up of scenes from the history of England, at a house in the heart of the country as personal dramas simmer.

Between the Acts is also a striking evocation of English experience in the months leading up to the Second World War. Through dialogue, humour and the passionate musings of the characters, Virginia Woolf explores how a community is formed (and scattered) over time. The tableau, a series of scenes from English history, and the private dramas that go on between the acts are closely interlinked. Through the figure of Miss La Trobe, author of the pageant, Virginia Woolf questions imperialist assumptions and, at the same time, re-creates the elusive role of the artist. {Goodreads}

I think it’s safe to say that Virginia Woolf is most popularly known today for three particular works: Mrs. Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927)and A Room of One’s Own (1929). These are the works I hoped to branch out from through taking a class solely about Woolf’s writing in modernist contexts this term, simply because I rarely hear any of her other writing being discussed. Among the titles on my reading list is Between the Acts, published posthumously after Woolf’s suicide in 1941. From letters with her editor and husband we have gleaned that she thought this to be perhaps her best work yet, although critics have often disagreed and have found it to be rather lackluster. After all, modern reception speaks for itself: How many people not studying literature today have actually read Between the Acts? Clearly, history has not favored it.

Yet I adore this novel.

A key component to understanding and appreciating the brilliance of Between the Acts is knowing about its context. Although the setting of the novel seems peaceful, it is actually set in 1939 against the backdrop of the start of World War II. A sense of terror, despair, and uncertainty lurks beneath the surface of the seemingly whimsical, humorous play that Mrs. Manresa organizes and gradually comes forth to the center stage as the novel goes on. There is a clear feeling of uneasiness in the audience as their ordinary lives continue on in the intervals of the play–literally between the acts (can I just say how much I love the title?). The juxtaposition between the violent context of the novel and the events of the novel itself could easily be overlooked by a reader without knowledge of the time period but are glaringly obvious and rather unsettling to a reader aware of life in England during Woolf’s time.

As always, Woolf’s writing style significantly contributes to the brilliance of her work. Not only is her writing beautiful, lyrical, and captivating, but she also writes in a way that pulls you in and keeps you reading. Woolf is well-known for her stream of consciousness writing, yet I think the main strength of this novel is her ability to provide snapshots of thoughts and scenes involving numerous different characters. While some characters are followed more closely than others by the narration, she takes care to dip in and out of a variety of minds. This novel is also quite different from her other works in that it suddenly takes on the format of a script partway through and continues to alternate between prose and script going forward. The result is a collage of a novel that feels much like the collage of scenes performed in Mrs. Manresa’s play.

My favorite part of the novel is the ending, both of the novel itself as well as the play performed within it. At the end of the play the audience has their reflections revealed through a display of mirrors, forcing them to look at themselves and see each other for who they really are. Is this Woolf urging England to evaluate and reflect on its own position in the world at the outbreak of yet another world war? As the audience disperses after the play concludes, the characters must decide how they will move forward. The last few lines of the novel tie everything together and make you think about the book in an entirely new light. Are we living our own play? If so, who has written it? Is it already written, or is it yet to be created? Whether or not Woolf intended these questions to be asked, I am grateful that this novel brings them to mind.

Overall, Between the Acts completely exceeded all of my initial expectations and has become–dare I say?– perhaps my favorite Virginia Woolf novel thus far? (I know, I know. It’s a bold statement.) If you’ve read the usual To the Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway and are looking for more remarkable Woolf writing, I highly recommend adding Between the Acts to the top of your list!

What are your thoughts on Between the Acts? Do you have a favorite novel or text by Virginia Woolf? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

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A Classic Couple: Chronicle of a Death Foretold and The Secret History

I don’t often enjoy reading books that are really dark, unsettling, and morbid, but this week’s Classic Couple is certainly an exception. Published a little over a decade apart, Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel García Márquez (1981) and The Secret History by Donna Tartt (1992) both have similar structures as murder mystery novels with a twist.

Answers your question before it is even asked || Both of these novels waste no time telling the reader exactly what death will occur by the end of the story. Rather than reading to see who has died, you’re reading to learn under what circumstances they died. When I first started reading The Secret History a few years ago I was a bit dubious about this format– after all, how interesting could it be if you already know who is going to die? Well, I stand corrected. Tartt’s attention to detail as well as the convoluted, bizarre plot and intriguing characters made the novel even more engaging and interesting than I had initially anticipated. Chronicle of a Death Foretold definitely confirms the effectiveness of this inside-out format with its suspense and ability to pull readers in from the very first page.

Complicates the notion of blame || One of the most interesting aspects of these books is the way they complicate the notion of blame. To a certain extent, one could argue that numerous people are involved with the deaths of Bunny and Santiago Nasar alongside those who literally, physically killed them. A sense of communal blame is especially prominent in Chronicle of a Death Foretold, in which basically the entire community knows that the two Vicario brothers plan to murder Nasar but no one actually tells him. Should these people also be held responsible for the death of Nasar? Should they be considered accomplices in this crime? Or are they simply bystanders trying to do their best to stay out of trouble? These are the sort of questions that make these kinds of novels so difficult to put down.

Still surprising and suspenseful || Despite the large amount of information presented in the beginning, these novels still manage to be surprising and suspenseful. In particular, I was taken aback by how unexpected the deaths felt at the end even though I had plenty of warning ahead of time that they were coming. I think convoluted plots play a role in this surprising feeling (particularly in the case of The Secret History, in which many bizarre events occur), as do the gory details and the suddenness of the event after so much leading up to it. All at once what was a mere story for so long abruptly becomes reality, and the brutal force of the death is hard to swallow.

If you’re ever in the mood for a different kind of murder mystery, definitely check out these haunting, dark, lyrically written novels!

Click here to check out other Classic Couples from past posts.

What are your thoughts on these books? What other books could they be paired with? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

A Year of Oxford Reading Lists | Holly Goes Abroad

What do we have here? A Holly Goes Abroad post on a Wednesday?! Indeed. A few weeks ago someone commented asking if I could share all of my required reading lists from my year studying at Oxford, so that’s what I’m going to do today. I’m posting this in the middle of the week because it’s more about books than the traveling aspect itself… besides, I have so many of these abroad posts that I want to write and not enough Sundays to post them on!

Here’s how my required reading works: about a month before each term begins I get reading lists for the primary and secondary tutorials I’ll be taking next (primary meets every week, secondary meets every other). I usually try to read all of those books during my five-week breaks between term because once term begins I’m inundated with mountains of secondary sources (mostly literary criticism articles from JSTOR) which I use to write my weekly essays. Doing so much prep reading is arduous to say the least, but it definitely pays off in the long run because it eases some of the pressure of term-time. To be honest, I don’t know how people survive without doing any prep work at all– especially English lit students!

The following lists are all of the primary texts (mostly novels, but also some essays and poems) I’ve had to read for my tutorials–and yes, I’ve read every. single. one. of. them. (If you’ve wondering how I’ve managed to double my Goodreads reading goal already, this is why.)

Primary: Victorian Literature

  1. Hard Times by Charles Dickens
  2. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  3. Alfred Tennyson, Ulysses’
  4. Elizabeth Barrett Browning, ‘The Runaway Slave at Pilgrim’s Point’
  5. Robert Browning ‘Porphyria’s Lover’; ‘Fra Lippo Lippi’
  6. Matthew Arnold, ‘Dover Beach’
  7. Middlemarch by George Eliot
  8. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
  9. Christina Rossetti, ‘Goblin Market’
  10. DG Rossetti, ‘Jenny’
  11. Augusta Webster ‘A Castaway’
  12. Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights
  13. Henry James, The Turn of the Screw
  14. Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
  15. Bram Stoker, Dracula
  16. Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
  17. E.M. Forster, Where Angels Fear to Tread

Secondary: William Faulkner

  1. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
  2. Light in August by William Faulkner
  3. Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner
  4. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
  5. Intruder in the Dust by William Faulkner

Primary: English Literature 1910-Present

  1. Ann Veronica by H.G. Wells
  2. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
  3. Not So Quiet: Stepdaughters of War by Helen Zenna Smith
  4. “Peace” by Rupert Brooke
  5. “Glory to Women” by Siegfried Sassoon
  6. “Anthem for Doomed Youth” by Wilfred Owen
  7. “Dulce et decorum est” by Wilfred Owen
  8. Nightwood by Djuna Barnes
  9. Night by Eli Wiesel
  10. Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
  11. On Beauty by Zadie Smith
  12. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Secondary: Writing Feminisms

  1. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft
  2. Woman and Labour by Olive Schreiner
  3. “This Sex Which Is Not One” by Luce Irigaray
  4. “Fin de Siecle, Fin de Sexe: transsexuality and the death of history” in Doing Time by Rita Felski
  5. Many, many, many poems by Emily Dickinson
  6. Memorial: An Excavation of the Iliad by Alice Oswald
  7. White Teeth by Zadie Smith
  8. Playing in the Dark by Toni Morrison

Primary: Postcolonial Literature

  1. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  2. The Bacchae of Euripides by Wole Soyinka
  3. Death and the King’s Horseman by Wole Soyinka
  4. Butterfly Burning by Yvonne Vera
  5. Changes by Ama Ata Aidoo
  6. The Autobiography of My Mother by Jamaica Kincaid
  7. Lucy by Jamaica Kincaid
  8. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
  9. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  10. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundati Roy

Secondary: Virginia Woolf in Modernist Contexts

  1. The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot
  2. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
  3. Ulysses by James Joyce (only the first few sections)
  4. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
  5. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
  6. How to be Both by Ali Smith
  7. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
  8. Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf

I hope you’ve enjoyed this look into what I’ve been reading for the past year… it’s a lot! I don’t know how I managed to read all of these AND sneak in some books for fun along the way… SO. MUCH. READING.

Click here to check out other posts in my Holly Goes Abroad series!

Have you read any of these books before. What did you think of them? Have you taken courses like this before? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Top Ten Tuesday: Appreciated, Not Enjoyed

Happy Tuesday!! As per usual, I’ve decided to switch up this week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme a bit (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl). The theme is supposed to be Books I Disliked/Hated but Am Really Glad I Read; however, I often find it hard to list many books that I really dislike because I tend to like most of the books I read. I say this all the time, but it might be more accurate to say that I end up either enjoying or appreciating most of the books I read. For me, there’s a big difference between genuinely finding pleasure in reading a book and appreciating it for various historical/cultural/textual reasons. I might appreciate a book’s writing style or historical significance, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I had a great time reading it. Today I’m going to share ten books that I appreciated but didn’t enjoy reading. 

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

This novel is always a go-to answer for me when it comes to this dichotomy. I’ve read this book twice (once on my own, once for a college course) and I just really can’t get past Hemingway’s choppy, dull writing style. However, I do appreciate this novel for being interesting to study (what would we do without all of that bull symbolism?!).

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

I’ve never properly studied Moby Dick in a classroom setting, but reading it on my own one summer was enough for me. While I appreciate it as an important work of literature, there’s just far too much information about whaling in this novel for me to genuinely enjoy reading it.

Basically anything by William Shakespeare

I’ve talked about my love-hate relationship with Shakespeare many times before on this blog, so I feel like this one goes without explanation. (Although if you want more clarification, you can read this post that I published a while back).

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

While I appreciate the historical significance of this novel in light of the Civil War and race relations in the United States, I couldn’t get past the stereotypical caricatures of slaves that this text promulgates. It might have been a step in the right direction back in the nineteenth century, but it certainly is a step in the wrong direction now. This is a case when historical context is definitely a huge factor when thinking about the work as a whole.

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

In general, I am a big fan of Charles Dickens. His novel Great Expectations is one of the books that initially made me fall in love with reading classics and I love his witty, dramatic, creative writing style. While I appreciate Oliver Twist as a work by Dickens, I couldn’t help but be disappointed by how dark and sad this novel is. I’ll be the first to admit that this is entirely a personal preference– I just don’t enjoy reading really sad books!

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

There’s no denying that On the Road is an iconic text with an important literary influence in terms of the Beat and counterculture movements of postwar America. However, it’s frustrating to read something that seems to go on and on and on forever with little structure or direction. I understand that’s the point of the novel… but that doesn’t mean I have to enjoy it!

Dracula by Bram Stoker

While I admit that this novel is really fun to study and write about, reading it always feels like such a chore. Once you get past the initial iconic scenes in the creepy castle, the rest of the novel moves much too slowly for my taste. I feel like a good portion of the middle could definitely be cut out.

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

To be fair, I don’t actually remember anything about this novel from when I read it many years ago. All I know is that in 2012 I rated it one out of five stars on Goodreads and all I wrote in my review is: “This was probably one of the worst books I have ever read.” Holly of the past was HARSH.

Basically anything by Stephen King

While I appreciate Stephen King for being a prolific writer of numerous creative, unique, meticulously crafted books, I just can’t get past his choppy, terse writing style. (Similar to how I feel about Hemingway… can you tell this is a trend?)

Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

I feel as though I would really enjoy this book if I studied it in the proper historical/political context; however, when I read it a few years ago I couldn’t help but feel as though much of the satire and historical significance went right over my head.

What books have you appreciated but not necessarily enjoyed reading? What do you think of the books on my list? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Top Ten Tuesday: Named Novels

Happy Tuesday!! Today’s Top Ten Tuesday theme (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl) is Frequently Used Words in (Genre) Titles. If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time then you’ve probably noticed that I adore classic literature. In typical Holly fashion, today I’ll be sharing ten classic novels with names as their titles. This might sound like a rather narrow, niche topic, but you’d be surprised how many of them there actually are!

What are your thoughts on the books I’ve mentioned? What other novels have names as their titles? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

A Classic Couple: Between the Acts and Station Eleven

I never thought I would be pairing a Virginia Woolf novel with a post-apocalyptic book, but here we are! This week’s Classic Couple features Virginia Woolf’s 1941 novel Between the Acts and Emily St. John Mandel’s 2014 novel Station Eleven. Although these texts are strikingly different in many ways, a closer look reveals some interesting similarities that are worth mentioning here.

Theatre || Perhaps the most obvious similarity between these two novels is the significant role that theatre plays in their plots. In Between the Acts, an audience watches on the lawn as a play is performed before them by their family and friends. The play is a sort of collage of English history, ultimately ending in a display of mirrors that reflects the audience members’ own images back at them to contemplate. In Station Eleven, a traveling theatre troupe and orchestra performs Shakespeare plays for people them come across in the post-apocalyptic future. While not everyone they meet is friendly, the majority of viewers are grateful for the small semblance of normalcy that the performances offer.

Stressful settings || Station Eleven clearly has a very stressful setting: a world that has been destroyed by sickness and seized by corruption, danger, and uncertainty in the aftermath. Although Between the Acts may appear to be quite peaceful in comparison, its context–set in 1939 at the outbreak of World War II- is actually incredibly desperate. Here Woolf challenges the reader to see past the facade of the rather whimsical play and look at what is really going on underneath; in other words, what is literally happening between the acts. (Can I just say that I love the title of this novel?)

Focus on characters || Last but not least, both of these novels place an important emphasis on characters rather than plot. Each cast of characters is wide and varied, representing different generations, socioeconomic classes, and beliefs. Both of these books end in vague and ambiguous ways, leaving it up to the reader to decide what happens beyond the last page. These open-ended conclusions underscore the irrelevancy of the plot in light of character development and growth. While we only get snapshots of characters throughout Between the Acts and Station Eleven, they are enough to make us feel invested in their lives and stories.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this foray into two distinct yet surprisingly similar novels. I would highly recommend both of these books!

Click here to check out other Classic Couples from past posts.

What do you think of this classic couple? What other books would you pair with Between the Acts or Station Eleven? What are your thoughts on either or both of these books? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

NIGHTWOOD by Djuna Barnes | Review

Published in 1936 despite numerous rejections from editors and critics alike, Djuna Barnes’s novel Nightwood is a sprawling narrative of love, lust, and loss. Set against the bustling backdrop of several iconic cities (Paris, Berlin, Vienna, etc.), the story follows a tangled web of characters all struggling to fully express their identities in a society within rigid expectations of who they should be and how they should behave. In his written introduction to the novel, T.S. Eliot describes Nightwood as possessing “the great achievement of a style, the beauty of phrasing, the brilliance of wit and characterization, and a quality of horror and doom very nearly related to that of Elizabethan tragedy.” I can’t think of a better way to articulate the experience of reading such a bizarre, haunting, beautiful, decidedly modernist novel.

Although I love reading modernist literature, particularly that written by American writers, I had never heard of Djuna Barnes or her work prior to being asked to read Nightwood for one of my tutorials. Now that I’ve read some of Barnes’s work I can’t help but feel as though it is a great shame that she is not featured in more reading lists or is not more widely read in general. While the novel’s reliance on experimental narrative structure and a modernist style may initially seem intimidating to some readers, it can actually feel freeing to read such a rambling story. (In fact, some literary critics in the past have claimed that Nightwood should not even be considered an actual novel in form.) You never know where the narrative will turn next– a new character? a new city? a leap in time? In this way, Nightwood is incredibly engaging, engrossing, and captivating.

If you’re like me and adore stories that are motivated by characters rather than plot, then you’ve come to the right place. There is little to no discernible plot in this novel; rather, the text is primarily character-driven with dialogue that almost feels as though the characters are talking at one another rather than conversing with each other. Nearly all characters in this novel struggle with some form of their identity that is not accepted by traditional mainstream culture. Notably, this novel is incredibly important in studies of lesbian literature as well as fiction that challenges the traditional male/female binary in general. Although Judith Butler coined the term “gender performativity” in 1990 in her book Gender Trouble, Barnes had already been discussing the concept of performing gender decades earlier in Nightwood. From masculine Robin in a relationship with Nora and Jenny to Matthew, a man who pretends to be a doctor and cross-dresses in his bedroom, numerous figures in this novel challenge the rigid stereotypes of masculinity and femininity that have permeated society for centuries.

Overall, Barnes’s Nightwood is a strange but remarkably valuable novel that more people should be encouraged to read. In the male-dominated realm of early twentieth century English modernism, Djuna Barnes’s voice is a welcome change.

What are your thoughts on Nightwood? Have you ever read Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

A Classic Couple: Howards End and On Beauty

It’s finally time to return to the long-lost Classic Couple feature! Today I’ll be highlighting a pair of novels that were basically designed to go together: E.M. Forster’s Howards End (1910) and Zadie Smith’s On Beauty (2005). Smith wrote On Beauty as a purposeful homage to Forster’s novel, meaning that there are countless fascinating parallels between them. Without further ado, it’s time to explore this classic couple!

Family dynamics || Both of these novels primarily focus on dynamics between different families as well as between members of the same family. For instance, Howards End emphasizes the relationship between sisters Helen and Margaret Schlegel in the context of their relations with the Wilcox family. On the other hand, On Beauty focuses on the clash between Howard Belsey and Monty Kipps as well as their marriages, children, affairs, etc. As relationships become more and more complicated over the course of these novels, Forster and Smith invite the reader to look more closely at her own relationships with others and how they intertwine.

Diverse characters || Although Howards End lacks diversity in terms of race, it does show diversity in terms of socioeconomic backgrounds and class. Margaret and Helen struggle to decide whether or not they should help Leonard, a man who has lost his job and currently can’t make ends meet. Mr. Wilcox doesn’t believe in the idea of “class,” asserting that poor people are poor and rich people are rich and this aspect of society will never and can never change. Meanwhile, On Beauty contains a diverse cast of characters both in terms of class and race. Smith manages to weave discussions of mixed race families, immigrants, and the rather whitewashed academic setting of a liberal college in New England all into one novel.

Women in society || One of my favorite aspects of these novels is their focus on gender, specifically the role of women in society. Although these novels take place nearly one hundred years apart, there are many similarities between the ways women are treated (albeit in a less extreme way today, fortunately). Nearly all of the women in these novels struggle in some form to find their place in society, be it as a wife, mother, daughter, sister, or simply a friend. In Howards End this struggle plays out in the many houses that the women occupy, whereas in On Beauty women endeavor to reclaim their bodies and sexuality from the suffocating gender norms of modern society.

Overall, I would highly recommend both of these novels, especially read together. I read On Beauty before reading Howards End, but I don’t think the order is necessarily important when it comes to recognizing the many fascinating parallels between them. I love the way Zadie Smith took an old classic and breathed fresh life into it with a modern setting and contemporary issues that we face today. Definitely check this classic couple out!

Click here to check out other Classic Couples from past posts.

What do you think of this classic couple? What other books would you pair with Howards End? What are your thoughts on either or both of these books? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

MRS. DALLOWAY by Virginia Woolf | Review

Virginia Woolf’s classic 1925 novel Mrs. Dalloway is one of this prolific writer’s best known works. It tells the story of a single day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, who struggles with the fact that she is no longer the young woman she used to be once upon a time. Set in the urban tumult of London after WWI, Mrs. Dalloway is a fascinating exploration of what it means to be an adult woman in this rapidly changing yet surprisingly stagnant society.

Where do I possibly begin? Mrs. Dalloway is one of those novels that had been incessantly recommended to me for years before I finally read it recently for a tutorial. This was only the second Woolf novel I had ever read (the first one being To the Lighthouse over the summer) so I sort of knew what to expect from her style but no idea what to expect from the general story itself. I needn’t have worried, though; Virginia knows what she’s doing.

Mrs. Dalloway is a novel rooted in the modernism of the early twentieth century, one of my favorite time periods and literary movements to study. One of the important markers of modernism is experimentation with narration, such as the stream of consciousness style Woolf uses throughout the novel. Although the novel is told through the eyes of an omniscient third person narrator, we nevertheless are privy to the innermost thoughts of a vast cast of characters through free indirect discourse. We learn about Clarissa’s relentless yearning for the past, Septimus’ struggles as a veteran in postwar British society, Lucrezia’s unhappiness with her husband, Peter’s love for Clarissa…. the list goes on and on. At times it may actually feel as though we are hearing from the characters in their own voices; this immersion is the beauty of Woolf’s writing.

Another feature of modernism is a fascination with time. Woolf plays with the concept of time in a number of ways in this novel: the measured tolls of Big Ben over bustling London, the characters’ varying perceptions of time, the constant flashbacks to the past, etc. There is also the fact that the entire novel takes place over the course of a single day in June 1923. This detail is one of my favorite things about Mrs. Dalloway because its bewildering and even unbelievable at times because so much time seems to pass from the beginning to the end. The flowing and fluid stream of consciousness style makes it seem as though a lot is happening when in actuality the reader is just experiencing a lot of the characters’ thoughts. While reading I had to constantly remind myself that all of this was happening in a single day because it just seemed so unlikely.

This novel also deals with many important and interesting topics: aging, missing youth, the role of women in society, postwar British society, the plight of veterans after WWI, the relationship between noncombatant civilians and veterans, mental health, etc. When my tutor told me that I could write an essay on any topic from Mrs. Dalloway I immediately felt overwhelmed. How on earth could I choose just one? Somehow Woolf has managed to pack a tome’s worth of material into a slim, beautiful, well-crafted novel. 

Overall, Mrs. Dalloway is a captivating, brilliant novel that I couldn’t help becoming invested in from the very first page. This may have only been the second Wool novel I have ever read, but it most certainly won’t be my last! I would highly recommend this novel to anyone and everyone!

What are your thoughts on Mrs. Dalloway? Do you have favorite novel or text by Virginia Woolf? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Feminist Fridays: I wrote an entire essay about hair?

Yes, you read the title of this post correctly: I recently filled an entire eight pages with an essay about hair. Since it has a decidedly feminist perspective, I thought I would discuss it with you all in this week’s installment of Feminist Fridays.

For my English Literature 1910-Present tutorial I was asked to read Not So Quiet… by Helen Zenna Smith, a WWI novel published in 1930. Helen Zenna Smith is actually the name of the protagonist– the author, a journalist named Evadne Price, wrote under a pseudonym. The novel follows a group of ambulance drivers from England working on the front lines in France. These women are volunteers from mostly upper-class families whose parents want their children to be bestowed with the honorable “glory” of the war effort. As I read the novel I couldn’t help but notice the plethora of references to the women’s hair, from when bold Tosh cuts hers to get rid of disgusting lice infestations to when Helen ultimately decides to cut her hair after being kissed by a soldier, suggesting a connection between short hair and overt female sexuality. Why was the mention of hair such a repetitive occurrence? I decided to do some investigating.

My concluding argument ended up being that although the women are able to cut their hair short on the Front because it is a liminal space where women perform masculine acts (such as driving ambulances), the Victorian ideals of virtuous femininity lingering in British society prevent women from fully deconstructing these traditional gender roles. In the literature of the Victorian Era, there was a clear link between long hair and proper womanhood. In Christina Rossetti’s poem “Goblin Market” that I discussed in a previous Feminist Friday post, a lock of golden hair is actually used as currency, rendering woman’s body a sort of commodity in the masculine economic sphere. As much as we would love to believe that the dawn of the twentieth century saw the immediate and pervasive rise of the “New Woman,” Smith’s novel shows that the transition was much more gradual.

Why is this important or relevant in the slightest? I think we’d be amiss to believe that these traditional Victorian ideals of what it means to “be a woman” have escaped modern society completely. In actuality, the stigma surrounding “unfeminine” things like short hair still exists today, albeit in less overt ways. If you perform masculine behavior as a young girl, you’re often labelled a “tomboy”…. but why can’t you still just be called a girl? Why must we distinguish between those who perform more masculine behavior rather than feminine actions? And who decides what is “masculine” and “feminine” anyways? This very discussion demonstrates that the lock of golden hair used in “Goblin Market” still hangs over our society’s head.

What are your thoughts on Helen Zenna Smith’s Not So Quiet…Have any recommendations for other works I should read? Do you feel as though hair is an important marker of gender? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY