Archive for the ‘Virginia Woolf’ Category

It’s hard for me to believe that four years ago on this day, with a succinct, autogenous “Hello, World!” announcing its quiet arrival on the heavily populated, cyber literary landscape, Archetype was launched.  Conceived originally to chronicle my journey through Chapman University’s dual Master of Arts in English and Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program and provide a forum for peer critique and camaraderie, I promptly posted passages from one of my short stories (“Windmill Ridge”) and my novel-in-progress Time of Death and invited classmates to contribute their work.  I also posted original essay excerpts on Jonathan Franzen and the waning of a literary America (“Antisocial or socially isolated?”), mirrors and reflective imagery in world literature (“Masks, Manipulation, and Madness”), and the notion of the invoked doppelganger in fiction (“The Self We Seek”), all of which I was studying in those first few months of back-to-school bliss.

362px-Th_Richter_Dame_in_der_BibliothekLike any creative endeavor, the site evolved as I did and now reflects my deepening involvement in and abiding commitment to literary and academic pursuits.  In addition to promoting Chapman fiction and poetry readings and publication opportunities, I mine journals and the Internet for interesting and informative local events taking place beyond the university’s borders.  Details regarding local and national writing contests and Calls for Submissions are also posted regularly, which I think my small but dedicated audience appreciates.  Most recently, I’ve added a section for the growing number of my guest blog posts, my interviews, and other places where I’ve stumbled pleasantly upon my own work.

Followers know that I most often post poems and passages that have timely personal significance.  From my occasional struggles with insomnia and feelings of isolation to my simple delight in a book or summer peach, each post, like a journal entry, suggests precisely where I am intellectually and emotionally.  Early on I rejoiced to find pictures, particularly eighteenth and nineteenth century oil paintings, that evoked or complemented the literary piece I was posting, and I now spend nearly as much time searching for corresponding artwork as I do on literature.

Thanks to my passionate professors and their fascinating courses on Oscar Wilde and the Aesthetic Movement, the life and works of Virginia Woolf, female enchantresses of modern British literature, and Gothic and fantastic fiction, Wilde, Woolf, and the works of A. S. Byatt, Katherine Mansfield, Angela Carter, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Edgar Allan Poe were frequent early Archetype subjects.  Posts on Wilde culminated in November 2009 with the writing of my course thesis on The Picture of Dorian Gray (“The Act of Creation,” “Wilde Irony”), while Woolf reigned in the fall of 2010.  (Click on these links to review excerpts from “The I in the Portrait: A Bakhtinian Analysis of The Picture of Dorian Gray and “On the Wings of Angels and Butterflies: The Chaotic Journey to Woman in Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse.”)  My penchant for Russian literature and philosophy ENFANT~1was also soon discovered, and I immersed myself and, by extension, Archetype in Gogol, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Nabokov and began to examine just about everything through the lens of Mikhail Bakhtin.  Later courses exposed me to the intriguing life and works of Gertrude Stein (“Back to Bakhtin: The ‘I’ in Ida), Junot Díaz, Ralph Ellison, and many others, and every newly encountered author was explored here to some extent.

The craft of writing is another recurrent theme on Archetype; “In Celebration of Technique,” “Last Writes,” “More is More,” “Not Quite Write,” “Drafting Perfection,” and “A Sense of Style” are a few of my personal favorites.  However, it is the angst of writing about which I tend to muse and articulate most freely; “Why Write?,” “One True Sentence,” “Bird by Bird,” “Write About Now,” “Demons and Darlings,” “The Reality of Rejection,” “In conclusion…,” “A New Summer of Writing,” and “The Write Stuff” all convey my own grapples with the creative stall and feelings of inadequacy.

With the MA in English recently attained, a few modest awards under my belt, and conferral of the MFA degree scheduled for next spring, I can’t help but consider what’s next – for me academically and literarily and for this site.  It’s no secret among those who know me best that PhD programs in both English and Comparative Literature are especially enticing next prospects.  However, with applicant Leonid_Pasternak_001admission rates of approximately four to five percent at local universities, I’m keeping the likelihood of acceptance in perspective.  Nonetheless, the pursuit of admittance will be next summer’s undertaking and will, of course, be recounted here.  For now, my focus will remain on completing and defending my MFA thesis, submitting my short fiction and nonfiction work to various conferences and journals, and preparing for the Graduate Record Examination.  Oh, yes…and there is still my novel to finish (“This is the Year”).

During the last 48 months, I have published 487 posts about literature, critical theory and writing technique, literary figures and events, submission opportunities, favorite poems and passages, articles of interest, books I’m reading, papers I’m writing, other literary blogs I’m following, conferences I’m attending, and demons I’m wrestling.  Archetype celebrates holidays, welcomes new seasons, and even gives the occasional nod to lunar activity.  Finally, personal aspects of my affective life and literary journey are memorialized and shared (“Write of Passage,” “Cartwheels Under the Arch,” “Pathetic Fallacy,” “Beyond Words,” “On the Write Track”), even when the discovery and healing are mine alone.  The site maintains a small but seemingly loyal band of subscribers and blogroll partners, to whom I feel completely accountable and utterly grateful.  I hope you will all follow me through this final chapter at Chapman and into the next – wherever the next may lead.



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It evaded her now when she thought of her picture.  Phrases came.  Visions came.  Beautiful pictures.  Beautiful phrases.  But what she wished to get hold of was that very jar on the nerves, the thing itself before it has been made anything.  Get that and start afresh; get that and start afresh; she said desperately, pitching herself firmly again before her easel.  It was a miserable machine, an inefficient machine, she thought, the human apparatus for painting or for feeling; it always broke down at the critical moment; heroically, one must force it on. […] For there are moments when one can neither think nor feel.  And if one can neither think nor feel, she thought, where is one?


~ To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, born on this day in 1882


Georges Seurat, 1886

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In the works of Virginia Woolf, puddles often represent a metaphorical chasm between significance and anonymity, solidity and vagueness, reality and illusion.  Frequently her protagonists, upon confronting a puddle, find themselves unable to cross, thereby remaining – like Woolf – locked in the debilitating delusions of their mind.  

On this day in 1941, the tormented Woolf succumbed to her manic depression, filled the pockets of her overcoat with stones, and walked into the River Ouse and drowned.  As a tribute, some of Woolf’s literary puddles are presented here. 


Some cleavage of the dark there must have been, some channel in the depths of obscurity through which light enough issued […].  The mystic, the visionary, walking the beach on a fine night, stirring a puddle, looking at a stone, asking themselves “What am I,” “What is this?” […].   

~ To the Lighthouse (1927) 


“There is the puddle,” said Rhoda, “and I cannot cross it.  I hear the rush of the great grindstone within an inch of my head.  Its wind roars in my face.  All palpable forms of life have failed me.  Unless I can stretch and touch something hard, I shall be blown down the eternal corridors for ever.”  

~ The Waves (1931) 


There was the moment of the puddle in the path; when for no reason I could discover, everything suddenly became unreal; I was suspended; I could not step across the puddle; I tried to touch something . . . the whole world became unreal.  

~ “A Sketch of the Past” (1939) 


I wished to add some remarks to this, on the mystical side of this solitude; how it is not oneself but something in the universe that one’s left with.  It is this that is frightening [and] exciting in the midst of my profound gloom, depression, boredom, whatever it is….  Life is, soberly [and] accurately, the oddest affair; has in it the essence of reality.  I used to feel this as a child – couldn’t step across a puddle once I remember, for thinking, how strange – what am I? 

~ Diary 3, as quoted in The Flight of the Mind: Virginia Woolf’s Art and Manic-Depressive Illness by Thomas C. Caramagno




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While conducting research for a current essay project on identity and self-definition in the works of Virginia Woolf, I keep stumbling over the roots of Sylvia Plath’s trees – the shriveling figs and ancient yews, black pine and seeding winter trees, the diseased elm, and Polly’s dream tree, a “thicket of sticks” with a larkspur star.  With their multifurcating branches of options and opportunities, decisions and offshoots, Plath uses tree imagery to portray stages of self-consciousness, inner chaos, confusion, isolation, and desolation. 

Obviously, these are not the sort of cheerful trees under which you would spread a blanket and picnic.  However, they aptly convey the paradoxical desires and inner conflict Woolf’s characters (and many of us, I would venture) encounter on the journey to consciousness and self-definition. 

My favorite Woolf tree is the one Lily continually moves in her painting in To the Lighthouse.  Each time she is beset with self-doubt, bowing “like corn under a wind” (usually at the hand of Charles Tansley, who insists that women can neither write nor paint), she rights herself by shifting the tree in her painting: “She must make it once more.  There’s the sprig on the table-cloth; there’s my painting; I must move the tree to the middle; that matters – nothing else.” 

Lily’s spontaneous urge to make a shift in her drawing conveys her need to put order to the swirl of emotions and conflicting desires in her mind.  She begins to realize that her vision requires balance and fusion.  Plath’s trees, conversely, are tragic and dark, representative of the deepest recesses of our thoughts before reconciliation occurs.  And I keep tripping over them.


This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary.

The trees of the mind are black.  The light is blue.

The grasses unload their griefs on my feet as if I were God,

Prickling my ankles and murmuring of their humility.

Fumy, spiritous mists inhabit this place

Separated from my house by a row of headstones.

I simply cannot see where there is to get to.

~ from “The Moon and the Yew Tree” by Sylvia Plath


Reenadinna Yew Wood by Nigel Cox from geograph.org.uk, 2006, with permission by the Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license 2.0




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It is necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by.  How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment? for the moment passes, it is forgotten; the mood is gone; life itself is gone.  That is where the writer scores over his fellows: he catches the changes of his mind on the hop. ~ Vita Sackville-West, author known best for her love affair with Virginia Woolf

As a tribute to the publication anniversary of the first volume of The Essays of Virginia Woolf by Andrew McNeillie (Harvest, November 22, 1989), I have posted excerpts from my recent thesis on chaos theory and the butterfly effect in Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse.  (See Original Work or click on the new Angels and Butterflies page tab above.)

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For my first Major Authors essay of the semester, I’m attempting somewhat ambitiously to apply the butterfly effect of chaos theory to the love and life choices of Clarissa Dalloway and Lily Briscoe.  With the premise solid in my mind and supported amply by a week’s worth of fruitful research, the words should be flowing onto the page.  However, like Lily, I’m struggling a bit with my own creative commitment issues and where to begin…  

She took her hand and raised her brush.  For a moment it stayed trembling in a painful but exciting ecstasy in the air.  Where to begin? – that was the question at what point to make the first mark?  One line placed on the canvas committed her to innumerable risks, to frequent and irrevocable decisions.  All that in idea seemed simple became in practice immediately complex; as the waves shape themselves symmetrically from the cliff top, but to the swimmer among them are divided by deep gulfs, and foaming crests.  Still the risk must be run; the mark made.  

~ Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse 


The Pointe du Grouin, France, by Alan Hughes, October 2005

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The third week of my course on the life and works of Virginia Woolf entailed the reading and analysis of Mrs. Dalloway (1925), Woolf’s brilliant and richly complex novel that explores the activities and innermost thoughts of one day in Clarissa Dalloway’s London life and their juxtaposition with the suicide of a war veteran.  While brimming with stunning passages that resonate innumerably throughout, the narrative’s early depiction of Clarissa’s internal suffering and foreshadowing (via Shakespeare) of impending tragedy is, for me, the novel’s most poignant moment: 

She had borne about with her for years like an arrow sticking in her heart the grief, the anguish; and then the horror of the moment when some one told her at a concert that he had married […].  She felt very young; at the same time unspeakably aged.  She sliced like a knife through everything; at the same time was outside, looking on.  She had a perpetual sense, as she watched the taxi cabs, of being out, out, far out to sea and alone; she always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day. […]

Fear no more the heat o’ the sun

Nor the furious winter’s rages.

This late age of the world’s experience had bred in them all, all men and women, a well of tears.  Tears and sorrow; courage and endurance; a perfectly upright and stoical bearing.

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“There are many times, writing this, when I have been afraid of Virginia Woolf.  I think I would have been afraid of meeting her.  I am afraid of not being intelligent enough for her.  Reading and writing her life, I am often afraid […] for her.” ~ Hermione Lee, Virginia Woolf  

The fall semester begins at Chapman University this week, which, for me, launches a sixteen-week examination and analysis of the life and works of Virginia Woolf.  Born Adeline Virginia Stephen in 1882 and a prominent member of London’s famous Bloomsbury Group, a circle of writers, intellectuals, and philosophers, Woolf was arguably one of the greatest thinkers of our time.  Although widely regarded as the most influential woman novelist and essayist of the 20th century, this is the first semester that Woolf has been featured in Chapman’s Major Authors graduate course.   

The study will be fast-paced and intense to provide the time and opportunity to explore Woolf’s most significant works, including Jacob’s Room (1922), Mrs. Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), Orlando (1928), A Room of One’s Own (1929), The Waves (1931), Flush (1933), The Years (1937), Three Guineas (1938), and the unfinished Between the Acts (1941), the novel Woolf was writing at the time of her death.  Many of Woolf’s essays, letters, diaries, and memoirs will also be reviewed.  

While the brilliance of Woolf’s writing is alone immensely compelling (if not somewhat intimidating), of particular fascination will be the study of the relationship between her life and her works, the dark voices that haunted and tormented her, and “the violent moods of [her] soul,” as Woolf describes them in her mid-1920s diary.  It’s an examination I look forward to with great anticipation and slight trepidation.  Like Lee, I, too, am just a little afraid… 

Woolf in 1902, by George Charles Beresford

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“I understood immediately the thrill of seeing oneself in print.  It provides some sort of primal verification: you are in print; therefore you exist.  Who knows what this urge is all about, to appear somewhere outside yourself, instead of feeling stuck inside your muddled but stroboscopic mind, peering out like a little undersea animal – a spiny blenny, for instance – from inside your tiny cave?” ~ Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life  

This summer so far has found me immersed in the insights and writings of great women literary figures like Virginia Woolf and Anne Lamott, whose self-proclaimed neuroses and inner crises were assuaged by the pen and its validation.  What I love most about these writers is their willingness to share the confusion and mess of their minds so openly.  From acute shyness to depression to alcoholism to mental illness, it’s all there; their work is purposefully transparent, to put the darkness in perspective, illuminate and analyze it, or to simply and sacrificially “throw the lights on for [the] reader” (Lamott, Bird by Bird). 

In his 1999 biography The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: Manic Depression and the Life of Virginia Woolf, psychiatrist Peter Dally avows this about Woolf’s own urge to write: “Virginia’s need to write was, among other things, to make sense out of mental chaos and gain control of madness.  Through her novels she made her inner world less frightening” (St. Martin’s Press, NY). 

While my own inner world and mental muddle are undoubtedly far less frightening than, say, the idea of transparency in my writing, the opportunity to become unstuck, peer out from inside the cave, and make sense of it all has genuine appeal.  So back to the drawing board, er, computer, I go…to those sweetly innocuous third and fourth drafts, to infuse more of what takes place in the dark spaces of my mind, and to slay and (gulp) display those inner demons, bird by bird.

Vintage Woman and Bird Stretched Canvas Wall Art can be found at shopplasticland.com.

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No need to sparkle.  No need to be anybody but oneself.” ~ Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

Virginia Woolf, oil on canvas by Vanessa Bell (1911-1912)

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