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Virginia Woolf & The Stream Of Consciousness Style: Yay, Or Nay?

I'm about to start re-reading "Mrs. Dalloway". I didn't finish it the first time (years ago), because while lovely, it's so densely written, it becomes laborious. Intellectually, I'm fully capable. But I scarcely have the patience.

Initially (and uninformed), because I live inside my head, I thought the stream of consciousness style would prove to be a favorite. But the truth is that reading this (at least where Woolf is concerned) is sometimes like wading through quicksand. That quicksand is at its deepest only 5' (I am 5'4"), but it's quicksand nonetheless.

I prefer the cinematic style of Steinbeck. But even if I don't read Faulkner, Joyce, or Proust (and I will, at least where Faulkner is concerned), I greatly appreciate what Woolf has taught me about human perception and expression, and her own psychology.

Here's an audio version of the novel. It is no substitute for reading the material, but it's well done.

Offsite Link
by Native West Virginian reply 40a day ago

I'm a fan if it's done well. Woolf did it very well, and her genius with language and knowledge of the human heart makes her very readable to me -- Mrs D and To the Lighthouse more than, say, The Waves, which is even more experimental, employing a handful of characters as SOC narrators. Ulysses is readable; Finnegan's Wake is not. Faulkner is readable but he lacks IMO Woolf's genius with language and I have never re-read one of his novels as I have Woolf's.

Lucy Elliman's "Ducks, Newburyport" is an experimental stream-of-consciousness novel that is set in contemporary America. She engages in a lot of Joycean wordplay and free association and it is very entertaining and worth the work to get through its almost 900 pp. I don't think, however, that is on the level of Woolf's best work.

by Native West Virginian reply 1Last Thursday at 2:43 AM

[quote]Initially (and uninformed), because I live inside my head, I thought the stream of consciousness style would prove to be a favorite.

Oh my god, I completely relate to this! And then I tried to read Ulysses...

by Native West Virginian reply 2Last Thursday at 4:42 AM

^^well; stream-of-consciousness requires us temporarily to abandon our own full consciousness in order to enter the slipstream of another’s, does it not? Perhaps that got in your way, dear OP & R2.

by Native West Virginian reply 3Last Thursday at 10:07 AM

Love how this thread dies at 3 posts, but thanks for your contributions those who did (and/or could).

by Native West Virginian reply 4Last Thursday at 9:45 PM

R4 (and OP?), success of a thread sometimes has more to do with the time you posted it, rather than subject matter.

I once posted a thread that died at 6 replies. Nine months later, I discovered someone had bumped it and it had over 100 responses.

You just need to help it along every couple of hours or days.

by Native West Virginian reply 5Last Thursday at 9:52 PM

The Hours is a hugely popular DL movie and thread topic. This thread should eventually do well.

by Native West Virginian reply 6Last Thursday at 9:53 PM

We had to read "Ulysses" for English Lit, and it was a challenge for me to slog through. I don't even recall what it was about. But then again, I was 17 years old at the time and had the attention span of a gnat.

Many years later, I picked up "Mrs Dalloway" for my reading pleasure and I surprised myself in finishing it in a matter of days.

by Native West Virginian reply 7Last Thursday at 10:05 PM

I felt the way you do OP when i tried to read “to the lighthouse” but I may be ready to give it another go now. I was reading so much at the time perhaps I just didn’t give myself enough time to become acquainted with her style.

by Native West Virginian reply 8Last Thursday at 10:23 PM

There are a lot of very literate DLers and a fair amount of writers and academics here, too. The thread topic is a good one, OP. Give it some time and I hope it will get more traction.

by Native West Virginian reply 9Last Friday at 2:03 AM

I really hate Stream of Consciousness Style writing, even though it does intrigue me as to how it's done. I've tried writing in that style and it just doesn't work for me. To me, the beauty of the written word is in the subtle beats of the style and the prose.

And I, too hated James Joyce.

by Native West Virginian reply 10Last Friday at 2:09 AM

Unfortunately, I tend to never have time to read fiction. I guess when I retire, eh? I have to say that I used to read occasional fiction and mainly read the Decadents who also write in a dense style. While I admire this style, I do find it tough going for a pleasure read. It’s kind of like reading Foucault difficult, challenging and dense, but worth the effort if you are able to find the time and patience.

by Native West Virginian reply 11Last Friday at 2:37 AM

I've always thought that stream-of-consciousness prose tends to be either very good or very bad, and rarely just "okay." As others have wrote above, Virginia Woolf was someone who did it masterfully. "Mrs. Dalloway" is a gorgeous novel—the "quicksand" feeling OP describes is, I think, the ineffability of her language. For me, reading it is almost like wandering through a dream, and you have to accept it as such. It's more about impressions of people, places, and time, which are all woven into a larger tapestry.

I haven't actually read any Woolf since I was an undergrad which was around seven years ago now. I also read "Orlando," though I much prefer "Mrs. Dalloway." I think I may have to revisit it.

by Native West Virginian reply 12Last Friday at 2:38 AM

I like reading her challenging writing like I like reading Paradise Lost—the language itself is propulsive and wondrous, and I cna get so lost in it that I appreciate it for the aesthetic alone without caring so much about the story being told. It's encantatory and mesmerizing. I recall loving her story "Kew Gardens" even though all I remember about it is that it names a lot of plants and follows a snail crawling through them.

by Native West Virginian reply 13Last Friday at 2:58 AM

The only Woolf I have read so far is a series of short stories collected that aren't Mrs Dalloway, but ones she wrote at the same time that were either rejected from the book or alternate versions or something.

The one story that really stuck with me and I enjoyed was about a woman wearing a new dress to a party and going to pieces over it because she starts doubting her choice. It was very well done.

by Native West Virginian reply 14Last Friday at 6:15 AM

R14 Read To the Lighthouse. It's short and magnificent.

by Native West Virginian reply 15Last Friday at 6:57 AM

I attempted to read Dalloway many years ago and couldn't get past page 30. Then I saw The Hours, which I not only loved, but it inspired me to read the Pulitzer-winning novel it was based on. I was surprised to find I preferred the movie. Maybe because I had seen it first? My favorite written speech in the film is the talk between Meryl Streep and Claire Danes, on her bed in the middle of the day, where she explains her grasping of happiness and how truly fleeting it is. When I d got to that section in the book, it wasn't there. Apparently it had been written expressly for the film....thus my disappointment in the novel.

So then I attempted to read Mrs. Dalloway again, thinking I'd be able to get thru it this time. No such luck. lol

Two other novellas I've attempted but could never get thru are Annie Prouix's Brokeback Mountain and Nathanial West's Day of the Locust.

by Native West Virginian reply 16Last Friday at 9:35 AM

^^ Oh, but I loved both movies.

by Native West Virginian reply 17Last Friday at 9:36 AM

So beautiful. I loved Ulysses too. On the other hand I hated The Waves and Finnegan's Wake. Both of them really did go too far into crazy with those. You have to get the balance right with creativity - creativity is that grey area in between madness and sanity.

by Native West Virginian reply 18Last Friday at 9:42 AM

Yes, R18, but to get to that perfect balance, geniuses generally have to go way too far to become masters or their innovations.

It's really the same thing as young people and other animals spending all their time playing, combining imagination and logical thinking and physical abilities, to understand what they are capable of in many contexts and all their facets so that they can function living mundane adult lives.

My favorite musician is Tori Amos, and a lot of people wrote off her music after her first four or five albums, believing her to have "lost it." But she didn't. She experiments with music and ideas and after a couple of lackluster experimental albums, she reliably puts out another work of brilliance. Joyce, Woolf, Picasso, Van Gogh et al. all had similar cycles.

by Native West Virginian reply 19Last Friday at 11:42 AM

Despite my troubles with stream of consciousness and Ulysses, I do think this is really well done, but I think my feelings on this have been helped along by Kate Bush:

...the sun shines for you he said the day we were lying among the rhododendrons on Howth head in the grey tweed suit and his straw hat the day I got him to propose to me yes first I gave him the bit of seedcake out of my mouth and it was leapyear like now yes 16 years ago my God after that long kiss I near lost my breath yes he said I was a flower of the mountain yes so we are flowers all a woman's body yes that was one true thing he said in his life and the sun shines for you today yes that was why I liked him because I saw he understood or felt what a woman is and I knew I could always get round him and I gave him all the pleasure I could leading him on till he asked me to say yes and I wouldn't answer first only looked out over the sea and the sky I was thinking of so many things he didn't know of Mulvey and Mr Stanhope and Hester and father and old captain Groves and the sailors playing all birds fly and I say stoop and washing up dishes they called it on the pier and the sentry in front of the governors house with the thing round his white helmet poor devil half roasted and the Spanish girls laughing in their shawls and their tall combs and the auctions in the morning the Greeks and the Jews and the Arabs and the devil knows who else from all the ends of Europe and Duke street and the fowl market all clucking outside Larby Sharon's and the poor donkeys slipping half asleep and the vague fellows in the cloaks asleep in the shade on the steps and the big wheels of the carts of the bulls and the old castle thousands of years old yes and those handsome Moors all in white and turbans like kings asking you to sit down in their little bit of a shop and Ronda with the old windows of the posadas 2 glancing eyes a lattice hid for her lover to kiss the iron and the wineshops half open at night and the castanets and the night we missed the boat at Algeciras the watchman going about serene with his lamp and O that awful deepdown torrent O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and the pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes

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by Native West Virginian reply 20Last Friday at 2:35 PM


I’m such an amazing writer I’m just going to vomit random ideas into text, and people will declare this bold attempt to convey consciousness a masterwork!

by Native West Virginian reply 21Last Friday at 2:41 PM

Woolf was a snob but she wasn't pretentious. That was the real Virginia Woolf.

by Native West Virginian reply 22Last Friday at 2:49 PM

When I was a teenager I bought a collection of second hand books from a flea market, among which was Orlando. Tried to read it but couldn't go after 5 or 6 pages. At college I tried again and was completely taken. Afterwards I read Mrs. D, The Waves, To the Lighthouse and The Voyage Out. Then, I read James Joyce and Proust, but Woolf remained my favorit. I think I liked The Stream of Consciousness because somehow it echoes my introverted self and the way thoughts are processed in my mind.

by Native West Virginian reply 23Last Friday at 3:26 PM

[quote] Intellectually, I'm fully capable. But I scarcely have the patience.

I'm glad to hear you're capable but unsurprised at your impatience.

The attention span of the 21st century Intellectual has shrunk in this Digital age. Literature is best kept for when we're on holiday in places without Apples and Iphones.

by Native West Virginian reply 24Last Friday at 4:42 PM

I'm afraid of her.

by Native West Virginian reply 25Last Friday at 4:47 PM

[quote] I prefer the cinematic style of Steinbeck.

You're an American, aren't you?

It's one of the hurdles between you and Virginia. Another hurdle is we're living in a different century.

by Native West Virginian reply 26Last Friday at 4:47 PM

It's yea or nay, as in yes or no

by Native West Virginian reply 27Last Friday at 5:19 PM

[quote] Woolf was a snob

She and her husband were members of the 1917 Club (inspired by the Russian Revolution). Her husband worked for the Labour Party.

She was friends with Maynard Keynes who inspired Rooseveldt and his New Deal policies. She devoted her time to teach in the Women's Self-Education group.

R22; I think you're giving a glib reaction to a severely-nuanced writer.

by Native West Virginian reply 28Last Friday at 5:26 PM

I find a lot of celeb biographies and auto biographies use a modified version of this. Their lives aren't that interesting outside a couple high points, so they pad the book with soul-searching, speculation and breathless what-ifs.

by Native West Virginian reply 29Last Friday at 5:35 PM

R11 mainly read the Decadents

Who do you mean? Do you mean those with turgid prose like Henry James or Joseph Conrad?

Or do you mean those other decadents who were quasi-homosexual?

Offsite Link
by Native West Virginian reply 30Last Friday at 6:14 PM

Shtream of conshcioushnesh! Try shaying that shix timesh fasht!

by Native West Virginian reply 31Last Friday at 6:35 PM

[quote] stream-of-consciousness requires us temporarily to abandon our own full consciousness in order to enter the slipstream of another’s

R3 Michael Redgrave says something similar when he said that when on stage he has to enter a waking dream.

(He met Virginia at university and named his daughter after Virginia's sister)

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by Native West Virginian reply 32a day ago

I like her style.

by Native West Virginian reply 33a day ago

Ernest Hemingway wrote stream of consciousness in Islands in the Stream, I believe. Or at least I remember it that way. Didn't Gertrude Stein originate the style?

by Native West Virginian reply 34a day ago

[quote] Oakland … there is no there there.

Stein was a rich woman who may have made the occasional interesting aphorism but her 'novels' are as unreadable as Joyce.

by Native West Virginian reply 35a day ago

It's all part of the general deconstructionism of everything post-WW1, I guess, would that be right in saying? Like, after the horror of that, why do anything the way we've always been told it should be done - how we write, paint, make music, dress, our living arrangements, etc. I find it a very interesting time in history.

by Native West Virginian reply 36a day ago

Yes, but unfortunately the deconstructionism in so many art form after WW11 was bigger and more dehumanising.

by Native West Virginian reply 37a day ago

These are the days, my friend, these are the days it could be very fresh and clean it could be fresh and frankly it could be because it is. 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 1 2 3 2 3 4 1 2 3 4

by Native West Virginian reply 38a day ago

OP, your description of Mrs. Dalloway matches what I thought of Marcel Proust's "masterpiece" Rembrance of Things Past (or In Search of Lost Time). I started reading it last year and it was so meandering and pointless that I couldn't make it past the boy getting tucked into bed and wanting a good night kiss from his mother.

by Native West Virginian reply 39a day ago

I tried Proust's "Sodom & Gomorrah" in two translations.

But the smell of sex was as barely perceptible as the smell of old cakes.

by Native West Virginian reply 40a day ago
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