Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Two Woolf Shorts

In addition to finishing The Monk over the weekend, I read two Virginia Woolf short stories, "The Evening Party" and "Solid Objects." Both are quite short. In "The Evening Party" we are at a party and we catch all kinds of pieces of conversation about literature and other things. There is a character in the story , Professor Brierly, who, the text's note tells me, is a forerunner of the Professor Brierly who makes a brief appearance in Mrs Dalloway. Neither story or character are particularly earth-shattering, but Woolf shows that it is possible to make an entire story based on conversations. Here are a few of my favorite snippets:

"It's all compromise--all safety, the general intercourse of human beings. Therefore we discover nothing; we cease to explore; we cease to believe that there is anything to discover." --- "When I look at my hand upon the window sill and think what pleasure I've had in it, how it's touched silk and pottery and hot walls, laid itself upon wet grass or sun-baked, let the Atlantic spurt through its fingers, snapped blue bells and daffodils, plucked ripe plums, never for a second since I was born ceased to tell me of hot and cold, damp and dryness, I'm amazed that I should use this wonderful composition of flesh and nerve to write the abuse of life. Yet that's what we do. Come to think if it, literature is the record of our discontent." --- 'It's an easy thing to confess one's faults. But what dusk is deep enough to hide one's virtues? I love, I adore--no, I can't tell you what a rose of worship my soul is--the name trembles on my lips--for Shakespeare." "I grant you absolution." "And yet how often does on read Shakespeare?"
The story is full of wonderful little bon mots. It's the kind of party anyone of an artistic or bookish nature would want to be at. However, I fear I would be the one lurking in the corners just listening because as fantastically witty and profound I am here (ha!), my mouth tends to be glued shut at parties. The other story I read, "Solid Object" made me sad for some reason. The story was originally published in The Athenaeum in 1920. I believe T.S. Eliot was editor of the magazine at the time. Don't quote me on that though. I'm not sure what about the story made me sad. Maybe it was the tone. The story is about a man with great prospects who, while strolling on the beach with a friend, finds a piece of sea-worn green glass. He takes it home and finds it a useful paperweight. But then he starts looking for other pieces of glass and stones. He becomes obsessed and spends more and more time searching for lost and broken things. The story ends with him and his friend at his office. His friend is confused about how he could give up his bright career and he says that he hasn't. Yet, there he is, surrounded by what appears to everyone else as trash, and no work. It seems he has gone insane, but other than his collection, he is perfectly fine. The story is strange and haunting, and left me wondering, because it is never overtly stated, what is it the man sees in these solid objects? What emptiness is he trying to fill with them? I'm not sure I'll ever figure it out, but I am sure the story will hang around in my mind for awhile.