May 2016I have a very interesting pair of books here, and what to me is a fascinating comparison. Dorothy Richardson’s “Deadlock” was published as part of her “Pilgrimage” series in 1921, and Virginia Woolf’s “Night and Day” was her second published novel, coming out in 1919. You’d expect to find similarities between novels with female central characters published so close together by two giants of modernist literature … but I found the differences more strong in a way, or maybe just as strong. Woolf certainly comes across as much less experimental than Richardson here, and although their themes are similar, this difference really struck me.

Dorothy Richardson – “Deadlock”

We’re up to the sixth volume of Pilgrimage now, and I admitted in my reviews of the last two volumes that I was getting a bit stuck and downcast. The title didn’t help my feelings of dread much, either! But actually I enjoyed this one – positively enjoyed it. You could tell what was going on and there was what couldn’t exactly be termed a story, but could be called a narrative arc (although the most concrete actual event, an accident, has happened between the last book and this one!). You also pretty well know where you are physically at all times.

Miriam meets Mr Shatov, a Russian staying at the boarding house, and they quickly find each other interesting and spar and discuss literature and philosophy. Miriam introduces Mr Shatov to the British Library and the works of Emerson (this will be important later on) and embarks upon a translation with him (from the Russian, via the French) which gives some lovely passages about the art and process of translation, which I wasn’t expecting. There are also some very modern-sounding rants about factory-style poor-quality translations done by banks of foreigners undercutting the prices of good translations by professionals!

There’s a good description of Miriam trying lager for the first time (yes, it’s even funny!) and her new assertiveness and willingness to strike out on her own leads to trouble at the dentists’, as she finally rallies against the extra jobs they ask her to do – this is also symptomatic of her somewhat awkward journey through life. We do wonder what will become of her.

So, a much more readable and enjoyable book which still needs to take its place in the series but does provide a lot of interest and discussion (I don’t mind wodges of discussion when I know where it’s taking place, it turns out!) and I am looking forward to the next volume.

Oh, and here’s Karen from Kaggsysbookishramblings’ thoughts on the book – her review.

Virginia Woolf – “Night and Day”

(ebook, bought April 2016)

This was an odd reading experience for me, as I had to keep reminding myself I was reading Woolf. Yes, it has themes of women, marriage, and a room of one’s own, but the form of the book itself and the chapters and paragraphs is very conventional, almost reading like something by Arnold Bennett or someone else the Modernists eventually fought against. Although I did have a couple of palate cleansers between the Richardson and this one, they did chime with each other, and I found it fascinating that the so-called modernist stream of consciousness writer was writing so much more prosaically than her less well-known sister in literature.

That’s not to say I didn’t like, enjoy and happily read it. I do like traditional novels, perhaps more than experimental ones, and I loved the story of five young people in London trying to work out their ideas on life, love, marriage and work. we meet Katharine Hilbery, only daughter of a gently satirised literary family whose only real wish is to escape the endless task of writing a biography of her grandfather with her butterfly-minded mother and to study maths and astronomy. She’s pretty certain she won’t find anyone to share this interest with, but she’s lucky enough to have a room where she can hide her papers. We also meet her supposed lover, William Rodney, a boggle-eyed mediocre poet; all HE wants is to have someone to mould and teach, but he fancies himself in love with the distant and rather absent-minded Katharine. She’s admired in her turn by the self-educated Ralph Denham, who lives in an ugly house with a pet raven and writes articles about medieval history: he can be almost as po-faced as William when he sets out endless rules for friendships and dreams more than he thinks clearly. I loved the independent Mary Datchet, who indeed has very much a room of her own, although being in a good and central location, this room is often overtaken by learned societies or just friends who think they can knock on the door at any time.

Mary is reminiscent, of course, of Miriam, earning her living and working out her choice between career and love. Will she end up subsumed into suffrage or another cause, or break free, and does she really mind? Everyone in the book has choices to make: art or maths; history or law; love or marriage; love or career; adult woman or unformed maiden, and while the couples walk around London – which is a rather marvellous character in itself, with the characters’ long walks and Tube journeys around it reminiscent of both “Pilgrimage” and Iris Murdoch’s London novels – advanced theories of love and marriage are put forward for discussion.

There’s a great deal of humour and affection in the novel, not things you’d generally associate with Woolf’s more muscular writing, I feel, but making the book very readable.

There are interior monologues, but not what you’d call stream of consciousness passages; even so, we get a good idea of what’s going on in the characters’ heads, using this more traditional method. And, of course, the characters go to the British Museum and even read Emerson, drawing those threads between my readings of the two novels ever closer together.

I’m really glad I read these books so close together, because my reading of them both has been made more interesting. And I’ve now finished the section of #Woolfalong that looked at the early and late novels, even if I read the later one before the earlier one!

Currently reading … NOTHING! Nothing on the currently reading pile so far! I’ve cleared the decks for #20BooksofSummer, so presumably I’ll be starting one of those at bedtime, although I do have a couple of slim volumes of Woolf short stories to read for this section of the #Woolfalong …