Words and Philosophy of Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf (1) … discussing Dalloway and the nature of VW’s writing …

Mrs Dalloway (MD) … To The LighthouseThe Waves … her mature novels …

… all about sensitive people living from one privileged moment to the next, passing through intervening periods of depression and doubt

Mrs Dalloway (MD) … from metonymy to metaphor … a multi-layered metaphoric stream of consciousness with a certain poetic lyrical flow … a new approach in writing by VW

And then thought Clarissa Dalloway, what a morning – fresh as if issued to children on a beach. What a lark! What a plunge! For so it had always seen to her when, with a little squeak of the hinges, which she could hear now, she had burst open the French windows and plunged at Bourton into the open air. How fresh, how calm, stiller than this of course, the air was in the early morning, like the flap of the wave, the kiss of the wave … (page 3 MD)

Lark and plunge … Life and death … to build up or to close in … these are the two contending forces in MD … Clarissa is touched by both as she moves through her activities in arranging a party on a glorious June day … her parallel opposite is Septimus Smith who disturbs her joie de vie.

Individuality and universality in irreconcilable opposition … each person seeks to be connected to the whole from which that person is alienated by individual existence

… different people in different places at the same time … layered together in an underlying communion … reflected in the individual’s actions in ways unknown … exploring the extent and influence of such impressions made on the individual consciousness …

did it matter that she must inevitably cease completely; all this must go on without her (page 9 MD)

somehow in the streets of London, on the ebb and flow of things, here, there, she survived, Peter survived, lived in each other, she being part, of the trees at home, … part of the people she had never met; being laid out like a mist between the people she knew best (pages 9-10 MD)

nothing exists outside us except a state of mind (page 62 MD)

the narrator is a consciousness born by the consciousness created from the characters in the novel … yet somehow apart … seeing all, knowing all perspectives … in the present as the present unfolds … including the present of the past remembered by the characters … the virtual present of the readers’ experience

unity, reconciliation, communion well up spontaneously from within the characterisation

the narrator is unknown but sensed by the characters … does the narrator have life outside the life of the characters and if this is the case then what is the nature of such individuality? … the vital questions.

VW’s great discovery (2) … ‘tunnelling process’ … to dig our beautiful caves behind her characters … humanity, humour, depth … the caves connect

VW philosophy … miraculous joy of the moment rises out of the commonplace, not from some transcendental source …

How moments like these are buds on the tree of life (MD page 31)

Foolishly, she had set them opposite each other. That could be remedied tomorrow. If it were fine, they should go for a picnic. Everything seemed possible. Everything seemed right. Just now (but this can not last, she thought, dissociating herself from the moment while they were all talking about boots) just now she had reached security; she hovered like a hawk suspended; like a flag floating in an element of joy which filled every nerve of her body fully and sweetly, not noisily, solemnly rather, for it arose, she thought, looking at them all eating there, from husband and children and friends; all of this rising in this profound stillness (she was helping William Bankes to one very small piece more and peered into the depths of the earthenware pot) seemed now for no special reason to stay there like smoke, like a fume rising upwards, holding them safe together. Nothing need be said, nothing could be said. There it was all around them. It partook, she felt, carefully helping Mr Bankes to an especially tender piece, of eternity; as she had already felt about something different once before that afternoon; there is a coherence in things, a stability; something she meant, is immune from change, and shines out (she glanced at the window with its ripple of reflected lights) in the face of the flowing, the fleeting, the spectral, like a ruby; so that again tonight she had the feeling she had had once today already, of peace, of rest. Of such moments, she thought, the thing is made that remains forever after. This would remain.

(To The Lighthouse … pages 113-114)

References …

Mrs Dalloway and To The Lighthouse … contemporary critical essays … Edited by Su Read. (New Casebooks – Macmillan)

Footnotes …

1 … Virginia Woolf 1882 – 1941

Father Sir Leslie Stephen …educated by her father’s magnificent library … member of ‘The Bloomsbury Group’ … lived in the cultured world of the London intelligensia… bisexual … relationship with poet Vita Sackville-West … worked with husband Leonard to found the Hogarth Press … depressive – suicided

2 … Leonard Woolf – A Writer’s Diary: Being Extracts from the Diary of Virginia Woolfe London 1953 pp 59-60

Virginia Woolf Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia_Woolf

William Blake – Looking at his philosophy

Looking at the philosophy of William Blake (1757 – 1827) Engraver/Artist/Poet

Main works include – Poetical Sketches 1783, Songs of Innocence and Experience 1794, Prophetic Poems Milton and Jerusalem 1804-20.

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour

From ‘Auguries of Innocence’

The following text is taken from the discussion of his work in Nortons Anthology –

Blake’s mythical starting point is not a transcendent God but the ‘Universal Man’ who is himself God and incorporates the cosmos – defined in his work as ‘The Human Form Divine’ – and this is given the name ‘Albion’. In his myth the fall of man is not a break from God but the falling apart of people into division – the breaking up of ‘Universal Man’.

One of four major divisions or powers (called Zoas) is the imaginative power (called Urthona) and is known as Los in the fallen world. In addition to Urthona there are 3 lower states –
Beulah (easy, relaxed innocence, without clash of ‘contraries’)
 Generation (human experience, suffering, conflicting contraries)
Ulro (Hell, bleak rationality, tyranny, static negation, isolated self-hood)

The World cycles towards redemption through these states … the redeemer is the human imagination … culminating in an apocalypse … the return to the ‘undivided condition’.

He did not know it but shared the view of a number of contemporary German philosophers – the malaise of modern culture is essentially a mode of physical disintegration and the resultant alienation from oneself, one’s world and one’s fellow human beings, and that recovery relies in the process or reintegration.

He does not cancel the fallen world but transforms it by imaginative vision. The reunion of ‘Albion’ recovers a lost vision of nature where all individuals are united as one and can feel at home.

In terms of the puritanical, threatening and joyless religion of his day he emphasised a contrary position based on – desires, energy, abundance, act and freedom – in stark contrast to reason, restraint, passivity and prohibition.

In his work ‘the marriage of Heaven and Hell’ he reversed the traditional values. This work is deliberately outrageous, and at times a comic onslaught against a timidly conventional and self-righteous society.

P. B. Shelley – Philosophy from his Poetry

P. B. Shelley’s philosophy (following my previous Post on Love’s Philosophy) …

He went from an external to an internal philosophy based on humanity having the power to combat the sources of suffering based on a personal responsibility within the social framework (a micro view).

Here is his philosophy as reflected in some of his poetry … based on ‘The Norton Anthology’ –

1 … In Queen Mab

… Shelley believed that injustice and suffering can be eliminated by an external revolution that will wipe out or radically reform the sources of evil

2 … In Prometheus Unbound

… the origin of evil and the possibility of reform are the responsibility of men and women themselves. Social chaos and wars are a gigantic projection of human moral disorder and inner division and conflict, tyrants are the outer representatives of the tyranny of our baser over our better elements; hatred for others is a product of self-contempt; and successful political reform is impossible unless we have reformed our own nature at its roots, by substituting selfless love for divisive hate. Shelley incorporates into his secular myth … (i.e.  universal regeneration by an apocalypse of the moral imagination of the human race) … the ethical teaching of Christ on the Mount, as well as the highest classical morality represented in Prometheus.

Note … Prometheus Unbound (from Shelley’s preface) … is a large and intricate imaginative construction that involves premises about human nature and the springs of morality and creativity (Shelley abhorred didactic poetry).

The non-Christian poet W. B. Yeats called PU one of ‘the sacred books of the world’.

The Christian critic C. S. Lewis found in PU poetic powers matched only by Dante.

Love’s Philosophy – P. B. Shelley

Love’s Philosophy

The fountains mingle with the river,
And the rivers with the ocean;
The winds of heaven mix forever
With a sweet emotion;
Nothing in the world is single;
All things by a law divine
In another’s being mingle–
Why not I with thine?

See, the mountains kiss high heaven,
And the waves clasp one another;
No sister flower could be forgiven
If it disdained its brother;
And the sunlight clasps the earth,
And the moonbeams kiss the sea;–
What are all these kissings worth,
If thou kiss not me?

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822)

Here is a love sonnet from a romantic Shelley seeking a kiss … or using his words seeking to mingle in another’s being … very suggestive. Whether it was reciprocated is another matter. But it is more than just a love poem for his  love philosophy underlines some certain basic philosophic tenants in relation to how Shelley viewed the world.

The world is a unity and everything is connected. There is no such thing as a singularity. This is clearly stated in the first eight lines. But more over the connecting force in the way the world has been created is love. All things have come from a divine source and mingle in a natural love with ‘sweet emotion’. I went to a poetry meeting last night and one comment from a reader was ‘every thing in life reduces to emotion’ … and Shelley would have it as sweet emotion … a very positive view of the world and the way it was created and the essence of that creation. It is very much an inclusive view of life – one world. And a beautiful world.

In the last two lines of this section we see a personal plea for Shelley to mingle with some particular person … suggesting that these words were given, or read, to someone special. Another interpretation of ‘I with thine’ is a seeking of a link between Shelley and his environment … we perhaps assume that Shelley feels connected with nature … my view is that he certainly does for he expresses the beauty of the world in his poetry … but he may be seeking a deeper link.

The last six lines explore the close relationships between elements in the universe. This close connectivity is likened to ‘kissing’, moreover he now considers nature in terms of the family relationships of sister-brother … this is how the elements are joined … you may think that this is a little bit poetic in the extreme.

The last two lines say it all … please kiss me … this is what it is all about, for all this natural connectivity has no value unless he is connected likewise.

Perhaps those that have had an intense spiritual experience can equate the experience with a feeling of great love for nature … a greater awareness of the beauty in nature … and on the same basis as that expressed by Shelley.

(I have this vague memory of Prince Charles talking to his plants at one stage in his life … perhaps he had been reading too much Shelley.)

Here is a link to Percy Bysshe Shelley on Wikipedia.