Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Short Stories on Wednesdays - A Society by Virginia Woolf


I have decided to join a weekly short story group. As you may remember, I used to post occasionally on Short Story Monday, hosted by The Book Mine Set, but it became clear over time that Mondays don't work for me. When I saw this button today on the From Kafka to Kindergarten blog, I clicked and arrived at Bread Crumb Reads the host for this event. I think maybe Wednesdays will work out better for me to read one and post about it. I love short stories, but sadly just don't take the time away from my other reading to read them. Short Stories on Wednesdays may be just the prompt to encourage me. We'll see what happens, but for now I am quite excited about this. Plus, I love the button, don't you?

I'm beginning this new adventure with a short story by Virginia Woolf from a collection called Monday or Tuesday which was a most generous and kindly gift from a fellow blogger, Jeff and his wife, Janet.

The story is called A Society and it has the most amazing premise, especially for one who loves to read. Poll's father left her a 'fortune in his will, but on condition that she read all the books in the London Library.' We readers might think this is an easy way to become rich, but on reflection it could be more troublesome than we at first realize. What genres do you absolutely hate? If the only books were of that genre, you might not ever read. This stipulation in the will could turn out to be horrible - like the worst literature class ever.

After this promising premise, the story went off in a different direction. What I thought was going to be about books and reading turned into a discussion about men and women among this small group of women friends. After Poll read them passages that seemed ridiculous, they began to ponder the genius of men. They had always assumed that women bore children and men wrote books. The quality of the written works gave them pause. Has it been a waste of time for women to bring such creatures as men into the world? They each go off to a different male bastion - the Navy, Cambridge and Oxford, etc. - to see what successes, what progress has been made. After five years time, they come together to talk over their findings.

Such an odd little story. I can see its feminist idea, but what a strange way to go about it. I did enjoy little moments when authors were noted. Elizabeth has 'dressed as a man and been taken for a reviewer.'
"I have read new books pretty steadily for the past five years," said she. "Mr. Wells is the most popular living writer; then comes Mr. Arnold Bennett; then Mr. Compton Mackenzie: Mr. McKenna and Mr. Walpole may be bracketed together."
If I spent some time, I'm sure I could find Virginia Woolf's opinion of them all.

One of the women Eleanor asks:
"Now no woman has ever been an artist, has she, Poll?"
"JaneAusten-CharlotteBronte-GeorgeEliot," cried Poll, like a man crying muffins in a back street.
I fear there are still little pockets of men in the higher echelons of education who believe these are the only women writers of quality. And here may be the saddest thing about the little story - that some ninety years on, this state of mind still exists.

A Society may be read in its entirety here. I found it unsettling, and I think I may have to read it a few times before I can grasp what Virginia is really saying. There's an interesting and well-written interpretation of this story here.
And please do read the comment as well because it offers another view.

13 comments:

  1. This does sound like a strange story. Have only read a couple by Woolf, but I've bookmarked this to read later.

    I love short stories, too, but have a hard time posting on Mondays in general. Once we settle into our fall routines, I may give Wednesdays a try.

    Your header photo is lovely, Nan, as is the new font. Looks like you've been doing some redecorating ;-)

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  2. Unfortunately, there are men, even today, who believe there are no worthy women writers at all. Remember V.S.Naipaul and his ridiculous rant? http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/jun/02/vs-naipaul-jane-austen-women-writers

    I have been reading some of Woolf's short stories and rather like them. Will definitely check this out.

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  3. Nan - thank you so much for this - with a link to read the story. It does sound fascinating, and your thoughts about what VW was thinking are intriguing. I also have to say I just love the photos you put on your masthead. thank you.

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  4. And here may be the saddest thing about the little story - that some ninety years on, this state of mind still exists.

    True - and some of them dismiss Austen and Bronte as "chicklit" (maybe not academics, but some men who consider themselves well-read). Regardless of what one thinks of chicklit as a genre, they don't seem to be aware of the fact that these authors have had many male readers and have influenced male authors (especially Austen who shaped the modern novel as we know it) - but then again, the closest they may have come to Austen is watching one of the movie adaptations of her books at the request of a wife or girlfriend.

    However, I have met a couple of guys recently who love reading and who raved about Eudora Welty and Katherine Anne Porter (and who have also read and enjoyed Austen and Lucy Maud Montgomery... I was thrilled!)

    Thanks for sharing this review. I have become an avid reader of short stories this past year and am slowly posting thoughts on what I've read on my blog too (to be compiled eventually into a list). A Virginia Woolf story I've recently enjoyed is "Solid Objects" - at some point soon I'll be writing about it. It's a strange, beautiful story that seems to be largely about obsessions and the odd paths our ambitions may follow.

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  5. Thank you, Pamela, my fellow VW fan!

    JoAnn, I'm so pleased you came by since I know you like short stories, too. I have an idea to put all my collections in one place in the house. Thanks for your words about the blog look. I have fun with it.

    Che, I did read this and it made me sick. I had never read his work and certainly won't now. I wrote about Virginia's Haunted House here, if you are interested. How I loved it.

    http://lettersfromahillfarm.blogspot.com/2010/01/short-story-mondaya-haunted-house-by.html

    Thanks, Pat. I do love this time of year.

    HKatz, I am just grateful that when I was in college, they were beginning to recognize Virginia! It's funny this male/female reader thing. Even in middle school it is fully expected that girls will read 'boy books' but boys will rarely, rarely read a 'girl book.' So strange. Thanks for your words. I shall look into Strange Objects. There's a blog entry here about it, which I bet you've already read:

    http://breadcrumbreads.blogspot.com/2011/07/woolf-and-sorrentino.html

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  6. RE: the respect accorded to women writers:

    I once had a literature professor who said there's a reason so many excellent mystery writers are women (Dorothy Sayers, Dame Agatha, Ngaio Marsh, Deborah Crombie, Hazel Holt, PD James, Anne Perry, etc. etc. ) -- Women get so tired of being put down and find it's much more satisfying to kill someone in print, than it is to spend time behind bars for doing the actual deed!

    Canadian Chickadee

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  7. I'm currently reading Woolf's Mrs Dalloway. I never expected to like it, but I find myself really drawn in and taking quite easily to Woolf's writing. With this in mind, and the premise of the above short story, I think I would love to give this a try! I'll be bookmarking this short story for a later date.:)

    As regards women writers...I hadn't realised they was a bit no-no against them by male academicians. In the college where I studied, our male professors admired the women writers a great deal - from Austen to the Brontes and George Eliot to Woolf to Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. It's sad to hear that men can be so dismissive of good writing just because a woman wrote it.

    I recently finished Gone with the Wind - an amazing and brilliant book. I wondered why such a book is marketed as a love story when it is really so much more. It got me thinking of all the 'love stories' men have been writing for centuries!....and they're literary works, eh?

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  8. Hi Nan! Just wanted to tell you I love your Header Photo-just wonderful!!

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  9. Canadian Chickadee, very, very, very funny!

    Risa, Mrs. Dalloway is one of my favorite, favorite books of all time. I bet I've read it maybe 3 or 4 times. How I love it. I made a little note once:
    'This book feels like real life - the way we notice things during a day, and
    how they remind us of something, and then we think about that for a while.'

    I think you're right about GWTW. It is way more than a love story. There's so much in that book.

    Thanks so much for offering the Short Stories on Wednesdays.

    Thank you, Sherri. The mornings are often like this now.

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  10. I love short stories too but I'm not sure about this one. It does seem odd. I like the idea of short stories on Wednesday. I'll follow along with you as you post.

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  11. I followed your link and read the story, albeit quickly. All of those references to Shakespeare put me in mind of Woolf's paragraphs about Shakespeare's sister in A Room of Her Own. When I get time I'm going to compare dates - there's a clear connection between that book and this story. Perhaps there's a hint here of Woolf's developing thought.

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  12. Thanks, Margot. That so pleases me.

    Shoreacres, amazingly (to me!) I haven't read A Room of One's Own. :<)

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Now that I am a grandmother, it seems that I am often late in replying to your most-appreciated comments. But I read them as soon as they come in, and I will write as soon as I can. Please do come back and check. I love these blogging conversations. A little addendum - I've just spent quite a long time catching up with dear notes you left me months ago!! I do hope you can get back to read them. And I'm trying to be much more prompt now!

Also, you may comment on any post, no matter how old, and I will see it.