This was originally meant to be a review of Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way, but….I am not going to finish it. At least, not yet. It is going back on my To Read list for now. I got about 25% of the way through it, and I just cannot get through it.
It is always extremely frustrating to me when I cannot finish a book–especially one that is on the Boxall’s list, as Proust is. I feel that I should push on through, these books are IMPORTANT for one reason or another, why am I not smart enough to understand them? And so, maybe, I read them for a little bit longer than I should. Maybe, I am just not ready for them, right now. I haven’t read enough of something else to get me to that point. My mind isn’t in the right place. I should just come back later. But I just have a really really hard time doing that. It messes up my perfectly organized book charts. And it’s hard to mark on Goodreads. Do I count it as read? Should it count towards the Boxall challenge and go on the list? UGH! It makes me crazy.
I am learning that there is a definite style difference (as opposed to English lit) that just does not appeal to me in French literature. Something in the sentence structure, maybe, I don’t know, but it is so hard for me to really focus in on the story. I don’t get immersed into the pages like I do with most other books. I seem to fight against the language–like a newly-awakened coma patient, fighting against the breathing tube. I am being forced into a rhythm that is unnatural to me.
I often find, too, that French lit seems to focus on the setting and environmental aspects that I don’t consider necessary. I think maybe that is why I often find the writing “shallow.” The clothes are so often mentioned, or in one book, it was all about people’s nails. What? Proust is just all over the place. He will be describing a situation, and then he will just go off on this philosophical tangent and I just cannot follow what is going on at all. There is just so little actual dialogue, so the books are very monotonal.
I think I’m going to add Swann’s Way to my chapter-by-chapter list (more on that later) and see how it goes at another time. I’m not writing it off completely, but I just can’t get through it right now.
What do you think about French literature? Any tricks to get through it? I know some people just LOVE Proust–Virginia Woolf was a huge fan, and so I feel like I’m missing something here.
If you could choose one relatively unknown, underrated or under appreciated book to share with others, which book would you recommend to others?
Another one of my favorite books is The Hours by Michael Cunningham. I watched the movie before reading the book, and I watched this movie over and over again. I was in love with the characters long before picking up the book, and so I instantly fell in love with the writing.
Cunningham hosts three women in parallel–along the plot of Mrs. Dalloway. Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Brown, and Clarissa Vaughan all live very different lives, separated by time and culture, but their worlds are so similar in many ways, and they all circle back around each other.
I love the darkness that hides in the corners of this book. Depression and madness were like a shawl that Woolf wore every day, and the other two women constantly try to shrug it off.
What really causes me to recommend this book though, are what Cunningham writes about Woolf. I always tell people who want to read Virginia Woolf’s work to read this first, and then read Mrs. Dalloway. Woolf’s work is really jarring to read sometimes, but this will give you a (admittedly dramatized) look into the end of her life and you will understand more of where she comes from. Her work is so personal, and I think it’s important to understand her state of mind to really appreciate her writing. Reading her journals are another step as well. Woolf’s mind was incredibly brilliant, and incredibly tortured. She’s one person I would really love to discuss the world with. And I know she would find me absolutely ridiculous.
A Room of One’s Own…
This is one of those books that leaves me a bit mystified about what to write. Generally, I enjoy Virginia Woolf, but this is more an essay or a lecture than one of her novels. It’s also an adventure in feminism, which is a complicated subject for me. Am I a woman who believes in confidence and freedom for other women? Absolutely. However, I am far from an activist.
The essay was an interesting view into the history of feminine writing, for sure. Woolf is extremely well read, and compares the differences between the egotistical “Professor X” to the prose and poetry, or lack their of, from women through the centuries.
Her biggest point, and the reason for the title, is that in order to be successful, a writer MUST be financially independent and have a quiet room in which to write. This reflects in her own life–she took odd jobs to earn money separately from her husband’s income (interestingly enough, Leonard Woolf isn’t mentioned once that I saw in this entire book) to supplement her book revenue, until she received an inheritance from her aunt. She also had a room to herself to write, in which she spent several hours a day. She says several times in her essay that women throughout history are poor–as in having their own incomes–in comparison to men, and so they can never be as successful in writing. They also have a much more difficult time being alone. Travelling is less common, so their experiences are narrower. And, in her conclusion, she implores her fellow modern woman to stop having 10-12 children; to limit herself to 2-3 so she has more time to write. That may have been my favorite quote in the whole thing, I won’t lie to you.
All in all, I feel this is an important work, if not the most exciting one, especially if you are a Virginia Woolf fan. It definitely shows her state of mind and beliefs about her occupation. It also shows the state of the literature environment of the time and what she was competing against.
Do you have a favorite VW work?
Imaginatively she is of the highest importance; practically she is completely insignificant. She pervades poetry from cover to cover; she is all but absent from history. She dominates the lives of kings and conquerors in fiction; in fact she was the slave on any boy whose parents forced a ring up on her finger. Some of the most inspired words, some of the most profound thoughts in literature fall from her lips; in real life she could hardly read, could scarcely spell, and was the property of her husband.
Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own