Woolf & the Ramsay’s

I’m reading Alexandra Harris’s introduction to Virginia Woolf

She has some interesting thoughts on Woolf’s personal relationship to the characters in the story, here is what she writes:

At the age of 44 Woolf made a portrait of her parents as they were in middle age, looking at them face to face. When Vanessa read the book she immediately saw the significance of this encounter: ‘It was like meeting her (their mother) again with oneself grown up and on equal terms.’

I think Woolf’s ability to relocate herself, becoming equal to her parents, is the reason why she manage to give her characters such complex selves. She can observe them from several viewpoints, external & internal, historic & present – at the same time, and even make this multiplicity meaningful for the reader.

When Woolf looked at her parents she founds aspects of herself. She saw things she needed to rebel against and things which, for better or worse,  there were no getting away from. So when she laughs at the self-involved Mr Ramsay, who leaps around, arms waving, quoting poetry, seeking truth, she is getting an ironic distance on her father and also on herself. She was not going to write concise lives of national heroes in alphabetical order, nor conceive her intellectual life as a logical progression from A to Z (as he did). But Mr Ramsay’s obsessive dedication to his work is hers. So are his ambition, his eccentricity, his desire for protection, and the the tuning of his life to the quotations always running in his mind.

(Alexandra Harris, 93)

11 comments on “Woolf & the Ramsay’s

  1. I know that VW’s mother also died when VW was very young, and it seems that Lily Briscoe feels a sort of anger toward Mrs. Ramsay for dying and leaving her to connect the masses: her family. Mrs. Ramsay is what holds the family together, and I think Woolf is both critical of her and also wants her to form a connection with Lily.

      • I know she was taken care of like a child by Leonard, so she longed for independence. But she had no children, and she definitely believed that women were confined to domestic work and devoting themselves to their husbands and their work because of the oppressive structure of patriarchal society.

        In Three Guineas, she states that it is important for women to find work they enjoy doing and can immerse themselves in. Essentially, she says that the only way women can gain independence is if they stop contributing to the “Society of Men” and form a society of women.

        She also doesn’t want generational differences to separate women. For instance, Mrs. Ramsay shouldn’t pity Lily for not being married and be so condescending of her work. In the same vein, Lily needs to understand that society was different when Mrs. Ramsay was growing up, so she cannot be angry that she doesn’t desire more from life, that she encourages her husband. If women judge each other, there is no way for them to form a society of women.

  2. Your thoughtful question about Woolf’s relationship to the “typical domestic world of women” is somewhat revealed in “Shakespeare’s Sister,” an essay extracted from A Room of One’s Own or is for me, at least. Great post and great discussion.
    Karen

      • “…who shall measure the heat and violence of the poet’s heart when caught and tangled in a woman’s body” is what came to mind from “Shakespeare’s Sister.”

  3. Hi Rosemary – thanks for sharing this link. Jane B has written a very good review, I have yet to read Night & Day, now I really want to!
    Thank you!

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