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Thread: Best Woolf Novel to Start With

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    Pro Libertate L.M. The Third's Avatar
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    Best Woolf Novel to Start With

    I'd like to start reading Virginia Woolf soon, but I don't know which novel to start with. Because I'm new to her unique 'style', I would appreciate some suggestions this time.

    I'm considering her book about Elizabeth Barrett Browning's dog, because I've been reading EBB lately and because it's supposed to be quite simple for Woolf. Has anyone read it? Is it good?

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    Vincit Qui Se Vincit Virgil's Avatar
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    Probably Mrs. Dalloway. I'm not a big fan of that novel but it has a huge following and it's a bit of an easier read than her other novels.
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    the beloved: Gladys's Avatar
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    After a slow start, I rather liked To the Lighthouse. Very moving toward the end.
    "Love does not alter the beloved, it alters itself"

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    To the Lighthouse
    The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it... I can resist everything but temptation. Oscar Wilde

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    Pro Libertate L.M. The Third's Avatar
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    Thanks folks. I'll look into these some more.

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    Pièce de Résistance Scheherazade's Avatar
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    Where Woolf is concerned, the best policy not to start any of her novels and to pretend they do not exist; however, if you feel you cannot do that, I would give Orlando a try.

    It is much easier to follow than Mrs D and Lighthouse.
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    Pro Libertate L.M. The Third's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Scheherazade View Post
    Where Woolf is concerned, the best policy not to start any of her novels and to pretend they do not exist
    .
    And your reason? You apparently have read a number.

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    Pro Libertate L.M. The Third's Avatar
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    In the "Best Women Writers" thread, dfloyd just ranked Woolf with bad writers. So, again why?

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    Dance Magic Dance OrphanPip's Avatar
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    The only Woolf I've read has been short fiction and parts of her book length essay A Room of One's Own, I enjoyed what I read.

    I intend to read Orlando soonish, but probably not for another 2 months.

    Try reading her short story "Kew Gardens" (I checked and we have it here on lit-net), to get a feel for her.

    http://www.online-literature.com/virginia_woolf/862/

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    Pro Libertate L.M. The Third's Avatar
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    Thanks, Pip. I don't think I'll have time for another novel this month, so a short story sounds good.

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    Quote Originally Posted by L.M. The Third View Post
    In the "Best Women Writers" thread, dfloyd just ranked Woolf with bad writers. So, again why?
    Woolf tends to divide people rather sharply, it's love or hate for many. Her style and situation as part of the "high modernists" has probably a lot to do with it. I think that Woolf is a writer of the highest order and there is plenty of brilliance to be found there. It is true however that the stream of consciousness technique/style is not always easy to follow. Really Woolf demands commitment at times, but if you have that there are plenty of rewards there for sure.

    I've read Mrs Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, The Waves and various essays and other things by her. Of the novels I've read I'd certainly go with Mrs Dalloway first as for me it is easier and better than the other two, though The Waves has a very poetic nature to it indeed which renders it quite charming in its own way.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Scheherazade View Post
    Where Woolf is concerned, the best policy not to start any of her novels and to pretend they do not exist; however, if you feel you cannot do that, I would give Orlando a try.

    It is much easier to follow than Mrs D and Lighthouse.
    I feel just the same. It all seems so PRECIOUS, her writing. It is personal thing I guess. I'd say, I wish she could let her hair down, but of course she did now and then, and nothing improved.

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    Pro Libertate L.M. The Third's Avatar
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    I read "Kew Gardens" this morning. But it's so short that I still can't have much to say.
    Thank you for the interesting information, Neely.

    I'm really very interested in A Room of One's Own, since I have a penchant for, and therefore interest in, female novelists. I think it might supersede a novel for my August reading.

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    LM, I'm sure you will appreciate A Room of One's Own - it's wry and perceptive. It's short but not, I've always felt, representative of Woolf as a novelist: put beside her critical works such as The Common Reader it is more an example of her as a thinker, something she would have perhaps dismissed, as she was hyper-aware of her lack of university, or indeed much formal, education.

    Perhaps alexar has unwittingly put his/her finger on something about Woolf's novels in wishing she would 'let her hair down'. I'm not a great advocate of reading the writer's own life into his/her work - I was trained in Leavisite criticism, 'the work, the whole work and nothing but the work' and have never quite got it out of my system! - but I've gradually come to the realisation that it is perhaps necessary to be aware of the circumstances in which a writer found him/herself. In Woolf's case, I think it is advisable to keep at the back of one's mind the fact that she suffered all her life with mental illness and as a result was intensely private and introspective: she examined her reactions minutely because she feared the return of her illness and dreaded its destructive intensity. The negative aspect of this was the tension and inability to be light-hearted and joyous: the positive side was the ability to delineate and analyse transient feelings and sensations in illuminating detail which produced her mastery of 'stream of consciousness'.

    As for which novel with which to begin, my favourite has always been Mrs Dalloway, despite the fact that Woolf herself disliked the novel: she saw Clarissa as just the kind of frivolous, pleasure-seeking, purposeless woman she so despised and was cross with herself for having created such a character. I think she underestimated, or perhaps because of her affliction, did not even recognise Clarissa's capacity for joy (and love) and her delight in giving happiness, both momentary and lifelong, to others.

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    I'd think start elsewhere than TTLH if the motive is to get a sample of Woolf as novelist. TTLH is short, it's an elegy instead of novel, and to me it was merely a thinly disguised autobiography that probably Woolf did on the fly if I am judging correctly. I'd personally be more interested in evaluating Woolf as writer based on something for which she'd put in a lot of time, care and effort which fail to see in TTLH, though it's superbly done for what it is.

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