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Thread: Virginia Woolf - great writer or intellectual show-off?

  1. #46
    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Not sure what the situation was like in 1906, but in my brother's final year at school in 1989, a pair of twins were offered places at Oxford University conditional on getting two D grades in their A levels. They were the brightest kids in their year (I think my brother was next).

    Didn't Jude Fawley try but fail to go to Christminster (fictional name for Oxford) University in Jude the Obscure? I have not read the book, just watched the film. He was a working class man. He had taught himself Latin, which was a requirement to go to university then.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

  2. #47
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    So itīs really the recommendation that counted, prendre! That the boy had a farmer background wouldn' be a problem in itself, if I am not mistaken the great English professor and critic Raymond Williams has also a country background. The problem is outrunning people, that perhaps were more qualified, doing a lot of work to reach their goal.

    How about female students?
    "You can always find something better than death."
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  3. #48
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kev67 View Post
    Not sure what the situation was like in 1906, but in my brother's final year at school in 1989, a pair of twins were offered places at Oxford University conditional on getting two D grades in their A levels. They were the brightest kids in their year (I think my brother was next).

    Didn't Jude Fawley try but fail to go to Christminster (fictional name for Oxford) University in Jude the Obscure? I have not read the book, just watched the film. He was a working class man. He had taught himself Latin, which was a requirement to go to university then.
    Jude Fawley is a very good fictional example of the opposite situation, kev. Jude is a country boy. His ambition to enter the university are stimulated by his school teacher. His few means, if I remember rightly he lost, because of his marriage and separation (donīt remember if he divorced her) to Arabela. He has studied Latin and so he goes to Christminster to get a job and study at the university. But the dons refuse even to consider his request, the nearest he gets to the university is doing some repairs to the entrance hall. This is one of the most poignant ironic and modern novel by Hardy, I think.

    It seems they did a kind of head hunting for bright (male?) students. But how did this work without exams, if you consider the thousands of schools existent in whole UK? There must first have been a list of favorite schools, Eton, etc, where the kids implicidly were disputing a place in the best universities.
    "You can always find something better than death."
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  4. #49
    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    I think universities were a bit different in the old days. Originally I think they wee an arm of the church, and one of their main functions was training priests. For centuries in this country there were only two universities: Oxford and Cambridge. I don't know what exams you had to pass to get to them in 1920. I think you had to know Latin pretty well. I think you applied and they interviewed you. I remember Oscar Wilde was tested on his Greek. The dons asked him to translate a passage from Acts of he Apostles. When asked to stop, he joked that he wanted to see how it ended. The impression I get is that virtually everyone who went there was from an upper middle class background, mostly privately educated. To get in otherwise you had to be exceptional. I think there were some scholarships. George Orwell, who described his family as lower-upper-middle class won a scholarship to Eton school, but did not go to university. Other than universities, there were colleges, many of which have become universities since. George Gissing, who was the son of a dispensing chemist, went to Owens College in Manchester iirc. I think I remember reading he came top in Latin and English in his school exams across the country. Unfortunately he messed up his time at college big time, and ended up being a writer instead of an academic or classics master, which is what he should have been.

    Anyway, back to defending / rubbishing VW.
    Last edited by kev67; 09-18-2019 at 05:41 PM.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

  5. #50
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    The impression I get is that virtually everyone who went there was from an upper middle class background, mostly privately educated. To get in otherwise you had to be exceptional.
    That was also my impression. Thatīs why I was astonished, getting back to VW with due respect, how easily Jacob got into it.

    By the way, did your brother make it?
    "You can always find something better than death."
    Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians

  6. #51
    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    My brother did not apply. He was possibly clever enough to go there, but you have to be very, very clever to go to either Oxford or Cambridge. I am not sure you had to be quite so clever to go there in the old days. VW's family was very intellectual. Being a girl, she could not apply to go to university herself, but I expect she would have liked to.

    I have not read Jacob's Room, but your description of him and his mother reminded me of a character called Ken Widmerpool from the Dance to the Music of Time series. The character's father had been fairly successful in business but had died. His mother had sent him to Eton, where he did not quite fit in, but they did not have enough money for him to go to university. I do get the impression that university was like a finishing school for young gentlemen back then. Maybe that's unfair, but most my knowledge of it comes from fiction.

    Incidentally, I recently read a biography of the author of the Dance to the Music of Time, Anthony Powell. He went to Eton, then Oxford, then got a job in publishing for Duckworth Books, the owner or co-owner of which was Gerald Duckworth, VW's half-brother. Duckworth had a photohraph of VW on the wall. According to Powell, Gerald Duckworth was barely interested in books; it was just a business to him. Anthony Powell himself was far more influenced by the great Russian authors, and especially by Marcel Proust than by VW.
    Last edited by kev67; 09-18-2019 at 06:12 PM.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

  7. #52
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    The first three chapters of Jacob's Room are not so different from a conventional novel. Jacob is presented from the beginning as the boy that doesn't obey his mother, though he doesn't do nothing terrible. In the first chapter he wants to explore the beach and has the whole family looking for him. He is frightened by seeing a big couple lying on the beach and then he gets back. Then the community is described , time and Jacob's mother's relationship to the two men that are interested in her. Time passes: Archie, Jacob's brother is studying Medicine and Jacob is granted palace at the university. In the third chapter he is in a coach to the university. So far I've got.
    I haven't read anything by Powel, but as we say here the world is small and Bloomsbury was probably very influential. But that doesn't mean that they all were artists.
    "You can always find something better than death."
    Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians

  8. #53
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    The following chapters are about Jacob in Cambridge, Jacob and his friends, Jacob on a boat wiht his friend Tim Durham meeting the family of the last, and then having an affair with the young prostitute Florinda...

    But again, this is not a conventional novel. Tomy mind, Virginia is again painting with words. She is creating the particular atmosphere of the coming to adulthood of a young man, conveying pictures of him going to Cambridge without a special vocation or special talents, enjoying himself as most young men in his situation would, developing an interest in his best friendīs sister, having his first sexual encounter...I short a young man who is called Jacob, but he might be called Dick, Tom and Harry.

    The dialogues (I hope Jackson is still around) are often interrupted and they are not always explicit, they imply things, thats why they are difficult to understand.
    "You can always find something better than death."
    Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians

  9. #54
    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Sounds rather Brideshead Revisity. There seem to be two types of university novel, at least as far as the British type goes:

    1) Languid, well-bred, young gentlemen, who speak archly to each other before either being sent down, achieving a 3rd, or leaving to take up a position of private secretary to a man of some importance. These people always went to Oxford or Cambridge and probably went to Eton first.

    2) The campus novel: this is not set at Cambridge or Oxford, but at one of the red brick universities that popped up during the 50s and 60s. These usually involve a lot of sexual shenanigans, and maybe, but not necessarily, left wing politics.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

  10. #55
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    I read Brideshead Revisited ages ago, but donīt remember anything about it, except that I didnīt like it particularly. JR seems not to fit in either of your categories. Up to chapter 9 there is no indication whatever of Jacob taking up any job. What astonishes me is, that coming from a poor family he seems to have no money problems. The encounter with the prostitute is treated with delicacy and subtility.
    "You can always find something better than death."
    Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians

  11. #56
    On the road, but not! Danik 2016's Avatar
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    Still about Jacobīs Room:

    Jacob’s Room was and is, as Leonard Woolf put it, “a strange novel.” It is a biography but certainly not written in the traditional linear, chronological way. It explores reality by looking at it in different ways, the way Braque and Picasso explored reality with cubism. It is layered with different ways of seeing and experience. In Jacob’s room we explore with Virginia Woolf what it means to be known by others through, memory, our absence, our presence, our continually meeting and interacting with new people in an outwardly formal and conventional way but simultaneously with what is going on subconsciously. What effect do we have on people we see fleetingly on a train or walking down the street? They are there one moment and then gone, never to be encountered again. She also explores what resonances a person might have at one moment in time in different places in the world to different people who know him.

    https://virginiawoolfdotme.wordpress...1/jacobs-room/
    The novel follows Jacob’s life, but he is seen mainly at a distance, through the eyes of women who knew him more or less well, and the narrative itself is quite fragmentary, so that the reader experiences the same problem faced by Jacob’s survivors—how to piece together his life. https://modernism.coursepress.yale.edu/jacobs-room/
    A reviewer that didnīt like the book but is very elegant about it:

    Perhaps it is partly by the aid of the novelists that we have come to imagine our lives as sequences, but Mrs Woolf won't have that at all. She provides us with chunks of what seems arbitrary and is certainly not explicit, and leaves us to sort them. There is art in it, of course, and doubtless the unaccustomed reader permits himself to be disconcerted too much by the disjointedness. Mrs Woolf has no turn for the plausible, and scorns the canny. But she does not appear to have much interest in character except as it is manifested in the capacity to receive and record impressions.

    https://www.theguardian.com/books/20....virginiawoolf
    "You can always find something better than death."
    Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, The Bremen Town Musicians

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