Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Book Review - "A Room of One's Own" by Virginia Woolf

This short book (which was compiled from a series of lectures delivered by Virginia Woolf to Newnham College and Girton College at Cambridge University in October 1928)  resonates with me personally because I am an aspiring writer in my retirement! For exactly the reason elaborated by Woolf in the book - financial security being a prerequisite to the dream of authorship – I shelved my writing plan as common sense told me long ago that it was best to keep that dream dormant until I could secure a room of my own!

I like the way Woolf tried to engage her audience by painting a vivid picture in their mind through the narrator, using her beautiful poetic prose to depict the historical backdrop of her subject matter "women and fiction" in the first half of the book. I thought this fiction-like narrative was a clever way to establish emotional rapport between the speaker and the audience.

Her key message is in fact quite simple and can be found in these two sentences: "Intellectual freedom depends upon material things. Poetry depends upon intellectual freedom."

Woolf's secondary point which is just as important as the key one, and with which I also have complete agreement, is that woman writers should not write consciously as a woman. She quoted Coleridge's saying that a great mind is androgynous. This is what she said:

"It is fatal for anyone who writes to think of their sex. It is fatal to be a man or woman pure and simple; one must be woman-manly or man-womanly. It is fatal for a woman to lay the least stress on any grievance; to plead even with justice any cause; in any way to speak consciously as a woman. And fatal is no figure of speech; for anything written with that conscious bias is doomed to death. It ceases to be fertilized."

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Book Review - "Jenny" by Sigrid Undset

This book was recommended to me by some Goodreads friends and I've given it 4 out of 5 stars. Sigrid Undset was a Norwegian novelist who won the 1928 Nobel Prize for Literature and was best known for her trilogy "Kristin Lavransdatter" which is set in Scandinavia in the Middle Ages.

Here's my review of "Jenny":-

This is a heartbreaking story set in the distant past about a young Norwegian woman artist who is torn between her desire for self-development and her longing for true love. However, the values and principles behind the actions of the protagonist could well reflect the moral dilemma of many decent women of today with an educated mind. Is love or work more important?

Born to an unwholesome family where fatherly love is lacking, Jenny has always had to fend for herself while growing up. Her greatest attributes – independence, sense of responsibility, moral fortitude, diligence, compassion for the weak – could be her invincible armor against any adversity in life.

Just as she is set to go out and conquer the world, armed with artistic talent and an optimistic outlook on life, she trips up by making one small mistake – letting herself grow weak and be pampered by a short moment of tender love that she’s been long thirsting for – and loses all control over her own fate.

During her fateful love affair and in the aftermath, her independence, sense of responsibility and moral principles drown her in an emotional ebb of guilt, remorse and shame and abandon her to carrying all blame on her shoulders. Her disinclination to hurt others sends her into a downward spiral, from which she never recovers. Her greatest attributes become her greatest curse. Her life is ironically ruined by her longing for true love.

Jenny said this to Gunnar, which sums up her life: “One day, I made a slight change in course. It seemed to me so difficult and harsh, living the life I thought was the most worthy – it was lonely, you know. So I veered away for a moment, wanting to be young and to play a little. And then I was caught in an undertow that carried me off, and I ended up in circumstances that I never for an instant imagined it would be possible for me to be anywhere near.

The novel makes one wonder: can the female soul ever overcome the longing for true love? Are women in truth just like what Gunnar describes: “so strong and erect in her striving, and yet so frail and brittle.”?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014