From impressionist Paris to post-impressionist London: Henry James's and Virginia Woolf's "painting-in-writing".
In 1905 Virginia Woolf commented that Henry James's way of depicting a simple plot "needs skill of the very highest to make novels out of such everyday material" (E I 22). The Ambassadors illustrates James's "art" of fictional writing. I argue that this novel portrays an Impressionist Paris, because the city is bright, and bathed in sunlight, as in Impressionist paintings. The Impressionist way of depicting sunlight and visual impressions fulfills Henry James's aesthetic theory in "The Art of Fiction" (1884), making fictional writing a form of "fine arts" (James, "Art" 6). In the essay, he highlights the Impressionist view of using visual sensations in writing. This artistic faith backs his theory of fictional writing. Fictional writing is not a "business," which after all only makes a novel a production of "make-believe" plots (James, "Art" 4) to entertain the readers. Rather, the "art" of fiction is "to represent life" (James, "Art" 4-5). In this respect, James's fiction represents the inner life of a character--his or her impression of the external world as filtered through consciousness.
Like Henry James, Virginia Woolf also thinks that "character" is the key element of fictional writing. Indeed, Woolf believes that '[t]he foundation of good fiction is character creating and nothing else' (E III 421). Woolf's "experimental character" (Guiguet 19) has attracted considerable critical attention. Woolf's characters are "experimental," because they are on a quest for the meaning of love and life. Indeed, Ford Madox Hueffer (Ford) saw Night and Day (1919) as a novel which reminded in him very much of the late Henry James (CH 73). Also, in 1982, Eric Warner, in a panel discussion of the Virginia Woolf Centenary Conference at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, said that he himself sees Woolf "very much in the tradition of Henry James, [...], in the sense that she is clearly concerned with a drama of consciousness, a drama of perception, and [...] a quest" (Warner 154). "Character" is equally important in Henry James's and Virginia Woolf's fictional writings.
For James, the process of fictional writing is to select "a myriad forms" of experience (James, "Art" 10). James depicts one's own "impression," as the external world is "perceived" by one's own consciousness. He sees the same attempt on the canvas of the Impressionists. The external visible world is internalized as one's "inner life," which can be objectified through "impressions" in painting and writing. Henry James sees the profound relation between the visual and verbal arts, and their ways of depicting "life":
The only reason for the existence of a novel is that it does attempt to represent life. When it relinquishes this attempt, the same attempt that we see on the canvas of the painter, it will have arrived at a very strange pass. It is not expected of the picture that it will make itself humble in order to be forgiven; and the analogy between the art of the painter and the art of the novelist is, so far as I am able to see, complete. Their inspiration is the same, their process (allowing for the different quality of the vehicle) is the same. They may learn from each other, they may explain and sustain each other. (James, "Art" 5)
At first glance, it seems that for Henry James, painterly Impressionism and literary Impressionism have the same way of seeing and representing what is real to writers and painters. And yet, through Lambert Strether's "process of vision" (James, Ambassadors 2), James is able to show in his writing not only the Impressionist way of what one can see in the surface. The character's centre of consciousness reveals what he knows and what he recognizes, going beyond the visible world, as Strether realizes the love affair between Chad and Madame de Vionnet in the French countryside. The art of fiction and the art of painting complete each other, because of their ways of evoking the impression of life. Novelists and painters use different vehicles to represent what they perceive as reality. They have the same mission--to use artistic creations as forms to record the impressions that they receive from everyday life. The process of looking and perception is central to the character's consciousness. Henry James's method of perceiving and depicting visual sensations is closely linked to his increasingly Impressionist narrative style, in which he makes a portrait of the "process of vision" in writing.
Henry James's literary impressionism has two aspects. First of all, in The Ambassadors, "pictorial" elements are abundantly present in each section of the novel. They reveal the complexity of Henry James's writing style. Secondly, his use of the "centre of consciousness" as the other aspect of literary impressionism is achieved through his understanding of the Impressionist method. It is to seize a momentary visual sensation in one's own consciousness, then to materialize this "impression" as an art form. He portrays Lambert Strether's "process of vision" as in the words of Ford Madox Ford "a forced energy" (Ford, "Henry James" 33) of inner transformation. The interaction between vision, the external visual objects and consciousness constructs Strether's "impression"--a moment of "revelation," which goes beyond what one sees. In other words, Henry James adopts the Impressionist visually-oriented methodology to develop his own literary impressionism, depicting the relation between visual sensations and one's psychological reaction to them.
In the outdoor scenes in The Ambassadors, there are close similarities between Impressionism in paintings and in literature. As H. Peter Stowell points out, an impression takes place in moments of heightened awareness
when the character reacts to an object, an action, or another character in such a way that he achieves a gestalt synthesis. This kind of moment has been given many names in literature and is not solely the property of impressionism, but these privileged moments, impressions, instantanes, or moments bienheureux do form a crucial basis for the impressionistic vision. (Stowell 37)
James depicts not exactly what happens to the character, but rather the reaction of the character--the impression that the character has from the external world. This impression is a "privileged" moment of revelation, which goes beyond the eye of an Impressionist painter. An Impressionist painter would paint what he or she sees. And yet, James's landscapes reveal the consciousness of the character, giving meaning to what one sees through perception. The significance of Henry James's literary impressionism lies in the way he narrates these open-air scenes--the brightness of Paris, or the French countryside. Strether's overflowing complex visual impressions arrange pictorial images in Henry James's narrative pattern. Strether receives pleasant visual impressions while he is walking in the city. He has two types of consciousness: as Mrs. Newsome's ambassador and as a foreigner in Paris. Strether begins to enjoy a totally different way of life from the one that he knew in Woollett.
Strether's whole "process of vision" can be developed through James's Impressionism when a letter arrives from Mrs. Newsome, which reminds Strether of the purpose of his stay in Paris. In the Luxembourg Gardens, Strether reads the letter, which crucially reminds him of being an "ambassador"--to bring Chad home. The letter now feels like an "imperial edict" from "Queen Elizabeth" (James, Ambassadors 43). He takes her letter with him, and finds himself a place to sit and read:
In the Luxembourg Gardens he pulled up; here at last he found his nook, and here, on a penny chair from which terraces, alleys, vistas, fountains, little trees in green tubs, little women in white caps and shrill little girls at play all sunnily 'composed' together, he passed an hour in which the cup of his impressions seemed truly to overflow. (James, Ambassadors 58-59)
James's depiction echoes the Impressionist sunlight-dappled visual impressions and the harmonious atmosphere in the air, bringing a taste of something mixed with art. The Luxembourg Gardens now look like an Impressionist painting, as "all sunnily 'composed' together." Visual impressions "overflow" in Strether's perception as a synthesis of colours, figures, shapes and lines: green, white, figures of women and girls, alleys, fountains, trees. Strether now is a foreigner, a tourist, who is revealing his aim of bringing Chad home, among terraces and Parisian visual impressions.
Strether's impressions make the garden a charming and pictorial place. Strether is a sensitive observer, who compares the different cultural modes of Paris and Woollett. His observation contributes to Henry James's sketch of the brightness of Paris as an instant impression, which is like "the vast bright Babylon, [...], a jewel brilliant and hard, in which parts were not to be discriminated nor differences comfortably marked. It twinkled and trembled and melted together, and what seemed all surface one moment seemed all depth the next" (James, Ambassadors 64). Paris is like a jewel, "brilliant and hard" in its brightness, overpowering the viewer with visual sensations. Paris's brightness comes from its high civilization, the richness of its art collections in the art galleries and museums, in the dynamic Parisian life in the street, the cafe, the theatre, gardens, parks, in all types of individuals.
The central moment of revelation in The Ambassadors is an "impression" in writing, a "memory" of a painting, and a pictorial remembrance of things past. Strether sees the French countryside--the "white" house, the "blue" sky and the "green" field in the village within his imaginary "oblong gilt frame" (James, Ambassadors 307). A "small" landscape painting comes to his mind. It is a "small" landscape painting that he cannot afford to have, which had charmed him long years before at a Boston dealer's. The reflection of his memory establishes a significant relation between the inner and outer worlds, between the past and the present, between the Tremont Street art shop in Boston and the French countryside landscape in front of his eyes. At this very "moment," Strether has his own "revelation." He sees "the right thing." It is the boat, which contains "a man who held the paddles and a lady, [.], with a pink parasol" (James, Ambassadors 309). The scene is composed as an Impressionist painting--the landscape, the boat, the "pink parasol," the man and the woman. Strether, at this very moment, has his "impression" of Chad and Madame de Vionnet. It is his awareness of their love affair (James, Ambassadors 313).
In depicting characters, however, Woolf does not focus, as James does, on the reaction of what one sees and perceives. I argue that Virginia Woolf depicts her characters' emotions and feelings through their ways of seeing London in a Post-Impressionist fashion, externalizing the inner world as the "mood" of the city. Woolf's narrative aesthetics differ from Henry James's internalization of the external world as his character's impression. Henry James makes the reader see the 'process of vision' of the character through an "impression." As Woolf claims, Henry James's writing technique evokes 'a sure knowledge of anatomy, paints every bone and muscle in the human frame' (E I 23). However, Woolf also points out that his portrait of human consciousness "would be greater as a work of art if he were content to say less and suggest more" (E I 23). Woolf suggests a Post-Impressionist way of depicting feelings and emotions of a character. In Night and Day, Woolf creates the atmosphere of London, portraying an emotional and an imaginary map of the city through externalizing the mind of her characters. The novel presents a transformation of narrative style from Impressionism to Post-Impressionism.
Woolf's Post-Impressionist painting-in-writing technique also parallels the artistic criticism of her time. As Clive Bell observes, works of art and artistic movements represent the "spiritual condition of an age" (Bell, Art 215). In this light, artists express the sensibilities of an era. Post-Impressionists created personal, 'purely imaginary forms' which contain a "state of mind," synthesizing vision and design. Clive Bell's aesthetic theory defines the qualities of arts. Bell argues:
Art transports us from the world of man's activity to a world of aesthetic exaltation. For a moment we are shut off from human interests; our anticipations and memories are arrested; we are lifted above the stream of life. The pure mathematician rapt [...] knows a state of mind [...]. (25)
"Significant form" contains emotion, lifting the viewer above the routine of everyday life, physical space and clock time. It is the combination of colors, lines and shapes, which has a "pure mathematical" quality. I argue that Bell's idea is in Woolf's experimental writing, giving Katherine a passionate response both to mathematics and to the city of London. Katharine's mental image of life is "pure," "flat," highly "concentrated" and "simplified," like Post-Impressionist paintings. Duncan Grant's two paintings, Interior, 46 Gordon Square (1914, in Shone, Plate 74) and Interior at Gordon Square (1914-5, in Shone, Plate 75) demonstrate a painterly version of the flat within the visual form of abstract painting. Between 1914 and 1915, Grant was frequently painting in Vanessa Bell's studio, before they both went to Charleston because of the First World War. These two paintings express an essential view of the double-interior which formed Grant's inspiration: the front and the back rooms on the first floor of the Bells' house. The geometric scheme of the work is analogous to Katharine's pursuit of her dream world of mathematical signs. Her way of perceiving life is indicated by her desire to escape from a family house. Katharine is interested in math. She wants to escape from the household affairs--such as helping her mother to order meals, direct servants, pay bills--to have a life of her own. Moreover, Katharine wants to escape from the "character" of the family house. It is "an indifferent silence," which shows the place as "an orderly place, sharply, controlled --a place where life had been trained to show to the best advantage [...]" (ND 33). Katharine's mental image is a balance between intellectual and emotional worlds, paralleling Post-Impressionist vision and design.
For Clive Bell, Cezanne's paintings are "primitive" (Bullen 482), in a way which the viewer can be moved and touched by the simple form, containing vision and emotion. I want to discuss briefly Cezanne's paintings before I analyze Woolf's Post-Impressionist writing technique in Night and Day. This is to show the relation between painting and writing. In Cezanne's paintings, the viewer can see the Post-Impressionist technique of "suggestiveness," showing feelings and emotions. Cezanne's The Avenue at the Jas de Bouffan (Chestnut Trees and Basin at the Jas de Bouffan, 1868-1870 [possibly later], in Robbins, Cat. 9 ; see fig.1) presents a technical transition in painting from the Impressionist quick strokes and the sun-bathed, out-of-doors canvases to the Post-Impressionist broad brushstrokes with the use of the palette knife. Cezanne, on his canvas, creates a profound area of shadow as the strength of the trees. The shadow creates a great contrast to the brightness of the foreground. The thickness of the trunks is conveyed through solid and fat brushstrokes, creating a parallel development of the path in the centre. The intensity of the dark green shadow in Cezanne's painting creates a mysterious and a romantic atmosphere.
I argue that a similar "dark green" atmosphere illuminates the scene in Woolf's writing, showing a parallel development of Post-Impressionism in writing. In Night and Day, the scene of Kew Gardens shows exactly Woolf's Post-Impressionist painting-in-writing technique. Katharine Hilbery, granddaughter of the famous Victorian poet Richard Alardyce, is searching for the meaning of love and the self in the city of London. Ralph Denham works for Katharine's father. They are from very different social classes, but in Mary Danchet's two revelations, the reader can see that they love each other. Ralph was waiting for Katharine in Kew Gardens, indicating a moment of Woolf's Post-Impressionist expression of emotion. The emotions of Katharine and Ralph are revealed by their walking, conversation, and thinking in London. Woolf depicts feelings and emotions with "degrees of liking or disliking" (ND 281), lingering between inner and outer spheres, detachment and intimacy, loneliness and love. Sitting on the bank of the lake in Kew Gardens, at "a quarter-past three" (ND 279), Ralph is gazing at the "ticking seconds" (ND 279) on his watch with a calm determination, waiting for Katharine. "[H]alf an hour" late, she walks down the "grass-walk" toward the lake. Ralph is looking at her in the distance. Her "figure," in Ralph's eyes, is an "indescribable height" (ND 280) with a romantic sense created by the light. Ralph's emotion of love is externalized through the color "purple," Katharine's "figure," and "line"--Katharine's "path" at Kew Gardens in the verbal art. Katharine "walks" towards Ralph, with a "purple veil which the light air filled and curved from her shoulders" (ND 280).
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Shapes and colors show the way in which Woolf depicts emotions. Through Woolf's Post-Impressionist narrative technique, Ralph's emotion of love is externalized through Katharine's "figure" and the "purple veil," the lake, the "broad green space," the "vista of trees with the ruffled gold of the Thames in the distance and the Ducal castle standing in its meadows" (ND 280). The scene creates a peaceful atmosphere, where there is not "a single person" (ND 280) in sight, and the stir of the wind in the branches "so seldom heard by Londoners" (ND 280). Katharine feels she can walk into Kew Gardens, to feel happiness and relaxation, like "a small child" (ND 280). Katharine's joyful spirit of walking in Kew Gardens illuminates Roger Fry's "spiritual of primitive joy" (Bullen 32-33), paralleling Cezanne's technique. Cezanne is highly praised by Fry, because his way of expressing his emotions reveals the powerful inner force, which makes his paintings "the purest terms of structural design" (Fry 185). The arrangements of form and color express the artist's aesthetic vision, stimulating the viewer's emotion and imagination. A work of art, in this light, is a "balance between the emotions and the intellect, between Vision and Design," as Woolf concludes in Roger Fry (245).
Ralph expresses his love to Katharine by walking along the "tree vista" and the "glass house" with her, talking about a little green plant by its "Latin name, thus disguising some flower familiar even to Chelsea" (ND 281). The romantic "green-blue" atmosphere shows Woolf's Post-Impressionist "painting-in-writing" technique. Katharine is amused by Ralph's explanation of the "shape" of flowers, their "coloured" petals, bulbs or seeds. Ralph imagines the utmost fullness of communication with Katharine at Kew Gardens, where he feels the unification of two souls which takes him to a stage of visual ecstasy and emotional sublimity.
The mode of feeling of Katharine Hilbery and Ralph Denham illustrates Woolf's "experimental" narrative practice, transforming traditional themes of love and marriage into a psychological mapping of the London scene in words. They walk together to the Rock Garden, and then to the Orchid House. Ralph gazes at Katharine, and his "far-away look entirely lacked self-consciousness" (ND 282). He sees her beauty by the orchids, feels his own passion for her among the orchids "in that hot atmosphere" (ND 282). Both of them keep silent with their thoughts, which put them in imaginary positions as lovers upon their "map of the emotions" of London (ND 282). Woolf's Post-Impressionist aesthetics communicates their ways of seeing London. It reveals how they fall in love through visualizing their emotions and feelings, and how "private" and "public" spheres overlap in the "binary oppositions" of illusion and reality. Virginia Woolf's London is a world of emotions and feelings.
For many critics, Night and Day is a "traditional" novel of manners, simply because its plot is standard: lovers who have chosen inappropriate mates and discover their error by the end of the novel. Her second novel, published by Duckworth on 20 October 1919 in an edition of two thousand copies (Kirkpatrick and Clarke 18-19), Night and Day has often been seen as unsuccessful from a modernist standpoint. Clive Bell claimed this novel was "her most definite failure" (CH 140). E. M. Forster also commented in "The Novels of Virginia Woolf (1926), that Night and Day is a "deliberate exercise in classicism. It contains all that has characterized English fiction for good or evil during the last hundred and fifty years--faith in personal relations, recourse to humorous side shows, insistence on petty social differences" (CH 173). The "form" of the novel is "moralized," "as traditional as Emma" (CH 173). This novel is a "classic" city novel, because of "the customary town/country morality" (Squier 78).
I argue that this is an oversimplified way of reading Night and Day, because it overlooks Woolf's Post-Impressionist writing technique. It is not a "traditional" novel. Woolf has certain elements of composition, which go beyond the traditional use of urban space and narrative form, and even surpass the Impressionist experiments of Henry James. By portraying the "inner life" of the characters, Woolf shows the psychology and mood of London in words, in a way which shows her own modernism. Woolf explained to Ethel Smyth that
After being ill and suffering every form and variety of nightmare and extravagant intensity of perception ..., when I came to, I was so tremblingly afraid of my own insanity that I wrote Night and Day mainly to prove to my own satisfaction that I could keep entirely off that dangerous ground. [...]. Bad as the book is, it composed my mind, and I think taught me certain elements of composition which I should not have had the patience to learn had I been in full flush of health always. (L IV 231)
She composed London's "maps of emotions" (ND 282) in Sussex through externalizing the "inner life" of her characters. This novel also composed Woolf's mind. The city maps the character's way of "feeling," so that Woolf is able to develop the "experimental" Post-Impressionist narrative form.
Woolf's expressive modes of vision, emotion and feeling are "experimental" narrative practices, a "painting-in-writing" technique. Woolf remarked to Lady Ottoline Morrell that "I cant believe that any human being can get through Night and Day which I wrote chiefly in bed, half an hour at a time. But it taught me a great deal, or so I hoped, like a minute Academy drawing: what to leave out: by putting it all in" (L VI 216). Woolf does not seem very happy with her experimentation of narrative form. And yet, Woolf puts London in her novel not through minute details of daily life with a precision of a tourist guide-book; nor with the exactness of a Victorian drawing that shows the wrinkles of a dress. Woolf depicts the city by conveying all her characters' emotions and feelings.
By presenting different "emotional" aspects of her character, Woolf re-writes the Victorian heritage of realism, in order to find her own path of writing. Woolf's writing goes from conservative Victorian literary Chelsea--the family house that represents Katharine's anxiety, all the way to Highgate, showing Ralph's sentimentality. Passing by the British Museum and Russell Square area, Mary shows love for Ralph and her passion for working as a female individual. The action comes to Lincoln's Inn Fields in Holborn, presenting Ralph's work place and Katharine's feeling of freedom. Through Mary, Katharine and Ralph, Woolf re-creates Victorian literary tradition by including the "emotional" significances of these places in London. Woolf uses streets, spaces and rooms of the city to externalize the "inner life" of her characters so as to develop her painting-in-writing technique. The main plot centres on the Hilbery home in Cheyne Walk, Ralph's shabby, middle-class house in Highgate, Mary Datchet's flat at the top of a block of offices off the Strand, and the suffragette office in Russell Square (Lee 59).
Walking is a metaphor, revealing the psychological state, mood and emotion of Woolf's characters. Walking is not only a symbol of quest, but also Woolf's "experimental" practice, expressing the character's thought. For example, when Katharine walks, she takes the "positions" of visual objects "upon the turbulent map of the emotions" (ND 282), through which Woolf expresses the imaginary London in writing. The streets are paths and lines of emotions and feelings on Woolf's canvas. Using the Post-Impressionist "painting-in-writing" technique, Woolf visualizes her characters' emotions through lines, shapes and colors in writing. Leaving the traffic on the London street, going to Katharine's house in Chelsea, Ralph feels peace in Katharine's house "[w]ith the omnibuses and cabs still running in his head, and his body still tingling with his quick walk along the streets and in and out of traffic and foot-passengers, this drawing-room seemed very remote and still [...]" (ND 4). In the Cheyne Walk setting, rooms are important literary spaces, showcasing Katharine's female gaze.
The gaze is a key strategy in Woolf's modernism. In Victorian Chelsea, Katharine looks at Ralph in the smaller room. Ralph's eyes are symbolic, expressing "the usual masculine impersonality and authority, might reveal more subtle emotions under favourable circumstances, for they were large, and of a clear, brown colour--they seemed unexpectedly to hesitate and speculate" (ND 9). While Katharine is "gazing immutably from behind of a sheet of glass" (ND 9), the image of Ralph is visualized. Ralph has "a singular face--a face built for swiftness and decision rather than for massive contemplation; the forehead broad, the nose long and formidable, the lips clean-shaven and at once dogged and sensitive, the cheeks lean, with a deeply running tide of red blood in them" (ND 9). The visual image of Ralph is an expression of Katharine's love and romanticism. In the mythical atmosphere of her family glory, Katharine sees Ralph's red, "spare build and thin, though healthy, cheeks" "tokens of an angular and acrid soul" (ND 10). This "soul" is expressed by Ralph's face, showing the way Katharine's female gaze can de-mystify "dead heroes" (ND 10) such as her grandfather--the great poet Richard Alardyce (ND 8), or "Mr Ruskin" (ND 9).
Woolf's London settings with tea gatherings and drawing-rooms are depicted with subversive codes. Mrs. Hilbery's problems with her biography of Katharine's grandfather, who is buried in the Abbey at Poet's Corner, reinforce Katharine's "star-like impersonality" (ND 34). Katharine has a very different personality from her mother. Mrs. Hilbery's "dream" is to complete the biography of Richard Alardyce, which is "almost as visionary" as Katharine's dream. And yet, Katharine's dream in the Victorian house is to be "upstairs alone in her room," "to ... work on mathematics" (ND 34), which is "opposing the tradition of her family" (ND 34). It makes her "feel wrong-headed" (ND 34), showing her own particular way of seeing people and things in London through her outer journey, walking, and her inner journey, thinking--finding a role and a life of her own.
Katharine wants to escape from the Victorian world, because the worlds of Victorian literature, romance and family life are deeply linked as sources of melancholy and nostalgia--in a way which Virginia Woolf also wants to escape. Mrs. Hilbery struggles to write the great poet's biography, which remains unwritten at the end of the novel. Mrs. Hilbery tries to find her way into "the literary papers," with her own "vision," to see "[t]he most private lives of the most interesting people lay furled in yellow bundles of close-written manuscript" (ND 29). And yet, it is not enough. She has the duty to write the poet's biography, in order to establish and to keep his image as a "great" man. She has "in her own head as bright a vision of that time as now remained to the living, and could give those flashes and thrills to the old words which gave them almost the substance of flesh" (ND 29). Woolf's Post-Impressionist writing technique shows that Mrs. Hilbery needs a poetic, "musing and romanticizing" mood (ND 30)--as Katharine has. As spring comes in "the middle of February," Mrs. Hilbery feels a strong desire and "a sensual delight in the combinations of words" (ND 258).
Words represent Mrs. Hilbery's "emotional power," as "scented petals in the minds of men and women," "reflecting the shapes and colours of the present, as well as the shapes and colours of the past" (ND 258). The Victorian Chelsea "room" is quiet. It has a mood of the past, which cannot be interrupted by the present. As Mrs. Hilbery is writing, "raising round her the skies and the trees of the past with every stroke of her pen," Katharine is able to "fancy that here was a deep pool of the past time, and that she and her mother were bathed in the light of sixty years ago. What could the present give, she wondered, to compare with the rich crowd of gifts bestowed by the past" (ND 92)? Katharine's sense of rebellion shows in her searching for true love and the meaning of her life, as she is making "her experiment in living when the great age was dead" (ND 29) under the weight of the Victorian family, seeing herself as "a separate being, with a future of her own" (ND 92). Although Katharine has an interest in mathematics, she helps her mother to work on literary papers "with a sense of great pride and achievement" (ND 29). Richard Alardyce's portrait (ND 8) and the photograph (ND 27-28) of his tomb at Poet's Corner show the greatness of a great man in Katharine's family. The poet "was a 'good and great man'" (ND 28). The illustration of the "great" poet has an aura which makes Katharine feel proud, "with a mysterious sense of an important and unexplained state of things, which time, by degrees, unveiled to her" (ND 28). The aura represents the great poet's "intellectual and spiritual virtue" (ND 28), as in Katharine's childhood memory. She has memories of the days when she received "the blessing of some awful distinguished old man" (ND 28) in honor of her grandfather.
In Night and Day, visual objects become metaphors, indicating the characters' attitudes toward the city, their social and political differences--and most of all--their inner worlds. Through portraying the mode of seeing and feeling as a narrative form, Woolf successfully connects the inner and outer worlds, imagination and reality, visible and imaginary London. The visionary "intensity" can externalize the inner world, transforming Henry James's Impressionist depiction of light and shade into Woolf's Post-Impressionism, visualizing emotion in words. Her "painting-in-writing" technique transcends the external visible world of London with a myriad of lines, colors and shapes, including squares, public spaces, rooms, streets, paths in red, gold, white, grey, blue and green colors.
Rooms are symbols of moods and emotions. As Woolf claims, "[r]ooms, of course, accumulate their suggestions, and any room in which one has been used to carry on any particular occupation gives off memories of moods, of ideas, of postures that have been seen in it; so that to attempt any different kind of work there is almost impossible" (ND 92). In Katharine's house in Chelsea, the "drawing-room" has a dreamy atmosphere, because of the family glory--the Victorian myth of the greatness of the great men. In Katharine's childhood consciousness, this myth is like "[a] fine mist, the etherealized essence of the fog, [which] hung visibly in the wide and rather empty space of the drawing-room. All silver where the candles were grouped on the tea-table, and ruby again in the firelight" (ND 4). The smaller room across the drawing-room "was something like a chapel in a cathedral, or a grotto in a cave" (ND 8). The room gives the mood of a religious temple, or a museum space, which is crowded with the collection of relics, marking a long history as a part of the literary establishment.
Woolf uses light to illustrate mood. Different kinds of light in the "smaller room" in Katharine's family house shows Ralph "a full impression" (ND 8) of the great poet. Katharine shows Ralph around the room. In Ralph's eyes, light creates colors and impressions of visual objects,
As Katharine touched different spots, lights sprang here and there, and revealed a square mass of red-and-gold books, and then a long skirt in blue-and-white paint lustrous behind glass, and then a mahogany writing-table, with its orderly equipment, and, finally, a square picture above the table, to which special illumination was accorded. (ND 8)
Ralph's "impression," however, does not serve the same function as Strether's, which shows what things happen to look like as a "revelation." Rather, Ralph's visual impression evokes his emotion of love. His gaze creates a "special illumination," revealing what he "feels." Ralph's "impression" in the Victorian setting expresses his love. For Ralph, the "special illumination" of the small room comes from
Katharine's "touch." Ralph's way of seeing colors and shapes reveals Woolf's Post-Impressionist writing technique. Among all the colors and shapes, Ralph is attached to "the eyes of the great poet, Richard Alardyce, and suffered a little shock which would have led him, had he been wearing a hat, to remove it. The eyes looked at him out of the mellow pinks and yellows of the paint with divine friendliness, which embraced him, and passed on to contemplate the entire world" (ND 8). Likewise, Katharine's female gaze expresses her appreciation for Ralph. Katharine's emotion of love demystifies her family glory, because Ralph does not belong to the 'great' patriarchal tradition.
As the reader can see from Ralph's way of seeing, by using Victorian settings, Woolf also portrays the class difference between Ralph and Katharine. Katharine is from a family dominated by the Victorian poet's glory, while Ralph is a young lawyer, coming from a different social class and living in Highgate, who writes articles for Katharine's father. Katharine's family glory shows Woolf's "dual vision." On the one hand, it externalizes emotions and feelings of Katharine and Ralph through the gaze. It also reveals their differences--particularly gender and social status. Ralph leaves Katharine's house, "walks up the street" (ND 15) to Knightsbridge, in order to catch a train towards the suburbs. His walk from Chelsea to Knightsbridge, towards the train to Highgate, again indicates the class difference between Katharine and Ralph. His family lives at The Apple Orchard, Mount Ararat Road. The Denham family appears to be a socially isolated one, attempting to survive in a challenging modern world following the death of the father. Ralph's room is a cheerless one. Woolf depicts the shabbiness of the room, where "[a] flattened sofa would, later in the evening, become a bed" (ND 17).
Walking, as a metaphorical pilgrimage in the quest for love, shows that Ralph finds his feeling for Katharine "inwardly ironical" (ND 15). He knows that Katharine comes from a very different social class and background. He walks on the street, trying to find an expression for what he "feels" in Katharine's family house. His emotional "shock" is visualized as lines, streets and rooms of London. They are "[s]udden stabs of the unmitigated truth assailed him now and then, for he was not inclined by nature to take a rosy view of his conduct, but what with the beat of his foot upon the pavement, and the glimpse which half-drawn curtains offered him of kitchens, dining-rooms, and drawing-rooms, illustrating with mute power different scenes from different lives, his own experience lost its sharpness" (ND 15). Through walking, Ralph feels peaceful, creating the 'mute power' of London's streets and rooms.
Through walking and looking, Ralph has his revelation on the street of London with "the lamplight shone" (ND 15). Woolf's use of "light" is very different from Henry James's, so that the narrative is not only an Impressionist depiction of the play of "sunlight" and shadow. Rather, Woolf's "light" reveals Ralph's emotion and psychology in the Post-Impressionist way. Ralph's revelation is a significant example to show how his "inner" world can be visible through the "lamplight":
His own experience underwent a curious change. His speed slackened, his head sank a little towards his breast, and the lamplight shone now and again upon a face grown strangely tranquil. His thought was so absorbing that when it became necessary to verify the name of a street, he looked at it for a time before he read it; when he came to a crossing, he seemed to have to reassure himself by two or three taps, such as a blind man gives, upon the kerb; and, reaching the Underground station, he blinked in the bright circle of light, glanced at his watch, decided that he might still indulge himself in darkness, and walked straight on. (ND 15)
The "lamplight" symbolizes Ralph's "halo" of feeling and thought. Katharine's face is getting clearer and clearer, with the walk that Ralph takes on the street of London. He is walking, passing a room with "firelit" (ND 16). Ralph sees the "shape" of Katharine as "something monumental in the procession of the lamp-posts, who shall say what accident of light or shape had suddenly changed the prospect within his mind, and let him to murmur aloud" his love and desire for Katharine: "She'll do ... Yes, Katharine Hilbery'll do ... I'll take Katharine Hilbery" (ND 16). The intermittent "lamplight" emerges out of the dark with symbolic meaning. Katharine's "monumental" "shape" and the "lamplight" on the street indicate Ralph's emerging illumination, recalling in his memory the "charm" and the "beauty" of Katharine. It is something "he had been determined not to feel, [which] now possessed him wholly" (ND 16). Ralph has a revelation while he sits in his "room." Ralph's mental image of Katharine illustrates his "terrible extremes of emotion" and "the strength of his passion" for Katharine (ND 326). His passion makes a "visionary" image of her beauty, while he possesses a book of photo graphs of the Greek statues (ND 327). Ralph's revelation reinforces his self-awareness of love for Katharine.
Katharine's way of seeing London, on the other hand, shows a very different point of view. London is a "shapeless mass" (ND 86), a constantly changing image in Katharine's mind, when she looks out of the window from the "room" of her family house. Katharine's way of seeing the external world--the city of London, reveals her inner feeling, her thought and love for Ralph. Katharine's feeling of love is strong, paralleling Ralph's "visionary" image of her. At this stage, Katharine's love and feeling make Ralph take a "such strange shape" in Katharine's mind, which has "destroyed [her] loneliness" (ND 429). Katharine wants to know what to do with her love. She wants to see a clear path to access a future of her own, as she looks out of the window, seeing London. She wants to find a career, like Ralph and Mary, to define her individuality, and to marry someone she truly loves. This "shapeless mass" of London illuminates Katharine's feelings of anxiety and confusion. People such as Ralph and Mary always have "an empty space before them" and have "it all their own way" (ND 86). However, Katharine has to leave the house and to "walk" on the streets, to visualize her own "imaginary map of London, to follow the twists and turns of unnamed streets" (ND 379), in order to know herself and to find the direction of her life.
In Woolf's writing, Katharine's way of seeing London shows the way in which Katharine finds her own way to rebel: her unwomanly passion for mathematics, her mathematical mind, and her way of seeing things with "star-like impersonality" (ND 34). In other words, Katharine's passion for mathematics gives evidence that she wants to live an "unwomanly" life, to be different from the Victorian literary tradition of her family. Katharine's mode of seeing is expressed in the scene when she is walking with Ralph near Waterloo Bridge. Ralph tries to express his feeling to Katharine in "an orderly way." Katharine's response shows in a way which her "happiness" is externalized into a vision fed by her passion for mathematics and astronomy:
books of algebraic symbols, pages all speckled with dots and dashes and twisted bars, came before [Katharine's] eyes as [she and Ralph] trod the Embankment [...]; and all the time she was in fancy looking up through a telescope at white shadow-cleft disks which were other worlds, until she felt herself possessed of two bodies, one walking by the river with Den ham, the other concentrated to a silver globe aloft in the fine blue space above the scum of vapours that was covering the visible world. (ND 254)
Katharine's feeling of 'happiness' has been created by her own "halo" of thought, especially when she is looking at the night sky, which is like a visualization of "books of algebraic symbols," liberating her from the constraint of the visible world. I argue that Katharine is a flaneuse, because of her "dual vision." On the one hand, she is passionate and has a desperate desire to have her own way with life. When Katharine walks under the archway into the wide space of King's Bench Walk, "looking up at Rodney's windows," she realizes that "[i]t's life that matters, nothing but life--the process of discovering, the everlasting and perpetual process, [...] not the discovery itself at all" (ND 111). Katharine is in a "mood"--"a fatalistic mood"--"to proclaim that the process of discovery was life, and that, presumably, the nature of one's goal mattered not at all" (ND 111). Katharine has realized her feeling and desire, as she "walked up and down two or three times under the trees" (ND 111). Woolf uses Rodney's windows to visualize Katharine's thought with a "shape of colour"--"a semilucent red colour, in her honour, as she knew" (ND 111). On the other hand, she is also a psychological "detached" thinker, "within" the crowd. After she leaves Mary's office in Russell Square, Katharine has a feeling: things people do in her office have surprised and annoyed her. Therefore, Katharine walks "very fast down the Tottenham Court Road," into the crowd, with her thought (ND 75). She sees "enchanted people in a bewitched tower, with the spiders' webs looping across the corners of the room" (ND 75) in Mary's office. It is unreal and apart from the normal world.
Katharine's searching for the "light in the three tall windows" in Ralph's office and her disappointment that they "gave back on their ghostly glass panels only a reflection of the grey and greenish sky" (ND 374) shows her love for Ralph. Woolf depicts the scene skillfully, to reflect Katharine's emotion, as she waits for Ralph to come out from his office in Lincoln's Inn Fields, Holborn. Once Katharine sensed the intimate glance between William and Cassandra in her family house, she left the house, and walked "rapidly along the street towards the City" (ND 372). The "exact degree of intimacy" (ND 372) between William and Cassandra, and Cassandra "in the rosy light of her circumstances," indicate that "they may fix their wedding day" (ND 373). Although Katharine has no "position" between William and Cassandra, she still has her "large scale map of Norfolk" (ND 373). I argue that it is like the blueprint of her dream, "a more solid object" (ND 376) which symbolizes something she can hold on to.
Katharine's way of seeing London shows when she is waiting for Ralph. Katharine walks "to and fro upon the pavement" of Kingsway (ND 373). No one in Ralph's office
appeared. [Katharine] scrutinized each male figure as it approached and passed her. Each male figure had, nevertheless, a look of [Ralph], due, perhaps, to the professional dress, the quick step, the keen glance which they cast upon her as they hastened home after the day's work. The square itself, with its immense houses all so fully occupied and stern of aspect, its atmosphere of industry and power, as if even the sparrows and the children were earning their daily bread, as if the sky itself, with its grey and scarlet clouds, reflected the serious intention of the city beneath it, spoke of him. Here was the fit place for their meeting, she thought; here was the fit place for her to walk thinking of him. She could not help comparing it with the domestic streets of Chelsea. [...]. The faces of the houses had now merged in the general darkness, and she had difficulty in determining which she sought. Ralph's three windows gave back on their ghostly glass panels only a reflection of the grey and greenish sky. (ND 374)
Katharine's mental state is shown not by a direct description, but by a visual depiction of how she sees London at that particular moment. Woolf's Post-Impressionist writing technique successfully visualizes Katharine's "inner" anxiety. The atmosphere of the "external" world is composed through Katharine's gaze at the "male figure," "the professional dress," "the quick step," the "lamplight," the "square" shape of the window frame, the "oval" shape of human faces and eyes, and color of "grey," "scarlet" (ND 373), and "green" (ND 374). Ralph's three windows have "the normal purpose for which life was framed; its complete indifference to the individuals" (ND 374). It is getting dark. Katharine cannot see Ralph's "figure." The "lamplight" makes Katharine "an invisible spectator" (ND 374). When she walks, her mind flows with people and things she sees around her. People passed her with "a semi-transparent quality, and left the faces pale ivory ovals in which the eyes alone were dark" (ND 374), showing her "passionate" gaze. The crowd surrounds Katharine down Kingsway, to visualize her thought like "the great flow, the deep stream, the unquenchable tide" (ND 374).
Katharine's "passionate" gaze makes her see each "male figure" resemble Ralph, with "professional dress and quick step" (ND 374). And yet, her "psychological detachment" shows that she is actually fancying a different life with Ralph. It is possible for her to escape from "Chelsea," to be independent from her family, gaining her own space for her interests. It is Lincoln's Inn Fields rather than "the domestic streets of Chelsea" (ND 374) which suits her "feeling." This part of London, "Lincoln's Inn Fields," speaks about Katharine's love for Ralph: the "square" itself, the immense "houses," the "atmosphere" of "industry and power," the "grey sky" and "scarlet clouds" "reflected the serious intention of the city beneath it" (ND 374). The "external" world visualizes Katharine's "inner" world, expressing the rapture that indicates a sense of "freedom" and "happiness" in her future with Ralph.
Woolf depicts Katharine's anxiety vividly, when Katharine is writing a letter to Ralph in a coffee shop. Eventually Katharine cannot see Ralph in Lincoln's Inn Fields. She wants to communicate with Ralph, but she cannot find the exact words to express her thought and her stream of emotion, "as if the whole torrent of Kingsway had to run down her pencil" (ND 375). Without finishing her letter, she leaves the coffee shop at closing time. Katharine finds herself "once more in the street" (ND 375). She wants to find Ralph, to take a cab to Highgate, but she cannot remember his correct address. Katharine's London is her "map" of feeling and imagination, which is very different from her "large scale map of Norfolk." There is no exact road or street name on Katharine's London "map," because London is "shapeless," as Ralph's address can be "an Orchard Something, or the street a Hill" (ND 376).
Woolf depicts Katharine's anxiety through the streets of London. Katharine's anxiety "filled her mind with the vast extent of London and the impossibility of finding any single figure that wandered off this way and that way, turned to the right and to the left," "turned and walked as rapidly in the other direction" (ND 376). The streets show her anxious, because she is unable to cope with the strength of her love--her desperate "desire"--"wild, irrational, unexplained, resembling something felt in childhood" (ND 377). On the other hand, Ralph seeks his own ultimate vision and his real feeling for Katharine. Ralph walks to the Tube at Charing Cross. On his way, he realizes that Mary is a smart woman, but he is not in love with her. His vision is splitting between his dreamy image and the object of his dream: Katharine. Katharine leaves him "not a moment's peace" (ND 54), because he has feelings for her. Ralph takes a walk on the gravel path in Lincoln's Inn Fields. Mary catches him looking as if he was walking in his sleep, because he is frustrated. In Ralph's mental image, Katharine is both an "old view" of night light and a "new view" in the daylight. The contradictory images of daylight and nightlight worlds in his consciousness express two forms of image: visible and imaginary. Woolf uses "a tall figure, upright, dark, and commanding" to visualize Ralph's feeling for Katharine (ND 193).
Katharine's "tall figure" is an object, which is "detached from her surroundings" (ND 193), on which Ralph focuses his eyes and mind. Ralph recognizes Katharine's "figure" because he knows her in his mind. He has an "intense" "impression" of her, and he thinks about her "intensely that his mind had formed the 'shape' of her, rather than that he had seen her in the flesh outside in the street" before the name "Katharine Hilbery" comes to his mind (ND 194). I argue that Woolf's Post-Impressionist writing technique shows that Ralph's impression is not an internalization of what he sees. Rather, it is an externalization of what he feels about Katharine. Woolf's "impression" works in a very different way from Henry James's. Woolf depicts Ralph's inner world and his love for Katharine through the "tall figure" of Katharine's. Ralph's sudden recognition of Katharine's "figure" indicates the visualization of his mental image of her.
Modes of seeing and feeling serve the symbolic and structural needs of Woolf's artistic design. Woolf's Post-Impressionist technique in writing depicts Mary's feelings for Ralph through the way she sees the external world. Mary is an observer, who has two revelations in this novel. Mary has her first revelation--her awareness of Ralph's love for Katharine as "the light of truth" (ND 194) in Lincoln's Inn Fields in the daylight. I argue that Mary's first "revelation" is of Ralph's "disorderly" vision, split between dream and reality. Mary knows that Ralph loves "Katharine Hilbery" (ND 194). Mary's second revelation happens when she realizes that Katharine loves Ralph. In Mary's "room," she catches Katharine's "dreamy look" that is "passing beyond Mary, beyond the verge of the room and out beyond any words that came her way, wildly and passionately." Mary "could not follow such a glance to its end" (ND 380-381). It is too painful for her. Katharine does not gaze at "a face, but a procession, not of people, but of life itself: the good and bad, the meaning; the past, the present, the future" (ND 381). Katharine's gaze synthesizes and expresses her feelings. Woolf's Post-Impressionist writing technique is to use Ralph's and Katharine's gazes, and Mary's two revelations to reveal feelings and emotions of "love." For instance, Mary's gaze at winged Assyrian bulls and the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum suggests her love and longing for Ralph (ND 65). Through Mary's gaze, she turns works of art into an imaginary "love" relation with Ralph. Mary looks at the Elgin marbles, as they externalize her "some wave of exaltation and emotion" (ND 65). I argue that Mary's way of seeing works of art is not "purely aesthetic" (ND 65). Works of art are externalization of Mary's emotion through "shapes." Woolf points out
that [Mary's] emotion were not purely aesthetic, because, after she had gazed at the Ulysses for a minute or two, she began to think about Ralph Denham. So secure did she feel with these silent shapes that she almost yielded to an impulse to say 'I am in love with you' aloud. The presence of this immense and enduring beauty made her almost alarmingly conscious of her desire, and at the same time proud of a feeling which did not display anything like the same proportions when she was going about her daily work. (ND 65-66)
Through Mary, Woolf's Post-Impressionist writing technique shows that "Beauty" is an impression of "emotion." Woolf's "Beauty" is not an impression of what things look like. Woolf's writing technique reveals the work of art not its aesthetic value--for instance, how beautiful it is, or its artistic technique. Mary's impression of "emotion" illuminates C. Lewis Hind's theory. When Hind saw the Assyrian Winged Bulls, he noticed his own "feeling"--that "something more," both "strange and stimulating," transforms "mere technique into mysticism" (Hind 88-91). Mary's experience of gazing at the Assyrian Winged Bulls and the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum indicates Woolf's narrative aesthetics, in a way which one's inner emotion and feeling can be visualized through the outer world. In her gaze, Mary does not internalize what she sees. Mary externalizes her own feeling and emotion, as a particular and a personal way of seeing the winged Assyrian bulls and the Elgin Marbles.
Woolf's psychological London, as a metaphor with symbolic meanings, goes beyond its physical existence such as buildings, and reinforces its emotional depth. Night and Day attempts to deal with the visible world that concerned people living in London. It shows everyday life with a sense of inner world which "was simultaneous and just as real" (Bennett 91). Woolf's use of "revelation" does not serve as Henry James's "process of vision" in the Impressionist way, in which Strether passively looks and perceives. Woolf's use of "revelation" is a depiction of the process of emotional and psychological change. It is compressed into precisely a transcendent moment, in which visual sensations, emotions and thoughts flow together into the narrative, as a symbolic energy of cohesiveness, dramatizing the character's way of feeling. Woolf's London composes her own narrative pattern, marking a psychological turn in writing. It is a turn of narrative aesthetics, from Henry James's "centre of consciousness" passively perceiving the external world, to her own expression of feeling--the characters' "maps of emotions" of London, visualizing a Post-Impressionist mode of narration. In this respect, Woolf defines her own aesthetics of urban vision as a critique of the historical setting of the city, in which walking, looking and thinking are ways of illustrating maps of her characters' emotions.
CH Majumdar, Robin and Allen McLaurin, eds. Virginia Woolf: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1975.
E Woolf, Virginia. The Essays of Virginia Woolf Volume I: 1904 1912. Ed. Andrew McNeillie. London: Hogarth P, 1986. 4 vols.
L The Letters of Virginia Woolf. Ed. Nigel Nicolson and Joanne Trautmann. 6 vols. London: Hogarth P, 1975- 80.
ND Woolf, Virginia. Night and Day. 1919. Ed. Julia Briggs. London: Penguin, 1992.
[Received 30 Sept. 2010; accepted 30 May 2011]
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|Author:||Lin, Tzu Yu Allison|
|Publication:||Fu Jen Studies: literature & linguistics|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2011|
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