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The Common Reader: First Series, Annotated Edition Paperback – November 4, 2002
This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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Sheri Nelson Maclean, The Woodlands, Texas
Woolf then goes on in the subsequent essays to write of Chaucer, Jane Austen, Joseph Conrad, Montaigne, George Eliot, Defoe, Addison, 'Modern Fiction' 'The Lives of the Obscure' ' Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights' 'The Russian Point of View'.
She writes with a special kind of insight and artfulness. I especially liked her essay on Montaigne who she sees as one of the few writers who truly makes a portrait of himself, and writes truly of the whole of his experience. She sees him as one who knew not only how to communicate himself but to be himself, who defied convention and ceremony, and prizing contemplation and retirement made a book which was himself.
It can be said that Woolf in a way does the same with these reflections upon others which hold up a mirror to her own masterfully insightful sensibility.
Flaubert tried to take the writer out of his work, and to do that, attempted to construct sentences and paragraphs that would hypnotize the reader. But he did this without actually understanding-- or at least explaining-- how this was done. That he did not fully understand his own method can perhaps be seen form the fact that he agonized so much about his writings, trying this then trying that, until it "worked," without really understanding what "worked" meant.
Virginia Woolf desired the opposite-- to make it subjective, not, as she called it, "material." Indeed, it is intriguing to realize how little she wrote about Flaubert, who came before her, and who clearly was a genius at her level, or-- dare I say it?-- perhaps even a little above.
But she at long last said explicitly what she was doing, and what she felt what was needed to make fiction modern. Here it is, as explicit and as clear as a blade of surgery knife:
"Let us record the atoms as they fall upon the mind in the order in which they fall, let us trace the pattern, however disconnected and incoherent in appearance, which each sight or incidence scores upon the consciousness." (Virginia Woolf / "The common reader," First Series, page 150.)
In other words, VW is the first writer EVER who not only commanded the writer to make the reader the focus of his or her attention, but rather the READER'S BRAIN. VW is the first writer that said that THE PURPOSE OF THE SENTENCE IS TO SIMULATE REALITY-- both external and internal. She said it elegantly, but she said it clearly and explicitly, and in effect commanded the writer to do two things in his / her writing. To convey meanings and feelings, yes, but also to hypnotize the reader. And she even gave instructions on how to do the latter: Structure the sentence so that it bombards the reader's brain with the same sensations, in the same order, as physical reality and the writer's internal reality / feelings bombard the writer's brain.
This is as explicit as it comes. Hemingway did this, as did Conrad, and of course Flaubert-- but also Evelyn Waugh and Faulkner, and much later, poets such as John Ashbery and many others.
But VW said it first.
Whether you are a reader or a writer, buy this book and read it. If you are a reader, you'll understand better what modern writing is about. If you are a writer, well, your writing will improve immeasurably.
If there were six stars, I would give this book six.