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Night and Day Paperback – August 28, 2013
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'Together these ten volumes make an attractive and reasonably priced (the volumes vary between L3.99 and L4.99) working edition of Virginia Woolf's best-known writing. One can only hope that their success will prompt World's Classics to add her other essays to the series in due course.' Elisabeth Jay, Westminster College, Oxford, Review of English Studies, Vol. XLV, No. 178, May '94
From the Back Cover
Night and Day, Virginia Woolf's second novel, is both a love story and a social comedy in the tradition of Jane Austen; yet it also questions that tradition, recognizing that the goals of society and the individual may not necessarily coincide. At its centre is Katharine Hilbery, the beautiful grand-daughter of a great Victorian poet. She must choose between becoming engaged to the oddly prosaic poet William Rodney and her attraction to Ralph Denham, with whom she feels a more profound and disturbing affinity. Katharine's hesitation is vividly contrasted with the approach of her friend Mary Datchet, dedicated to the Women's Rights movement. The ensuing complications are underlined and to some extent unravelled by Katharine's mother, Mrs Hilbery, whose struggles to weave together the known documents, events and memories of her father's life into a coherent biography reflect Woolf's own sense of the unique and elusive nature of experience.
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Top Customer Reviews
Although there is much in Night and Day to analyze, savor, or dislike—all equally valid reactions from a good read—one of the most memorable scenes takes place mainly in the consciousness of the family, and more specifically, in Katherine’s consciousness. The catalyst for this scene, which is also the beginning of the book, is a visit from Ralph Denham, a poor man who wants to be rich. To him, Katherine Hilbery and her family have it all—wealth, property, position—without having to work for it. Despite appearances, not all is perfect within Katherine’s family, and not for the typical reasons we see unfolding in a TV drama series. The situation is as follows: Katherine’s grandfather, Richard Alardyce, was a great and important poet; and as with so many other, great, important poet men—Woolf is poking a little fun here—his biography must be written. Katherine and her mother have been tasked since birth with the writing of this biography.
Woolf unfolds her narrative carefully, lulling the reader dreamily into the deep mire into which Katherine one day finds herself. At age 27, she and her mother still have no biography to show the world. Nevertheless, Katherine’s view of her mother has been up to this point optimistic and sympathetic, even as she realizes how absurd the task has become for both of them. Her account of watching her mother at work:
"These spells of inspiration never burnt steadily, but flickered over the gigantic mass of the subject as capriciously as a will-o’-the wisp, lighting now on that point, now on that. It was as much as Katherine could do to keep the pages of her mother’s manuscript in order, but to sort them so that the sixteenth year of Richard Alardyce’s life succeeded the fifteenth was beyond her skill. And yet they were so brilliant, these paragraphs, so nobly phrased, so lightning-like in their illumination, that the dead seemed to crowd the very room. Read continuously, they produced a sort of vertigo, and set her asking herself in despair what on earth she[Katherine] was to do with them…But the book must be written. It was a duty that they owed the world, and to Katherine, at least, it meant more than that, for if they could not between them get this one book accomplished they had no right to their privileged position." (Pg. 30).
The situation intensifies when we discover that Katherine is hiding what she truly feels passionate about, and prefers doing over writing:
"[Katherine]…would not have cared to confess how infinitely she preferred the exactitude, the star-like impersonality, of figures to the confusion, agitation, and vagueness of the finest prose. There was something a little unseemly in thus opposing the tradition of her family; something that made her feel wrong-headed, and thus more than ever disposed to shut her desires away from view and cherish them with extraordinary fondness." (Pg. 34).
Her desire to do math and retreat into silence and thought provides the bulk of a thin but tenacious little thread that runs through the entire book, hinted at only a few times—as if the thinking of it in front of the reader is too much a kind of betrayal. This small, unassuming thread destabilizes her relationships—including her engagement to Rodney, who often observed Katherine within the strict confines of their position and endlessly misunderstood her, even if he did love her—and brings her finally to a place where she must decide for herself what to do. Thereafter a delightful sense of irony colors the entire story. Katherine, who clearly prefers “figures” which she finds simple and clear, is herself perpetually enmeshed and paralyzed in the “confusion, agitation, and vagueness of the finest prose”; in this case, in Woolf’s own finest prose. Woolf as author becomes Greek god, inserting Katherine directly into the kind of story she would dislike reading, a life that has been dragged into a dark thicket of mismatched engagements, feelings that confuse and entangle, and only after all that emotional upheaval and pain and discomfort, a union with Ralph, the most turbulent, emotionally distressed character in the entire book. Her own expression of love comes in a “broken statement” (Pg. 430) and is filled with imagery of fire—perhaps a symbol of the destruction such a partnership has wrought on her own day-to-day patterns up until this point. Yet with Ralph, there will be space for a different life in the form of a cottage where she can become the mathematician she wishes to be. And even though Katherine cannot describe or say to herself that she is falling in love, not very well, Woolf wonderfully describes the situation for the reader:
“Moments, fragments, a second of vision, and then the flying waters, the winds dissipating and dissolving; then, too, the recollection from chaos, the return of security, the earth firm, superb and brilliant in the sun.” (Pg. 432)
A subtle but satisfying ending.
Virginia desperately needed a room (space) of her own. But, her fanciful flights and gripping internalization needed to be grounded. Virginia often used stream of consciousness style writing via her characters. She externalized essential dialogues, views, and mindset impressions. She has often been described as a feminist. She struck out mightily against male domination, and the established stereotyped image of grey, quiet mouse type women.
Night and Day was Woolf's second published novel. Again, she exercises her elastic mind using subjects of marriage, non- marriage and emancipated females, as well as, women's suffrage. Decision, composure, contemplation and control were attributes of character, Katharine Hilbery. Most did not suspect that she was keenly observant giving off tiny sparks like an ancient jewel. This novel was Virginia Woolf's chance to explore and utilize her thoughts and emotions. These vivid portrayals were avant-garde for her day. Always on the edge. Some referred to Woolf as "a leprechaun at work." She has proven through her numerous books, and her life, that she was much more.
Katharine Hilbery, one of the two central characters, is the strikingly beautiful only child of a wealthy London couple who are immersed in the literary world. Her father publishes a review, and her mother worships the 19th century poets, especially her own father whose biography she is perpetually compiling. But Katharine, entirely unbeknownst to her parents, has no interest in the arts. She secretly studies mathematics and yearns to be an astronomer so she can spend her time with the stars that are as cold and distant and unemotional as she feels herself to be. The law of science appeals to her "because she could find nothing like it in the possession of human lives."
The other central figure is Ralph Denham, a penniless lawyer who lives in a shabby house with his mother and many siblings. Like Katharine he shuns the "damned romantic nonsense" of the past century and takes private refuge in the sciences, only his passion is botany. But he loses control of his passions when he makes Katharine's acquaintance while transacting business with her father.
The story proceeds with the untangling of an awkward chain of romantic and social entanglements. Mary Datchett, a suffragist, loves Ralph Denham. Ralph is secretly infatuated with Katharine Hilbery. Katharine is resignedly engaged to a bad poet, William Rodney, who thinks he loves Katharine until he meets her cousin Cassandra.
But the real focus of the novel is on the inner turmoil of Katharine and Ralph. They both ruthlessly examine their own feelings and try to suppress what they consider irrational. Both are withdrawn and reticent by nature, but brutally honest when forced to reveal their thoughts. They are the intellectual children of Darwin, Freud and Wells living in a world whose approved emotions are those of Byron, Keats and Shelley.
"You come and see me among flowers and pictures," Katharine warns Ralph, "and think me mysterious, romantic, and all the rest of it. Being yourself very inexperienced and very emotional, you go home and invent a story about me, and now you can't separate me from the person you've imagined me to be. You call that, I suppose, being in love; as a matter of fact it's being in delusion."
But what is left of life when one rejects the idea of love? Is Katharine right to resign herself to "a perfectly loveless marriage, as the thing one actually did in real life"?
In the passage which gives the novel its title, Katharine finally challenges herself to reconcile the conflict between her public persona and her dark and troubled inner self. "'Why,' she reflected, 'should there be this perpetual disparity between the thought and the action, between the life of solitude and the life of society, this astonishing precipice on one side of which the soul was active and in broad daylight, on the other side of which it was contemplative and dark as night?'"
Night and Day is a brilliant, beautifully written and thoughtful novel full of interesting and refreshingly distinctive characters who must find a way to reconcile their new ideals with their primitive feelings.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
make the reader smile. Very much looking forward to the next book.
I like the continuity between books.
Jesse Stone is a great character and Suit & Molly round out the crew.