Sunday, October 28, 2007

Woolf, "Modern Fiction" and "Mr.Bennett and Mrs. Brown"



(Arnold Bennett [left], Virginia Woolf [right])

[Posted by Megan Putney]

1. "Modern Fiction:"

Woolf offers a stinging critique when she claims that “Mr. Wells, Mr. Bennett, and Mr. Galsworthy have excited so many hopes and disappointed them so persistently that our gratitude largely takes the form of thanking them for having shown us what they might have done but have not done” (Woolf 897). Do you agree with this critique of Arnold Bennett’s work? Would you go so far as to say that its only merit lies in our ability to see what it failed to accomplish?

Woolf claims that these three authors can be thought of as “materialists” because they “are concerned not with the spirit but with the body” (Woolf 897). Do you think that this is true of Anna of the Five Towns? Was Bennett more concerned with the body than the soul?

Woolf is looking for a break from the old traditions of novel writing and sees hope for this in the work of James Joyce. She contrasts Joyce to authors such as Bennett by saying that “In contrast with those whom we have called materialists, Mr. Joyce is spiritual” (Woolf 899). What do you think of Woolf applying the term “spiritual” to Joyce and his works? If you were to say how you think the writing styles of Bennett and Joyce differed, would you sum up this difference as the difference between the material and the spiritual?

Woolf claims that the themes of a story can be directly related to the country that the author is from. She claims that “The conclusions of the Russian mind, thus comprehensive and compassionate, are inevitably of the utmost sadness” (Woolf 900) and that English fiction “bears witness to our natural delight in humour and comedy, in the beauty of earth, in the activities of the intellect, and in the splendour of the body” (Woolf 900). Do you agree with her that an author’s native country must so strongly influence their work? Is this inevitable?

2. "Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown:"

Woolf characterizes Bennett’s writings, and Edwardian fiction in general, by saying that “in all this vast conglomeration of printed pages, in all this congeries of streets and houses, there is not a single man or woman whom we know” (Woolf 901). How do you think that this statement can be applied to Anna of the Five Towns?

Woolf references Russian novels once more as she looks at the contrasting styles of creating characters that are found in Edwardian, Victorian, and Russian novels. In talking about Russian characters, Woolf states that: “for the undeniable vividness of so many of them is the result of their crudity” (Woolf 902) and that “we go down into them as we descend into some enormous cavern” (Woolf 902). Do you think that this idea can be applied to the characters in Joyce’s novel?

Woolf claims that Edwardian novelists “give us a vast sense of things in general; but a very vague one of things in particular” (Woolf 902). If this is true for Bennett’s novels, do you think that Joyce differs in this respect?