Monday 9 July 2007

(Don't) Keep The Woolf From The Door

First off, a big well done to Carole! I haven't got an email from you yet, though (Yahoo is playing up a bit) so do let me know - what do you think about taking your pick from the current '50 Books You Must Read...' list? They are down the left hand side - only eleven to choose from so far, but hopefully something you'd like, Carole - if you don't mind the book being secondhand, as most of those are out of print. Oh, except no.8, which is impossible to find... In related news, I was excited to see my 'umble blog mentioned on the BAFAB blog. How exciting, and another thanks to BAFAB for their great idea!

Now, I've blogged about Virginia Woolf before. Possibly more than any other author, come to think about it, so forgive me if I do it again. I still have the feeling that mention of Ginny brings people screeching up to a blank wall - Susan Hill has run her Woolf For Dummies, and bloggers great and disparate have mentioned her, but I still always feel the need to apologise, to find 'starting points' for Woolf. Truth is, she's not a difficult author, not if you don't start off with The Waves. But you do have to give her all your attention, just for a little bit... and so, if there really any people out there still unconverted, please turn to The London Scene.

The lovely people at Snow Books sent this beautiful book to me - it's a slim volume, and produced exquisitely. I even stole the picture from them. Must mention Suzanne Burton, before I forget - wonderful illustrations, Suzanne. You can see one on the cover, and they head up each of the essays. Oops, dirty word. These are 'essays', six of 'em, describing various areas and activities in London, but don't go thinking you'll need to reference footnotes and look up Latin epigrams. These are more musings - intellectual musings, but musings nonetheless. I don't know London very well, and I have the feeling this book would be even better if one did, but even with my yokel unfamiliarity, this collection is intensely evocative. Comissioned by Good Housekeeping in 1932 (imagine!) these have never been published together since - apparently the final essay (and the best) was lost until recently.

These essays move between the public grandeur of Westminster Abbey and the House of Commons, and the private detail of Mrs. Crowe's social parlour, and those shopping on Oxford Street. In under a hundred pages, Woolf encapsulates every aspect of social and historical London, in her ever-precise and enveloping language:
And again the moralists point the finger of scorn. For such thinness, such papery stone and powdery brick reflect, they say, the levity, the ostentation, the haste and irresponsibility of our age.
Yet perhaps they are as much out in their scorn as we should be if we asked of the lily that it should be cast in bronze, or of the daisy that it should have petals of imperishable enamel. The charm fo modern London is that it is not built to last; it is built to pass. Its glassiness, its transparency, its surging waves of coloured plaster give a different pleasure and achieve a different end from that which was desired and attempted by the old builders and their patrons, the nobility of England.

How... how Woolfean.
But don't forget, she is more than capable of humour: in Mrs. Crowe's drawing-room 'if anyone said a brilliant thing it was felt to be rather a breach of etiquette - an accident that one ignored, like a fit of sneezing, or some catastrophe with a muffin'.

Because I've blogged about Woolf a few times, I'm going to repeat a cartoon. It still makes me laugh.


  1. Carole

    choose Ex Libris if you haven't read it yet

    I'm falling out of bed laughing

    and a big thanks to Simon for mentioning this book ... found it at my local library

  2. Mm, these Snowbooks hardbacks are delicious to look at. And filled with the likes of Woolf, Jerome and Forster! Must investigate further... (said in a Homer Simpson drooling voice)


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