Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Jottings: Slice of life- 25

Jottings: Slice of life – 25
“Orlando” - a novel by Virginia Woolf
To define the kind of person and writer Virginia Woolf was - is extremely difficult. Not because, she is difficult to categorize, or pin down to a particular genre of writing, or because her works are often personal ruminations, splintered sparks of consciousness clothed in prose, or because her stories are born out of deep depression, melancholia which afflicted her for most part of fertile literary life, or because she was a feminist who believed deeply that a woman can produce peerless works of fiction only when she is relieved of economic, moral and social necessities of life and living, hence her novels were always punctuated by women who strove for independence within and without. She is difficult to define because she was a genius, a rare flower of the twentieth century, for whom words weren’t mere dictionary jottings, but real, tangible, tactile sensations. Very few Women writers have so enamored the literary world as Virginia Woolf has. I can only think of two other female writers who could come close to the depth and beauty of Woolf’s literary excellence: Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte and Margaret Atwood. All possessed prose to equal Woolf's but falls short of the versatility of Woolf’s genius, except Ms. Atwood, perhaps. From “Mrs. Dalloway” to “To the lighthouse” to “The waves”, her writing sparkles with a rare lyrical beauty and depth of consciousness that reveals many layers of understanding of Human life and its myriad moments. She was an active member of the eclectic Bloomsbury group of writers, which included the likes of Lytton stratchey and Keynes, who were Avant-garde thinkers shaping the direction of literature and thought in an era preceding and following the two world wars. It was a mystery how Woolf was able to straddle the world of social intercourse and her own lonely depressive life, and in between t found time to forge a tortuous, loving marital relationship with author Leonard Woolf and write prolifically as she did. Yet that was Virginia Woolf, a unique life in the world of letters.
If one reads the corpus of Woolf’s works, her Book “Orlando” will stand out as an anomaly, a digression in an otherwise serious and intense body of literature. It is almost as if she wrote the book in rare moments of cheer and exuberance. Based on her famed ( and some would suggest) romantic relationship with fellow poetess and member of the Bloomsbury group - Vita Sackville, the story of Orlando begins with the tale of a young Nobleman during the Elizabethan era in 1500’s who mysteriously undergoes a transformation to become a Lady at the age of 30, lives on another 300 years, watching the centuries change, social conventions and etiquette modified, grappling with the meaning of being a woman in the body of once Male form, ruminating on arts and literature, philosophizing on life’s curiosities and cosmic playfulness; speculating on progress, attempting to woe and write poetry, and finally settling down as woman into marriage. I have summarized an entire book into a single sentence; but what I cannot summarize is the sheer brilliance of Woolf’s writing spread over 300 pages. Her pen dances, dazzles, ebbs and flows with a creative effervescence carrying along it the reader into a magical world, where time, place, person dissolves, and almost every leaf, every flower, every drop of dew, every ray of sunlight, each casual insight jumps out of its wordily description and comes alive in our mind’s eye. In all, It’s a celebration of language, prose and beauty in English literature. Published in 1928, “Orlando” ensured that Woolf never felt the need for money anymore. The book kept her financial worries at bay. It was a publishing sensation, and has remained one ever since.
Recently, I was listening to the only available recording of Woolf’s voice captured during a BBC talk on the use of language in 1937. In her immaculate British accent, she speaks about words, and its usage, as reflections of mind and emotions, and how language should evoke inner perception of feeling, and not merely be a string of grammatically correct aggregation of words. A good sentence, in her opinion, should be tactile in the true sense of the word, and a perceptive reader should be able to feel the emotion passing through the writer’s mind as they were written, not experiencing them as an afterthought. And if that is the yardstick Woolf set for herself, then Orlando is the supreme example of such pedigree of writing.
It is interesting that a copy of “Orlando” has been lying on my shelf for three years waiting for its turn. I got around to reading it last week. Unlike, other Woolf books, which needs tremendous involvement, time and focus, I breezed through “Orlando” in three days. Pages kept turning, and the magical and magnetic quality of its prose was intoxicating enough to keep me riveted for long hours in the night. There were certain paragraphs I read at least a couple of times, simply for the beauty of her writing. I wish I could reproduce few passages for my reader to feel its beauty and texture , but that would be injustice both to the book and its author. . I would rather have you read the book in full.
In 1941, Virginia Woolf committed suicide by walking into a pond and drowning herself. History will remember her death as a suicide. But if one has read her works of fiction in their chronological order, one would not fail to note that she always lived life on the edge. Her writing reflected consciousness as fragmentary and never continuous. To her, suicide would only have meant a temporary pause in perception, and nothing more - a short break in her stream of consciousness.
God bless…
Yours in mortality,
Bala

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