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re-reading

I am in no way qualified to write an obituary for a Nobel Prize winning author. The Guardian has a short tribute here to Doris Lessing who died yesterday in London.

What I’m reflecting on as I take my mind back lots of years to the Women’s Studies course in the English Department of UQ is that I was much too young to properly appreciate or indeed understand her work. Thus it was that The Golden Notebook was retrieved from the book shelf today to see if I am ready to fully appreciate this work.

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It appears that Ms Lessing did resonate with me somehow back in my youth.  There’s a fairly lengthy preface in this edition, written by Lessing in June 1971 nearly 10 years after the book was published.

I suspect that I paid particular attention to the preface while looking for clues to complete an essay or assignment.  This segment, heavily underlined in my copy, apparently resonated with me then, as it does now.

“There is only one way to read, which is to browse in libraries and bookshops, picking up books that attract you, reading only those, dropping them when they bore you, skipping the parts that drag – and never, never reading anything because you feel you ought, or because it is part of a trend of a movement. Remember that the book which bores you when you are twenty or thirty will open doors for you when you are forty or fifty – and vice versa. Don’t read a book out of its right time for you. Remember that for all the books we have in print, are as many that have never reached print, have never been written down – even now, in this age of compulsive reverence for the written word, history, even social ethic, are taught by means of stories, an the people who have been conditioned into thinking only in terms of what is written – and unfortunately nearly all the products of our educational system can do no more than this – are missing what is before their eyes.  [ .. ]

Everywhere if you keep your mind open, you will find the truth in words not written down. So never let the printed page be your master. [ .. ]  you should be learning to follow your own intuitive feeling about what you need: that is what you should have been developing, not the way to quote from other people”.

Hmmmm.

“There was all the difference in the world between this planning airily away from the canvas and actually taking her brush and making the first mark.”  To the Lighthouse

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Virginia Woolf  (Roger Fry 1866-1924)            copyright expired

I haven’t read Virginia Woolf’s fiction since I was a student of English at the University of Queensland and to be perfectly frank, that’s a while ago. Browsing through some of those surprisingly un-musty books, I gravitated towards  To the Lighthouse for a revisit.  I remember it as the most enjoyable and accessible of those on the reading list.

I’m bringing fresh eyes to my reading of the novel this time around.  Much of my interest in Woolf as a student was centred around romantic notions of the Bloomsbury Group – creative, intellectual and in some cases troubled individuals.  I had a similar passion for the The Algonquin Round Table in New York during my Dorothy Parker stage, excited by the idea of shared creativity midst behaviours that went beyond the edges of contemporary conformity.

In 1928, a year after To the Lighthouse was published in England, Nettie Palmer  wrote a review for the Brisbane Courier.  Here’s a link to the full review.

I’ll leave the reviews to others. I’ve not yet completed the revisit with Mrs Ramsay, this mother of eight who outwardly, calmly knitted together her family and pairs of socks, and inwardly carried her personal burdens alone.

The Brisbane Courier            4 August 1928

“Praise and blame alike mean nothing. No, delightful as the pastime of measuring may be, it is the most futile of all occupations, and to submit to the decrees of the measurers the most servile of attitudes.”                            A Room of One’s Own