This one was a little slower and felt a little dragged out.
This one was a little slower and felt a little dragged out.
An awesome book! Dark academia, loads of twists and turns, and a page-turner to boot.
Some folks have called it the anti-Harry Potter, simply because in Harry Potter, you want to go to Hogwarts, but you do not want to go anywhere near the Institute of Special Technologies in the Vita Nostra universe. But this comparison is false. Vita Nostra is nothing like it. To get selected to study at the Institute is more about destiny than choice. That’s all I’ll say on that topic.
Also, a fair few reviewers have said that they were shocked or surprised at the ending. I don’t know why. The ending was almost foregone after the events of the book. I’m not saying it was predictable, but it was just the perfect ending. No surprises there.
I started listening to Parisian Lives on the third of July and only just finished it. That’s almost three full months of interrupted listening, mostly in my car. But also while doing the dishes and grocery shopping.
A couple of things struck me about this book.
Firstly, I didn’t know what I was expecting going in. I’ve never been much into reading biographies, let alone autobiographies. But due to my recent interest in feminist memoirs and the “women writing women” idea, I’ve been diving into a lot of non-fiction. It surprised me to see that this book is semi-autobiographical and semi-biographical of the two Subjects Deidre Bair wrote about in her first two biography books – Samuel Beckett and Simone De Beauvoir. It contained equal parts an examination of Deidre Bair’s own life and struggles and her writer jitters and apprehensions when meeting literary giants; and an equal part her interactions with her Subjects, their reactions, and reasons for allowing her into their lives, the doors they opened and closed for her, the way they wanted themselves to be remembered and not. So it was quite the satisfying read.
Second, I wanted to know more about the lives of these two people. They are philosophers and interesting ones. Absurdism and Feminism. Both interesting worlds. So it was a nice introduction to their lives. Something the author says struck me as the perfect reason to read a biography – her goal has always been to make it so that the reader of her biographies whets their appetite for the Subject’s work and after finishing the book, dives right into the published works of the Subject. That’s what this book did for me. Though I’m wont to meander my way through some other works before carrying on with the “original” strain of thought I was following (I’m listening to Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott now instead of digging into either of the Subjects’ works), I do see this book as an important milestone for me to dive into more philosophy and also into more “women writing women”.
Third, and this is something I noticed in Figuring by Maria Popova, I love and hate that the final chapter in such books is chock full of “homework”. No where does Deidre Bair mention so many names, so many influences and inspirations for her Subjects as she does in the Final Chapter. In Figuring too, the final chapter had me taking copious notes and marking multiple books as “to be read”.
Deidre Bair says at one point that she writes the introduction at the end of her book writing arc, because she wants to summarize why the reader should read the book. This explains so well as to why I despise reading introductions. Once I’ve picked up a book, I want to quickly get to the meat of it, not keep navel gazing upon why I should be reading it. So I skip the introduction. But the final chapter, oh I need to keep coming back to it. This is partly why I dislike audiobooks. For all their convenience, there’s no way for me to highlight passages and make good notes. Oh well. Trade offs.
Overall, loved this book. It was unexpected and yet exactly what I needed in my reading journey.
For the last six months, I’ve been on a journey. A journey through time. Specifically, from 1715 to 1789 AD. This journey has chiefly focused on one man – Jean-Jacques Rousseau and one country – France, as they both hurl towards the French revolution of 1789. However, surprisingly, the journey also touched almost everything else – it covered hundreds of artists, writers, essayists, satirists, scientists, inventors, enterprises, kings, queens, books, pamphlets, lies, then-hidden truths, and ideas. It talked primarily of France, but framed its history by talking about every force outside of it, including Russia, the Turks, the many travails of Poland, and so many other factors that ultimately led to the revolution which shook the foundations of the Western World.
It also revealed to me how amazingly France participated in the formation of the United States of America, if only to spite the UK in doing so, and in the process destroyed it’s own wealth and legacy. But the silver lining shines through – that revolution led to so much democracy and pushed the ideas of the Rights of people to the fore.
France, it’s history, and consequently, this book, are not without faults. The widespread support for slavery both within and without, the absurd conflict between Catholics and Protestants, which still boggles me, the constant wars with England, are all part of the history of France. The somewhat uneven-handed remarks and accolades to everything European being the “best” and the “greatest in the world”, the unnecessary descriptions of the visages of the persons described, and the somewhat abrupt ending, with only allusions to the excesses of the revolution, are all the faults of the book.
But I cannot thank the authors enough for giving me a springboard to leap off of. I have some semblance of an idea of where to start my next reading from, even though it’ll be a while before I come back to anything regarding history. For now, I’ve got quite a lineup of audiobooks to work through, from Andy Weir’s Project Hail Mary to a collection of short stories by amazing authors as Kate Chopin, Virginia Woolf, and Mary Shelley. I think I’ll stay in the fiction lane for some time, till the call of history, philosophy, and the story of our civilization rises again.
Regarding the titular man – Rousseau – well, first of all, this book taught me how to write his name! It also told me of how terrible the person was in his personal life – how cruel to his own children (none of whom he raised himself or welcomed into his home), how callous towards his long time lover and wife, how immature and suspicious of his friends. But also, how brilliant in his writing, how influential in thought, and how deeply rooted our current world is in his ideas. Apparently, he affected everything from both our major systems of early childhood education – kindergarten and montessori, to innumerable philosophers, writers (Tolstoy, Byron, Shelley, Keats, Thoreau, Kant, Schopenhauer), and the Romantic movement. He even made it fashionable to climb mountains and explore the great outdoors in Europe as well as to have gardens that look more natural than manicured perfections. In an upcoming blog post, I argue that the writings matter, not the writer. As much as I’ve come to despise the man, this is true for Rousseau – he was an influential writer and thinker, even though he was a horrible little man.
Book timeline – Jul 22nd 2022 -> Jan 24th 2023
Format – audiobook
Length – 57 hours 22 minutes
Tonight’s iPhone wallpaper is the Pale Blue Dot, where everyone ever has lived and died, mostly unnoticed by the rest of the solar system, let alone the galaxy or the universe.
One of the strangest books I’ve read in a while. Even as I was finishing it, I felt like there’s so much more the story can tell but the author knew when to close it so as to leave us with the purity and purpose of the story instead of the comprehensiveness of reality.
Excellent writing by another Japanese author I’m a fan of now.
BTW, the book is full of trigger warnings – paedophelia, child molestation, murder, cannibalism, to name a few.
I started reading Stephen Arseneault’s Hadron series #1, a book named “Dark Matter”. I got as a free eBook on Amazon and it’s been clogging up space in my Kindle library. So I decided to give it a try. At the time of writing, I had read a little over half of this book and there’s only one way I can describe it – frustrating.
There are a lot of reviews of this book out there that criticize it for being a ‘prepper’ book, glorifying doomsday preppers and pure redneck Americanism. But I’m OK with that. I’ve never read a novel about preppers and so this idea of a band of people surviving some sort of total system breakdown through the blatant use of guns is fresh to me. That’s one reason I started reading this book – the author makes no qualms about it in the beginning – this is not a book in and of itself. This is a prelude to all the sci-fi stuff that happens in the rest of the books. Read this book only to get context of what will happen next. Perhaps some of the same characters survive and go on to become central characters in the rest of the books?
If you think about it, any other combination of characters than the ones displayed in the book might not survive the events that happen. If they have guns but no one with a military background, or they have all that but no mechanical engineer with an agriculture degree who also brews alcohol, or have everything but no chopper flying father-son duo. Any of those missing characters and the story could turn out different. I found that to be a compelling idea. This is a somewhat Tolstoyan in vision – how can I explain what happens next, without explaining what happened before?
But that’s where I’ll end the comparisons with Tolstoy. The writing, the editing, the mollycoddling of the reader, are all a little too much on the nose. For each of those reasons, I’d like to take off one star out of the rating. Allow me to explain.
All in all, it’s an irritating and frustrating book to read. I’ll still finish it though. Why? Just for the credit (on Goodreads). I’ve spent a good amount of time on the book and I’m not going away without some of the promised ending. In case I find the ending to be exciting and the cliffhanger to be intriguing, will I pick up the next book, or any other books written by Arseneault?
Not in a million years.
I haven’t read a lot of time travel science fiction in my life. So I can’t judge this book in the context of other sci-fi stories. But if this is what time travel books are supposed to be like, well done Elan Mastai! You’ve blown me away and won me as a reader for all your future work!
This book starts out as a time travel science fiction novel, but so very quickly, this gorgeously funny story with a narrator who’s just as confused as we readers are, becomes a strange look at everything else time travel is about – people, their emotions, their lives and arcs and how time travel affects them. The author wraps all of the stories he writes in a wry humor that had me laughing like a maniac on the bus, with amazed people looking at this loony who still reads hardbound books and laughs at them!
There are many layers of philosophy, anti-war, pro-peace rhetoric all set within the dialogue of the story for you to discover, with absolutely zero (well, two pages total) theoretical discussion. Every thought you’ve had about time travel, every plot point you can imagine while reading the story, every joke the author could fit in well, everything is in there.
This is a great read. It took me about three weeks of on-and-off reading and the story moves at a great pace, though it does get a little convoluted in the final chapters. But there too, is a gem – the author takes the universal concepts of time travel – it happens instantly, it can be reversed if done carefully, a second version of you can observe a third version of you in the background to fulfill some convoluted narrative – and twists and turns them to suit his excellent ideas.
Best of all is that this is a story about people. The narrator is so scientifically dense that he doesn’t bother to explain much about the technology he encounters. It’s a blast to see him blunder through life not knowing how doors works! But when it comes to people, oh, this is a deep story. It shows how amazingly, brilliantly, wholly selfish people are. If you’ve ever worshiped a ‘hero’, seeing them as a singular dimension of “all that is good”, this is the read to dispel your doubts!
I cannot describe how beautiful this book is. To do that would be, to take a phrase from the book, sort of like cracking a creme brulee. Just go read it. Borrow it from me if you want!
Notes on All Our Wrong Todays
Page 60, God this is a funny book! Every few pages, I’m grabbing my sides rocking with laughter! The people on the bus look at me like I’m crazy for laughing at a paper book.
Page 62, all this guy talks about is women!!! It’s like his entire life story is about one woman to the next! Damn!
Page 62, I’ve noticed something about modern futuristic sci-fi novels – they all tend to assume that somehow Chinese folks will be marrying Mexican folk a lot and the offspring will inevitably have a Chinese first and Spanish second name, or vice versa. I suppose that flows from the two largest non-white minorities that white writers focus on.
Page 66, this and the first line of the second chapter are the only two places where the narrator’s name is used till now. In chapter 2, because there, the author tries to be cheeky and uses the third person from the narrator’s perspective and immediately hates it and reverts back to first person, which is funny! This is what is so interesting to me about first person novels. The narrator has to be extremely descriptive about things and emotions and feelings, without which the novel starts to feel dull. In third person, there’s the escape from emotions and mainly a flow based on actions is easier to create.
Page 67, the narrator talks about a global time synced system, an NTP server at scale, but talks about it being synced to the microsecond. Is this an oversight? What about the nanosecond?
Page 73, here is the typical line from a man in the wrong, “I don’t think that justifies my subsequent actions. But it explains them.”
Page 76, the book talks about pregnancy and avoiding it and once again, even though all this marvelous technological advancement surrounds the narrator, the onus of making sure pregnancy is avoided lies with the woman, with what the author calls a ‘gametic suppressant’. Brilliant oversight. Of course, it’s a plot point. It’s just part of the story and crafted in a way to put the blame squarely on the unwitting narrator, but still.
Page 82, “the liar, the genius, the ghost.” What a line! Whey a way to describe, to summarize almost all genius!
Page 151, the narrator’s description of books and reading here is repeated from before. The way the narrator describes that his mother is the only one who reads paper books is also repeated.
Page 175, oh boy. The exact words the narrator has been hoping to hear his entire life.
Page 182, this chapter feels like an ode to a bookstore owner
Page 186, what a pretty line – “This is the morning after the night before.”
Page 186, there is a certain awkwardness in Penny’s language and lines. Almost as if the author wrote the character as such and fought with the editors about it. Let’s see, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this aspect of the character is important in some way.
Page 200, excellent ending to the chapter! Wonderful last line!
Page 203, spelling mistake. Should be imminently instead of immanently. I think. What does immanent mean? The internet seems to think ‘inherent’ or ‘remaining within’. I suppose that’s right. So, not a spelling mistake. A new word for me!
Page 208, just one perfect line and I burst out laughing in a crowded bus stand on a rainy day.
Page 214, heh. “small-d depressed”
Page 215, dawn often tends to smear across the sky, doesn’t it?
Page 223, “events in…a family…Extinction-level events”
What a wonderful way of looking at ‘issues’. Indeed, some families and relationships have major events that cause deep scars. One other book I’ve read this year also had similar ‘events’ – Before the Wind by Jim Lynch.
Page 224, “I don’t believe in the truth. I’m a scientist. I believe in questions and the best answer we have right now.”
That’s great writing. Such diametrically opposite statements!
Page 249, “even the unlovable parts you hadn’t shown him yet”
This is a very strong page. Read it all, but also this part alone. It’s so poignant because everyone has this feeling that they have dark parts that no one can love and even the ones who love them may never accept them. Ever. That is true human frailty.
Page 295, “Your brain is very good at managing cognitive dissonance. Arguably, it’s your brain’s main purpose.” ?
Page 319, this is not a sci-fi story about time travel. This is a love and loss story which happens to be wrapped in some convoluted sci-fi chapters. That’s beautiful!
Page 324, “This is how you discover who someone is. Not success. Not the result. The struggle.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about people and blogging and the social aspect of the open web. This line here shows why it’s so interesting to follow people’s blogs more than anything else – their social media profiles, their newsletters, their podcasts. Blogs are where people try and fail. Blogs are where people record their silliest mistakes and worst ideas. That journey is much more worth it than the result – a working product, or a service, or a life well lived.
Page 325, “That’s all success feels like. It’s not triumphant. It’s not glorious. It’s just a relief. You finally stopped failing.”
Page 357, “Its tough to get worked up about what might have been when all you know is what already is.”
Page 367, “It was like our collective imagination stopped revising the idea of what civilization could be, fixed a definitive model in place, and set to work making it happen.”
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately – why do we have corruption, why do people know morals but don’t follow morals. After all, stagnation in politics and ethics is another kind of immorality. I think the author sums it up very nicely – when there is a fixed idea of what the world is supposed to be like, there can only be a sort of catching up to it. People don’t work to improve what they have or what they’re aiming for. They just want to get there and then hold on, without wondering whether the goal post has or should be moved.
This paragraph and this chapter is about the ideology the book is based on, or at least, a part of it. And it works well – it points out an inherent flaw in our thinking – when we accuse ideologues of misdirection and corruption, we don’t understand that even those who believe they are on a progressive path are in fact ideologues who are leading the world to a fixed point. Perhaps we need to check all our thought leaders and make sure they are constantly revising the end goal they are striving towards instead of limiting their vision to something lesser.
I started this book about a month ago. I was skeptical. It’s a first book, it’s by some unknown author, it’s set in India but not quite. There were many other reasons too, all of which fell away, shattered, burnt, and then stomped upon by this glorious, marvelous, alien, absurd, beautiful novel.
If I wanted to sensationalize this novel, I would say four words to you – “Cannibalistic European Werewolves in Calcutta!”
But this novel doesn’t need that (besides, that statement above is completely wrong). This story is wild and beautiful and violent and gory. It deifies murder and condemns humans. It questions some social mores and reinforces others. This novel is a fictional history and a tight ropewalk across time. This story is not in control of the narrator and sometimes, not even in control of the author. It flows, like all the blood that it spills, sometimes visibly and sometimes invisibly.
This story needs no sensationalization because it is already, inherently sensational. It goes to those dark places you do not want to go and which the writer did not know his own mind went. And it. is. blashphemous. Oh, it is blasphemous. It is ugly in its blasphemy and yet somehow pure and organic. This book should be burned in squares and read in colleges. This book should be debated and revered. This book should be shredded and yet should survive generations, to show a future civilization, that this too, was something a contemporary thought of.
Or, perhaps, it should not. The violence is without obligation. The rating should be nothing less than “for people who will not puke at every page”. This book should be read by everyone yet no one. There are passages I could not go through with a sane mind, which begs the question – what of the author? Well, I can only say that the author is a genius of another level. He is so vivid in the descriptions yet somehow, there’s always a fog over the entire story, perhaps because that is how we read our history – with a dim view of what must have happened. It is almost unbelievable that this story exists, that too from an Indian mind.
When I was, over the last month, in thrall of the story, I met with a friend and went into a reverie about the book. At some point, she looked me straight in the eye and woke me up from my stupor by asking me that one dreaded question that has destroyed many a career before making them – “tell me how it ends”. The implication is clear. I’ve read way too many first-time novels which were wonderful pieces of literature till they were not. A weak ending, an odd plot point, a stubborn author not willing to let editors do their job. There are many examples of such books which sat in my memory as I pondered over this question. Every time I read the book since that day, I was ever afraid of her question and what the answer would be. Would it be as terrible as I’d come to think it could? There certainly was a strain on the story. It reached a climax too late. It piled on too much towards the end. It tried to tie up too many loose ends.
But my prayers were answered. The novel walks that middle path quite well. It is a wholly original story (the irony of using that phrase, which itself is not wholly original!) and it elevates folklore to a new level. This. This is what Indian authors are capable of, if only they return to their own roots and take ownership of their stories.
Do not ask me if you should read this story. Ask yourself – are you ready to be jolted out of your seat and into the ugliness of this world that the writer so casually flips through, as if it were part of our real history? Human history is not free of bloodshed and meaningless violence, but I’ve never come across an example where it is just laid out, so simply, so absurdly, so purely, while still making it clear – this is fiction. Then why, oh why, is it so bloodcurdling?
There is a phrase in the book that aptly describes the story – “in revulsion and glory”. The story is deeply homosexual. True to its form, both scenes of utmost violence and of deep passion are vivid and colorful and this may very well not be for everyone.
Page 8, last para, it should be “the moonlight diffuses”
Page 52, last line, “I relieved” seems oddly worded.
Page 57, this is such a beautifully written book. It elevated even the most gruesome, the most banal, the most ugly. There’s a line here that says “her faced gemmed with flies.” That is not a phrase that I believe I’ve read anywhere, ever.
A leash, I didn’t say. “Thank you,” I said.
By Jove this book has such colorful language! The way it starts and stops, the way it leads the reader through the thought processes of the characters. The way it surprises and shocks the reader at the same time as it does so to the characters. Indra Das is truly a magnificent writer who will come up with many great stories in his lifetime!
Page 155, oh beautiful blasphemy.
Page 165, what the heck do onions rotting in honey smell like? This book confuses my senses more than anything I’ve ever read!
Page 177, what is the River of Paradise, a canal that flowed through Chandni chowk?
“little more than monkeys that forgot how to swing from the trees.”
Seattle has a lot of Christian missionaries who stand on the streets, smiling, trying to convince you that their religion is the best. If these people irritate you, simply get a printout of the cover of this book, with this paragraph on the flip side and hand it to them whenever they disturb you.
Page 199, this is a great book to wake up to. It jolts you. It burns through whatever sleep you had and whips you into thinking, ‘this also exists in the world?!’
Page 201, one of the things that always amazes me about great writers is how they can describe, in apparent detail and vivid imagery, things that have not happened (at least to me). Things such as death, unconsciousness, and being in a stuffed stupor. How amazingly the author describes one such event, making it so amazingly clear how it would happen. The more I think about it, the more this is my favorite para in this entire amazing book.
Page 204, there’s a line on this page, “all else was fled”. When I googled that phrase, it showed up exactly 3 times in old books. That shows the level of original thought by this author!
Page 235, “a glittering human scab on the water”, ugh, so beautiful! So ghastly!
Page 250, should this be “infinite moment” or “infinitesimal moment”?
Page 283, comedy appears in the strangest of places in this book!
“Lightning cracks the edge of the world, rewriting the vanishing sunlight.”
Note to the author – I hate you, dear author, for you have ruined me for a great many books now. The deep color you have shown me, the way you have wrenched my eyes open to this absurd world of yours, how will I come out of it? How will I dive headfirst into lighter novels? How will I read funny stories without feeling that they are all monochrome?
Update – But I have already moved on! I have picked up All our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai and it is a riot of a book! I am cracking up in the bus like I’ve not in a while! A perfect follow up to this gruesome novel. The Devourers will visit me over time, but for now, I’m gladly sated at how it ended and what wonderful visions it showed to me.
Photo by Internet Archive Book Images
This is a typical Robert Langdon book, where the hero is the most well-connected, smartest-in-the-room, teacher-of-genius, yet-dumbest-when-it-comes-to-technology larger-than-life persona in the book, for whom women ache and doors open and helicopters fly at will. It was improved by the other two characters in the book, who, frankly, were in ways more important than Langdon himself.
Brown’s final explanation, that beautifully crafted, extremely vivid crux of the novel, which we read his books for, outdid itself this time. It was elegant, very well researched, and perhaps so coherent that Brown may well be a messiah of the times to come!
There was an expected thing that happens towards the end – the betrayal of technology – which you begin to expect almost as soon as you read about the technologies involved in this novel. Yet, in the cold light of the morning, I realize that while Brown had to make it trope-y, he managed to squeeze in an element of elegance there. The betrayal is typical of all science fiction, yet somehow away from it, as it resides in the world of Robert Langdon, and it is done and discovered in Langdon-style. The character’s response to it is also surprisingly Luddite.
All in all, it’s a good read. There were a point or two where it could have been tightened, where obvious spoilers could have been skipped to maintain the suspense. But those side-suspenses don’t matter. The main suspense was enough to whet our Dan Brown appetites!
Photo by quadralectics
I read this book, over the course of a month and a half, starting on July 1st and finishing it on August 13th, 2016. I read it because of the Bechdel test. I wanted to know the background of that idea. Woolf, unaware of the webcomic she would inspire almost a century later, gave a couple of lectures which are transcribed and expanded upon in this book.
I did not read the foreword of the book, for forewords are for and by editors. People do not need to know how to decipher the hidden meaning between the lines in order to enjoy prose. I dived directly into Woolf’s thoughts on the subject and her winding arrival at the conclusions presented in the book. There are things I agree with and things I slightly disagree with. My notes will say as much.
These notes are presented here, more for me, than for you. I want a record of the things I read and the thoughts I… thought… while reading this book. I hope to come back to this page often and review and revise my thoughts and notes.
“And thus by degrees was lit, halfway down the spine, which is the seat of the soul, not that hard electric light which we call brilliance, as it pops in and out upon our lips, but the more profound, subtle and subterranean glow, which is the rich yellow flame of rational intercourse.”
Woolf notes a very curious thing – that food is rarely ever mentioned by novelists. She believes that luncheons and dinners are not just for the witty things said, or the interactions the characters experience. So she challenges that norm by describing the food she had at a particular lunch and the effects it had on her. But she had an ulterior motive to it – she wanted to show the almost pedestrian food women’s colleges had in her time, so as to show that even something as important as lunch is rationed and poorer than it would be for a men’s college.
“Fiction must stick to facts, and the truer the facts the better the fiction.”
Oh, such a wonderful line, and so true. This book is technically marked as fiction (even though it is an essay and is thus non-fiction). Yet almost everything in it is fact, which makes it all the more wonderful. It reminds me of The Mezzanine, a book by Nicholson Baker, where he painstakingly describes a lunch break. That book too, is fiction, but it is almost entirely based on facts, which makes it a strange and wonderful read.
“All was dim, yet intense too, as if the scarf which the dusk had flung over the garden were torn asunder by star or sword.”
A lot of my notes are just about wonderful imagery.
“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”
Ah, another maxim.
(How to describe gossip)
“We burst out in scorn at the reprehensible poverty of our sex.”
That is the centrality of Woolf’s issue with the current state of affairs regarding women. They are indeed poor. Once the woman was pushed into the kitchen and the home, there was no need for them to have money of their own. Man became the provider of goods and money and that was where women lost so much power and control. It’s coming back, slowly.
“Why was one sex so prosperous and the other so poor?”
“London was like a workshop. London was like a machine.”
“… the aloe that flowers once in a hundred years would flower twice before I could set pen to paper.”
She’s talking about how long it would take her to read all the books written by men about women. Indeed, men are obsessed with writing about women, mainly to prove them wrong.
“les femmes sont extrêmes, elles sont meilleures ou pires que hommes”
translation – women are extreme, they are better or worse than men
Oddly, it is true. Hell hath no fury than a woman scorned. Yet, when women are better, they are infinitely better than men, as is proven often by the Indian school system.
“Had he been laughed at, to adopt the Freudian theory, in his cradle by a pretty girl?”
“They had been written in the red light of emotion and not in the white light of truth.”
All those books written by men about women are worthless to a woman trying to study women because they are colored by the resentment those men have towards women.
On this page, Woolf feels angry towards the men psychoanalyzing and expounding on women. She feels that their constant categorizing of women as inferior is wrong and hurtful. So she rejects their theories outright and says that their books are worthless to her.
This should be our response to Western attacks on Indian religions and mythology. Ignore them and forge your own. If the framework to be followed has been defined by them, so be it. But instead of trying to explain their flaws, simply make your own assertions and let those stand the scrutiny of people. Add a new voice, instead of parroting their claims and then defending against them.
This page has a wonderful description of how Woolf sees the anger of men and we can see her anger rising in response to that anger. This is the face of feminism as we see it today. It is just anger, legitimate anger. But it is seen as anger. It is not seen as the just response that it is to the anger of men towards women. Why have men been angry with women for so long? Do they want no progress for women? Do they never want to see a woman have the morals of a man? Even that question puts women in the light of men and so, is wrongly put forth.
“The professors…were angry.”
“When I read what he wrote about women I thought, not of what he was saying, but of himself.”
This is the key to what Rajiv Malhotra does and he is criticized even for that. Why should he not psychoanalyze the psychoanalysts of Indian culture? What gives them the right to do so but doesn’t allow him to do the same?
“Yet he was angry. I knew that he was angry by this token.”
“Life is arduous, difficult, a perpetual struggle.”
“There is no end to the pathetic devices of the human imagination.”
“Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size.”
“…was not merely the cry if wounded vanity; it was a protest against some infringement of his power to believe in himself.”
That is what men are most afraid of when a woman stands up for herself – that they will be suppressed by the simple act of her trying to define herself.
“And how can we generate this imponderable quality, which is so invaluable, most quickly? By thinking that other people are inferior to oneself. By feeling that one has some innate superiority…over other people. “
This is the perfect example of how the British felt that they had the right to rule over the rest of the world. Frankly, raising this feeling in a people is very important for a country.
An unintended consequence of feminism may well be that boys will actually mature, instead of growing up to be manboys who are mollycoddled by their wives as much as they are by their mothers. From this passage, it would seem that Woolf is trying to show how feeble men really are. They are emotional wrecks just waiting to happen. Well, bring about a culture of equality and men will have to learn to fend for themselves emotionally, maybe even learn to share their feelings with other men.
“How is he to go on giving judgement, civilizing natives, making laws, writing books, dressing up and speechifying at banquets, unless he can see himself at breakfast and at dinner at least twice the size he really is?”
Man’s dominion over his home is as much a definition of himself as how he operates in public.
“Great bodies of people are never responsible for what they do. They are driven by instincts which are not within their control.”
That is a shame and a blessing. Fools like Trump can easily control them for their means and men like Gandhi can rouse them into rebellion for the greater good. Can not a body of people each think for themselves? Not often. Man is a social animal, true, but an animal nonetheless. Animals think in packs and often, one animal’s flaws take the entire pack down a path of destruction.
“Moreover, in a hundred years, women will have ceased to be the protected sex.
Anything may happen when womanhood has ceased to be a protected occupation.”
This is an interesting passage, for its predictions. Let’s see if they come true. Supposing this was written around 1927 (copyrighted 1929), the due date is 2027 and already, most of what Woolf writes about has been achieved by women.
“Imaginatively she is of the highest importance; practically she is completely insignificant. She pervades poetry from cover to cover; she is all but absent from history.”
Such a sad plight – being the centerpiece of a magnificent story, but flung to the side as soon as a man arrives on the scene.
This passage right here is what inspires me. It is not just the Elizabethian woman who faces this dire situation – that in which she does not record in her diary, or write poems and plays, or describe her house – it is also the everyman of almost every generation. My father and brother and mother and wife, none of them have a diary of their own. No means do they have of passing on any knowledge of their existence to our children. Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram are not going to be around forever and they do not suffice as records of our existence. We need more. We need to fall back on the traditional ways of recording our lives and we need to find new ways of telling our tales to our future generations. That is the only way that some time in the future someone, somewhere will have our names on their lips when they want to refer to our lives. That stranger is very important to me.
“Mary Russell Mitford”
What enmity did Woolf have to this woman?
“Cats do not go to heaven. Women cannot write the plays of Shakespeare.”
People sure have never liked cats!
“Who shall measure the heat and violence of the poet’s heart when caught and tangled in a woman’s body?”
Beautiful use of hyphens.
“Ce chien est à moi”
Translation – this dog is mine
Men wants to own everything, want their name on everything.
“The chief glory of a woman is not to be talked of – Pericles”
Why is it that being talked of is as negative thing a thing as any? Why must men assume that if a woman is famous, she must be famous for the wrong reasons? Why do men assume that women are always pure and worthy and need to be hidden behind curtains? I’m watching a TV show nowadays with the missus – Criminal Minds. The protagonists work for the FBI and go around catching serial killers, child abductors and rapists. Almost always, if the villain of the episode is a woman – which is rarely the case – a solid reason is given for the woman to turn to crime – a lost child, a rape, a vicious trauma. Men, however, seem to want to kill and rape and destroy for no good reason. They are supposedly of the mindset to want to do these things. That is a rather wrong thing to assume.
“Anonymity runs in their blood. The desire to be veiled still possesses them.”
“To write a work of genius is almost always a feat if
Ah, so true.
“The indifference of the world which…men of genius have found so hard to bear was in her case not indifference but hostility. “
A genius man faces indifference, a genius woman, hostility. Almost as if the public asks, “Why must this man be smarter than us?” and then, “How dare this woman be smarter than us?”
“And happily in this age of biography the two pictures often do complete each other, so that we are able to interpret the opinions of great men not only by what they say, but by what they do. “
Is Woolf suggesting that Mr. Oscar Browning is having an illegitimate affair with a boy?
That is the sad thing about bad things said by people about others – someone else down the line tends to use those words for their own purpose. Something I was reading recently, though I don’t remember the source – words are a weak source of information, because the person who writes them is not there to defend their meaning somewhere along the line. I think this was Socrates, critiquing writing as a means of knowledge transfer.
“Her mind must have been strained and her vitality lowered by the need of opposing this, of disproving that.”
This happens even to this day and age. Actresses in India are asked to defend themselves in strong roles, or asked to comment upon someone else’s criticism of their art. The answer, ‘I have no comment’ is not accepted and reporters hound them for a comment. Why should a woman have to defend a good role? Why should an actor have to defend any role? Why is the answer, ‘let my art speak for itself’, not enough?
“Unfortunately, it is precisely the men or women of genius who mind most what is said of them. Remember Keats. Remember the words he had cut on his tombstone.”
What did Keats have on his tombstone?
Answer – “Here lies One whose Name was writ in Water.”
“Florence Nightingale shrieked aloud in her agony. “
This page is an excellent example of how a writer can copy down an entire work of some other author and thus have it live on, both in the original and in this form, so that if for some reason the former may be destroyed, the latter can bear witness for future generations of this wonderful writing.
“The adulation of the toadies”
“Mrs. Behn was a middle class woman with all the plebeian virtues of humour, vitality and courage;”
“Money dignifies what is frivolous if unpaid for.”
If you get it for free, you don’t appreciate it enough. Money gives it a stature, a dignity.
“This, towards the end of the eighteenth century a change came about which, if I were rewriting history, I should describe more fully and think of greater importance than the Crusades or the Wars of the Roses. The middle class woman began to write.”
“Earn five hundred a year by your wits.”
This, more than anything, is Woolf’s appeal to women, according to my reading of this book – do not wait for someone to open that door for you. Go forth and push it yourself. Do not wait for an aunt to give you an inheritance. Earn that wage from your craft and you will suddenly have the freedom to be who you want to be.
“To Jane Austen there was something discreditable in writing Pride and Prejudice.”
“She will write of herself where she should write of her characters.”
Woolf says that Charlotte Bronte wrote too much of herself in Jane Eyre instead of writing more about the character. This would be because Charlotte’s frustration with her life and its limitations would drive her to ‘write in rage’. It is important for the author to divest completely of their frustrations and issues and start afresh with their characters, because those characters are completely different people from the author and must be treated as such. Good writing advice.
Excellent commentary about how we perceive novels as readers
“what holds them together in these rarest instances of survival (I was thinking of War and Peace) is something that one calls integrity, though it has nothing to do with paying one’s bills or behaving honorably in an emergency. What one means by integrity, in the case of the novelist, is the conviction that he gives one that this is the truth.”
“They wrote as women write, not as men write.”
“It was a flaw in the center that had rotted them. She had altered her values in deference to the opinion of others.”
“It is useless to go to the great men writers for help, however much one may go to them for pleasure. “
“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”
Universities are funny places. They had odd rules in
Woolf’s time, such as – women were not allowed into libraries without permission.
“Habit facilitates success”
Now there’s a good quote!
“Freedom and fullness of expression are of the essence of the art.”
“A book is not made of sentences laid end to end, but of sentences built into arcades and domes. “
“But these are difficult questions which lie in the
twilight of the future. I must leave them, if only because they stimulate me to wander from my subject into trackless forests where I shall be lost and, very likely, devoured by wild beasts.”
“There are Jane Harrison’s books on Greek archaeology; Vernon Lee’s books on aesthetics; Gertrude Bell’s books on Persia.”
“It seems to be her first book, but one must read it as if it were the last volume in a fairly long series… For books continue each other, in spite of our habit of judging them separately.”
“…because novels so often provide an anodyne and not an antidote, glide one into torpid slumbers instead of rousing one with a burning brand…”
Anodyne means painkiller.
“For while Jane Austen breaks from melody to melody as Mozart from song to song, to read this writing was like being out at sea in an open boat.”
Woolf is not kind to this woman author, and why should she be? If the expectation is to write with as much greatness as Austen, why should the average be tolerated?
We finally reach the discussion of the Bechdel test.
“This is not so true of the nineteenth-century novelists, of course. Woman becomes much more various and complicated there. Indeed it was the desire to write about women perhaps that led men by degrees to abandon the poetic drama which, with its violence, could make so little use of them, and to devise the novel as a more fitting receptacle.”
I’ve never read any reasoning for a particular form of writing, any history of how and why a form of writing arose. But it is an interesting subject. Why, after all, are all our books still not great poetry? What spurred the invention of so many other forms of writing? I’ve never thought of that!
“The poet was forced to be passionate or bitter, unless indeed he chose to “hate women,” which meant more often than not that he was unattractive to them.”
Some class A behavioral analysis here, a la Criminal Minds.
“”Highly developed”-“infinitely intricate”-such are undeniably terms of praise, and to praise one’s own sex is always suspect, often silly; moreover, in this case, how could one justify it? One could not go to the map and say Columbus discovered America and Columbus was a woman; or take an apple and remark, Newton discovcred the laws of gravitation and Newton was a woman; or look into the sky and say aeroplanes are flying overhead and aeroplanes were invented by women. There is no mark on the wall to measure the precise height of women. There are no yard measures, neatly divided into the fractions of an inch, that one can lay against the qualities of a good mother or the devotion of a daughter, or the fidelity of a sister, or the capacity of a housekeeper. “
That is no longer the case, thanks in part to Woolf. After all, women are leading in so many fields today.
“…and there would follow, even in the simplest talk, such a natural difference of opinion that the dried ideas in him would be fertilized anew; and the sight of her creating in a different medium from his own would so quicken his creative power that insensibly his sterile mind would begin to plot again, and he would find the phrase or the scene which was lacking when he put on his hat to visit her.”
A change of pace and a conversation with someone with different cares in the world can do wonders to refresh your mind.
“Ought not education to bring out and fortify the differences rather than the similarities? For we have too much likeness as it is, and if an explorer should come back and bring word of other sexes looking through the branches of other trees at other skies, nothing would be of greater service to humanity;”
Would Woolf be happy with the number of sexes we acknowledge today?
“It would be a thousand pities if women wrote like men, or lived like men, or looked like men, for if two sexes are quite inadequate, considering the vastness and variety of the world, how should we manage with one only?”
“For all the dinners cooked; the plates and cups washed; the children set to school and gone out into the world. Nothing remains of it all. All has vanished. No biography or history has a word to say about it. And the novels, without meaning to, inevitably lie.”
That is what is truly sad about human life. It passes by without any record.
“Be truthful, one would say, and the result is bound to be amazingly interesting. “
Some more amazing writing advice.
There is a thinking here that Woolf believed in – that there is a collective consciousness which somehow improves as generations go by. She proposes to give Mary Carmichael another hundred years and she may well be a poet. I believe Woolf was both right and wrong here. She was wrong in that there is no collective brain to women or men or anyone else. The works of today’s authors are littered with terrible art, just as it is littered with amazing gems. Just like that, I’m sure there is at least one of Plato’s contemporaries who we do not know the name of because he did not write as well, and thus was not worth mentioning.
So Woolf was wrong in thinking that women in latter centuries would just write better – genius is not an arithmetic progression.
However, she was right too. She was right because the same issues and worries which affected the moods and writings of women in her era are not the same in this era. Women of today know nothing of suffragette, for example. They are beyond that and that will reflect in their writing. At the same time, there is still a long way to go. So today’s women talk about new struggles and pay equality and other things which color their lenses.
“One has a profound, if irrational, instinct in favor of the theory that the Union of man and woman makes for the greatest satisfaction, the most complete happiness.
Coleridge perhaps meant this when he said that a great mind is androgynous.
He meant, perhaps, that the androgynous mind is resonant and porous; that it transmits emotion without impediment; that it is naturally creative, incandescent and undivided.”
“Is that a tree? No, it is a woman. But… She has not a bone in her body, I thought, watching Phoebe, for that was her name, coming across the beach. Then Alan got up and the shadow of Alan at once obliterated Phoebe. For Alan had views and Phoebe was quenched in the flood of his views. And then Alan, I thought, has passions; and here I page after page very fast, feeling the crisis was approaching, and so it was.”
Clearly, the male-only mind has a problem – that of writing only about oneself. The hallmark of good writing is the ability to think and describe more than just yourself.
“…but when one takes a sentence of Coleridge into the mind, it explodes and gives birth to all kinds of other ideas, and that is the only sort of writing of which one can say that it has the secret of perpetual life. “
“They lack suggestive power. And when a book lacks suggestive power, however hard it hits the surface of the mind it cannot penetrate within.”
The problem with writers who do not try to understand and use their other side is that half the readership cannot absorb the writing as it should be.
“All who have brought about a state of sex-consciousness are to blame, and it is they who drive me, when I want to stretch my faculties on a book, to seek it in that happy age, before Miss Davies and Miss Clough were born, when the writer used both sides of his mind equally. One must turn back to Shakespeare then, for Shakespeare was androgynous; and so was Keats and Sterne and Cowper and Lamb and Coleridge. Shelley perhaps was sexless. Milton and Ben Jonson had a dash too much of the male in them. So had Wordsworth and Tolstoi. In our time Proust was wholly androgynous, if not perhaps a little too much of a woman.”
“Even so, the very first sentence that I would write here, I said, crossing over to the writing-table and taking up the page headed Women and Fiction, is that it is fatal for any one who writes to think of their sex.It is fatal to be a man or woman pure and simple; one must be woman-manly or man-womanly.”
“”This great book,” “this worthless book,” the same book is called by both names. Praise and blame alike mean nothing.
So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.”
“We may prate of democracy, but actually, a poor child in England has little more hope than had the son of an Athenian slave to be emancipated into the intellectual freedom of which great writings are born.”
“That Is it. Intellectual freedom depends upon material things. Poetry depends upon intellectual freedom. And women have always been poor, not for two hundred years merely, but from the beginning of time. Women have
had less intellectual freedom than the sons of Athenian slaves. Women, then, have not had a dog’s chance of writing poetry. That is why I have laid so much stress
on money and a room of one’s own.”
“There runs through these comments and discussions the conviction that good books are desirable and that good writers, even if they show every variety of human depravity, are still good human beings. “
“…every speech must end with a peroration. “
“…the streets and squares and forests of the glove swarming with black and white and coffee-colored inhabitants…”
“… If we have the habit of freedom and the courage to write exactly what we think; if we escape a little from the common sitting-room and see human beings not always in their relation to each other but in relation to reality…”
“…and that so to work, even in poverty and obscurity, is worth while.”