Monday, January 28, 2013

Woolf wonderfully captures the awe of a first time reader

In the Voyage Out, Woolf cleverly pokes fun at the way that Rachel reads Gibbon. Rachel is in awe of the words on the page exclaiming,  “ Never had any words been so vivid and so beautiful- Arabia Felix- Aethiopia.” (Woolf 175). Rachel reading Gibbon for the first time is so interesting to me because in this scene Woolf perfectly captures the awe of the unfamiliar reader. When I first began to venture more seriously into the world of classic novels, I did so without the help of a class, thus I did not have any guidance. Of course, I had encountered all the standard classics in class. But one summer I decided that I would start to read many of the more challenging classics on my own. After reading Woolf’s description of Rachel, I realized that she had in effect also described my experience with the books of that summer. I had not, at the time, realized that the books that I had picked were too challenging. Thus I was unable to understand and follow the plot of each book. Instead that summer became the summer that I would learn to appreciate and admire the beauty of words. I would sit outside in the sun and marvel at various authors and the skill with which they crafted each sentence, while not being able to understand a single plot line. The scene that Woolf writes is so realistic because it captures the experience that I and many other readers that are new to challenging materials have had. 

1 comment:

  1. Nicely said, Stefanie! You capture well, as does Woolf, this strange, unsettling, disorienting, lovely (or, as Woolf might spell it, lovelily) thrilling esperience. I teach modernist literature at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and this semester am teaching a Modern Irish Literature class to upper-level English majors, many of whom are encountering, say, Samuel Beckett and James Joyce for the first time. I love and, if you don't mind, would love sharing with my class what you say about how you "learn[ed] to appreciate and admire the beauty of words"--especially because we're about to embark on Ulysses, which no doubt will leave many students struggling to follow plot but which, I think, contains as much purely beautiful language as anything I've ever read and achieves staggering depths of emotion. Certain moments in it make me cry with sympathy for Leopold Bloom. . . . Always remember, too ---don't tell Prof. Fernald I said this: shh ;) --- what Woolf tells her readers: never let anyone tell you what or how to read: ain't one of the great pleasures of reading the feeling of one's brain wobbling around like that strange stuff in a lava lamp as it tries to make sense---or, even better, doesn't try to make sense of the words, but, rather, lets them wash over one and wash and wash, carrying one out into endless waves? Have fun over the next few months with Woolf---I'd so enjoy being in this class. Best, Todd Avery