Thursday, April 18, 2013

Why Reading Woolf Isn't So Simple

"For I am more selves than Neville thinks. We are not simple as our friends would have us to meet their needs. Yet love is simple" (64).

There continues to be something about this quote that I am really drawn to. At first I immediately thought, how many times have I unloaded my own personal issues on my friends  ( The way Neville and Bernard do) in a way that I no longer see them as an equally complex person, but rather I simplify them for my own need at the moment.

My second reaction to this quote, however, was something deeper. It was a sort of an, "It all makes sense," moment as to why Virginia Woolf's novels have been so hard for me to follow. It is as though it is this exact false simplicity that she is trying to disprove through her novels. The people we know, whether it be friends or people we see in the streets, that we judge and have made up our minds on how to define them, they are in fact not as simple as our predisposed definitions. Woolf's characters alike are just not that simple. As easy it would be to read a novel based on events in the character's lives, Woolf gives us the complexity of the characters thoughts surrounding these events and of the people around them. It makes me recall a moment when Bernard notes that it is easy for him to write what he sees and what he hears, but that person, how do I write them?

It would be easy to read Woolf if she only wrote the actions of her characters, but, like the quote, she refuses to embody the simplicity of characters in fiction that we often enjoy. Woolf forces us to answer the questions that all of her characters in the novel The Waves seem to be asking, "Who am I?" not what is happening, but rather who am I as a person? Who is this other person?

This mission of Woolf doesn't make her books the easiest to read and often not the most exciting, but what they have offered me is so much insight on how little I know of who I am, and therefore how could I begin to describe (judge) someone else. As we have seen through Woolf stories it is practically impossible to keep from analyzing what we make of another's life, it is part of human nature, but Woolf's exploration of both parties involved in the "judging process" has reminded me the limitations of my judgments, and the real complexity of the person I choose to simplify for my own needs, my own peace of mind.

Yet though all of this complexity be among us Woolf states, "love is simple." I have yet to fully understand what she means by this last line means, but it sounds beautiful, and I believe it is true.  :)

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