Friday, March 16, 2018

The Dry Bones Passover Haggadah (Hebrew and English Edition)Dec 10, 2017 by Yaakov Kirschen Hardcover (Menorah Books


The Passover meal called Seder, meaning “order” and referring to the sequence of fifteen practices during the meal, is designed to remind Jews of the ancient slavery of their ancestors in Egypt, the exodus from that slavery, the many ways that we are physically, emotionally, and psychologically enslaved today, and to work to free ourselves and others from the current enslavements.
Interestingly, the Seder is one of several non-biblical practices that even generally non-observant Jews obey on Passover. Another two, for example, are observed on Passover and on other occasions, are not like the Seder a happy occasion, but involve mourning practices, and are arguably based on superstition. One is the saying of the kaddish and yizkor for the dead. Many Jews feel that unless they say the kaddish for eleven months for parents and on the anniversary of their death, the yahrzeit, harm will come to their dead parents. Recently, this notion was elaborated upon with the concept of illui neshamah, the belief that certain acts by live people can cause the dead to go to a higher level (higher to where is unstated). Many Jews also think that wishing a mourner “may your father/mother have an illui neshamah” increases the chances for the rising. Still another non-biblical practice observed even by non-observant Jews is that people whose parents are alive leave the synagogue when yizkor is said because they are convinced that if they are present in the synagogue when the yizkor is recited their currently alive parents will die during the upcoming year. In contrast to these acts, the Seder is rational.
The fifteen customs of the Seder are designed to capture the interest of adults and children and encourage them to think of the message of Passover. Many different gimmicks are used to capture the interest of children; the most well-known is giving them four questions to ask, hoping that they will become interested in the answers to their questions and even ask some questions of their own.
The Dry Bones Haggadah is perfect for helping both adults and children reflect upon the exodus from ancient slavery and its meaning today. It is fun to look at, both the Hebrew and its modern English translation are printed in an easy to read almost poetic-like structure. The book is by the same cartoonist who published the very popular Dry Bones cartoons for forty years. Many of the pages have clever funny cartoon strips. On other pages there are interesting drawings.
For example: One cartoon strip shows Moses speaking to God.
“Israel will become a light unto the nations?”
“Yes, but the nations will get really good at looking the other way.”
Another portrays a man complaining.
“Every year I seem to put on a few pounds, and I’ve finally figured out why: Yom Kippur is one day of no food, and Passover is one week of overeating!”

[1] By Yaakov Kirschen, Menorah Books, 2017.

The Secret Books by Marcel Therou (Faber)

A Hero Born by Jin Yong review – the gripping world of kung fu chivalry

The martial arts epic Legends of the Condor Heroes is the magnum opus of China’s most widely read living writer. The first book has finally been translated into English, and it’s a joy

Jin Yong is an unfamiliar name in the English-speaking world but a superstar in the Chinese-speaking one. Since his first novels were published in serial form in Hong Kong during the 1950s, Jin Yong – the pen name of Louis Cha Leung-yung – has become the most widely read Chinese writer alive. His books have been adapted into TV series, films and video games, and his dense, immersive world inspires the kind of adoration bestowed on those created by writers like western worldbuilders such as JRR Tolkien, JK Rowling and George RR Martin.

One peep into Jin’s fictional universe conjures a sense of deja vu. Now 94, he is the most famous literary exponent of the wuxia genre, the world of kung fu chivalry we know through Chinese martial arts movies, which has shaped so much of modern popular culture, from The Matrix to Netflix’s Marco Polo.


A scene from Once Upon a Time in China … Jin Yong is the most famous literary exponent of wuxia, the world of kung fu chivalry familiar from martial arts movies. Photograph: Everett Collection/Rex Features

A Hero Born is the first book of Jin’s magnum opus, the 12-volume epic Legends of the Condor Heroes. Set in 13th-century China, this novel follows the fortunes of its hero, Guo Jing, from birth to adolescence. It begins with Guo in utero, when his father is murdered by forces loyal to the occupying Jin army and his pregnant mother flees to Mongolia. Here, on the fringes of the Middle Kingdom, Guo grows up among Genghis Khan’s nomadic warriors, while the Seven Heroes of the South, who have sworn an oath to train him in martial arts, scour the country to find him.

 The hero Guo Jing in a 2017 TV adaptation of Jin Yong’s Legends of the Condor Heroes epic.

A plot summary barely conveys the extraordinary energy of this book. It blends real and fictional characters, teems with incident – reversals, unexpected meetings, betrayals, cliffhangers – and, most of all, dwells for page after page on lovingly described combat. To paraphrase Miss Jean Brodie: for those of us who like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing we like. As martial artists square off, evocatively named strikes are responded to with equally evocatively named parries: Search the Sea, Behead the Dragon; Seize the Basket by the Handle; and, only to be used in extremis, the desperation move: Sword of Mutual Demise. The novel gives us the history of strange martial techniques, assesses the merits of different schools of kung fu, and describes the mysterious internal alchemy that gives rise to the most devastating physical force.

Guo is naive and not particularly gifted – a wink, perhaps, at the idea of the uncarved block in the Tao Te Ching: the natural object of unlimited potential. But his innocent goodheartedness – another Taoist ideal – makes him a captivating hero. He’s surrounded by a galaxy of colourful minor characters. These include Ke Zhen’e, a blind martial artist who shoots his signature weapon – iron devilnuts – by orienting himself according to directions from the I Ching; Lotus Huang, a brilliant young female fighter travelling the country in disguise, and a terrifying female villain called Twice Foul Dark Wind, who is the greatest exponent of Nine Yin Skeleton Claw kung fu, a martial discipline that is nastier than it sounds. Everybody is kung fu fighting, but the violence is cartoonish rather than graphic and there is a sense – as with Rowling and Tolkien – that despite the strangeness of the world, we are guided by a compassionate writer whose heart is in the right place. The book also reminds us of the true meaning of kung fu (the Pinyin transliteration is gongfu). Rather than being an esoteric gift, it applies to any skill acquired by hard graft. It seems you can have kung fu at making puff pastry or writing computer code. “Just as in the study of music or chess, demanding fast results can choke initial promise,” the author warns us. His explanation reminded me of the 10,000 hours of practice that, according to Malcolm Gladwell, are the basis for expertise at anything.

Jin Yong is not the first wuxia writer: its roots go back centuries. Writing his books, he has drawn both on Chinese history and also on the examples of less celebrated writers, such as the novelist and martial artist Xiang Kairan, whose work inspired the lost 27-hour 1928 kung fu film, The Burning of the Red Lotus Temple. Fortified by this tradition and written with unselfconscious energy, A Hero Born channels mythic archetypes that resonate across cultures: the struggle between good and evil, a kingdom under threat from an encroaching tyranny, and the coming to consciousness of a young hero whose destiny is to try to make a better world.

It seems incredible that this is the first book in the Legends of the Condor Heroes series to come out in English, but better late than never. As I read Anna Holmwood’s vibrant translation – gripped by the unashamed narrative zest and primary-coloured fairytale world – I felt a slight regret that I was coming to this novel in my fifth decade. It would be a wonderful initiation into a lifelong enthusiasm for China, its history and civilisation, its vast and chronically misunderstood presence in the world. The first book ends with Guo Jing embroiled in an incipient love triangle, and approaching the trial by combat that has been his destiny since birth, while the Song dynasty dangles by a thread. Other volumes can’t come soon enough. My one quibble is that as the heroes swept back and forth across China and the Mongolian steppe, this reader’s pleasure would have been greatly enhanced by a map.

The Years / Between the Acts (Wordsworth Classics) UK ed. Edition by Virginia Woolf (Wordsworth Editions) (IBRClassicsReview)

The Genius of Virginia Woolf
In Her Last Book the English Novelist Again Says the Unsayable

When Virginia Woolf quietly wrote a farewell note to her husband, took her stick--so fixed is habit--and went on her favorite walk across the summery meadows down to the Ouse to slip under the water, it was a sad hour for English letters. Why did she do it? No one knows precisely. It may well have been a combination of four factors--sorrow over the war with its breeding hatreds; the demolishment of her Bloomsbury apartment ("They are destroying all the beautiful things!" she cried); the revising of her book, which always caused her pain; and the fear of "an old madness" coming over her.

"Between the Acts" had been completed before her death, but she was still working on the final revisions when the compulsion for the ultimate escape seized her. It is with curiosity, profound regret, and a cool sort of reverence that one takes up the last work of the sole indisputable genius among contemporary British women-of-letters.

Virginia Woolf has left to posterity a shelf of sixteen volumes that enrich our literature in a very special way. Two are books of criticism of extraordinary perception, and ten are novels, in which she has achieved inimitable distinction. And though her fiction has been predominantly caviar to the general, yet in two of her novels she achieved best sellers--one, "The Years," held the top place on best seller lists for months in 1937. With "Jacob’s Room" in 1922 Mrs. Woolf was recognized by the discriminating as a novelist of first rank. From "Mrs. Dalloway" on, she was widely regarded as the foremost woman writing in English.

As the bulk of the iceberg lies beneath the water’s surface, so the greater opulence of Mrs. Woolf’s prose fiction may be said to lie above the clouds. In rarefied strata of pure sensation, ephemeral beauty, celestial imaginings, she flies with skill and daring. Without eager wings and sympathetic vision, even the practiced reader may fail to realize how she has pierced the screen ‘twixt thing and word, "where language is lit straight from soul."

"Between the Acts" is one of Mrs. Woolf’s most seemingly simple books: the plot well integrated, the fancy under deft control. There is even a new calmness, a new clarity. She is not lost in webs of speculation, thin-drawn to incommunicability as in "The Waves," where she wrote, "I desire always to stretch the night and fill it fuller and fuller with dreams."

Yet in her "easier" last book, ingeniously the story is played out on three levels--a pageant within a pageant and all within the vaster pageant of creation and infinity. The animal plane, the human and the spiritual, each has function and counterpointal significance. As to actual plot, despite the disciplined guidance, what does it amount to, and who seriously cares?

Did the plot matter? She shifted and looked over her right shoulder. The plot was only there to beget emotion. Don’t bother about the plot: the plot’s nothing.

So says Miss La Trobe, the enigmatic author and producer of the pageant, who seems to represent the creative mind in relation to an audience and actuality.

On a single day of June, 1939--with the war imminent but virtually unperceived--the action takes place at Pointz Hill, an English country house. It revolves about a pageant played upon the lawns by the local villagers. In its unity of time "Between the Acts" recalls "Mrs. Dalloway." Through implications of the scenes touching on the whole history of England and the mutations of English literature it suggests "Orlando."

Despite her necessity, the solitary, thick-legged, masculine Miss La Trobe, who knew how "vanity made all human beings malleable," is not one of the principal characters. The chief actors are the members of the Oliver household. The head of the house is old Bartholomew Oliver, who like so many retired English soldiers has only his India to cling to. He marvels at his widowed sister’s orthodoxy. ("Deity," as he supposed, "was more of a force or a radiance, controlling the thrush and the worm, the tulip and the hound; and himself too, an old man with swollen veins.") This aging sister, Mrs. Swithin, who would have become a clever woman is she could ever have fixed her gaze, is the most sympathetic figure in the book. Living with the older Olivers are Isa, the poetry-quoting daughter-in-law, temporarily attracted to a gentleman farmer, and Giles, the stock broker son, handsome, hirsute, virile and surly.

To this special group are added buoyant, big-hearted Mrs. Manresa, "a wild child of nature" for all that her hands are bespattered with emeralds and rubies, dug up by her thin husband himself in his ragamuffin days in Africa. Uninvited she drops in at luncheon, bringing along with the picnic champagne a maladjusted, putty-colored young man named William Dodge, whom Giles contemptuously sizes up as "a toady, a lickspittle, not a downright plain man of his senses, but a teaser and a twitcher, a fingerer of sensations; picking and choosing; dillying and dallying; not a man to have a straightforward love for a woman."

William tries dallying with Isa, and Giles, partly to annoy his wife, pays court to the full-blown charms of sparkling Mrs. Manresa, who confesses she loves to take off her stays and roll in the grass.

Outstanding among the villagers in pageant and audience and the gentry from neighboring estates, is the minister.

The Reverend G. W. Streatfield looked at the audience, then up at the sky. The whole lot of them, gentles and simples, felt embarrassed, for him, for themselves--there he stood, their representative spokesman, their symbol, themselves, a butt, a clod, laughed at by looking glasses, ignored by the cows, condemned by the clouds which continued their majestic rearrangement of the celestial landscape, an irrelevant forked stake in the flow and majesty of the Summer silent world.

There is explanation, but no development of character in "Between the Acts." Mrs. Woolf seems to be saying that for all the transcendental beauties of nature and the high-breeding processes of civilization, human beings haven’t changed much from the time when "prehistoric man, half- human, half-ape, roused himself from his semi-crouching position and raised great stones." Fashions change, days are wet or fine, but the essential heart of man remains much the same. Mrs. Woolf is as poignantly aware of the durability of land and sky as she is of the impermanence of man’s relationships. "That’s what makes a view so sad," says Mrs. Manresa nodding at the strip of gauze laid upon the distant fields. "And so beautiful. It’ll be there when we’re not."

As in most of her novels, the cream of "Between the Acts" lies between the lines--in the haunting overtones. And the best of the show--the part one really cares about--happens between the acts and immediately before the pageant begins and just after it is over. So the play is not really the thing at all. It is merely the focal point, the hub of the wheel, the peg on which to hang the bright ribbons and dark cords of the author’s supersensitive perceptions and illuminated knowledge. It is in her imagery, in her felicitous gift for metaphor, for cadence, for exciting association, in her "powers of absorption and distillation" that her special genius lies. She culls exotic flowers in the half-light of her private mysticism along with common earthgrown varieties and distills them into new essences. Her most interesting characters move in an ambienteof intuition. With half a glance they regard their fellow-mortals and know their hidden failures. They care less for the tangible, the wrought stone, than for fleeting thought or quick desire.

In ten novels Mrs. Woolf lifted veil after veil to reveal what she perceived as the secret meaning of life. When one finishes a book of hers it is not characters he remembers but their spiritual emanations, which are in reality manifestations or facets of Virginia’s Woolf supervision. Her peculiar interest not in surfaces but in mysterious motivations and subterfuges that do not meet the eye. And no other English novelist has ever written more dazzling passages of poetry undefiled than Virginia Woolf. Like the great poets--Shakespeare, Donne, Shelley, Blake--Mrs. Woolf could say the unsayable, and it is there in her books for those who have ears attuned to unheard melodies, even if they can never recommunicate it in any language except Mrs. Woolf’s own precisely.

At once a woman of profound erudition and intuitive intelligence, she is also the most poignantly sensitive of English novelists. Yet there was a leaven of zest and humor in her make-up, and her wit was akin to that slyly malicious kind that ran in the veins of Prince Hamlet. Steeped in the classical tradition, she was an audacious experimentalist. She looked upon existence as a maze of paradoxes, but she was continually uplifted and renewed by the transient beauty of the world. One passage from "Between the Acts" seems to epitomize the attitude of mind, the prose style, the whole art of Virginia Woolf:

"Here came the sun, an illimitable rapture of joy, embracing every flower, every leaf. Then in compassion it withdrew, covering its face, as if it forebore to look on human suffering."

"Between the Acts" has no more ending, no more conclusion than English history. The pageant is played out, the guests depart, night falls. The old folks retire and Isa and Giles are alone for the first time that day.

"Alone, enmity was bared; also love. Before they slept, they must fight; after they had fought, they would embrace. From that embrace another life might be born. But first they must fight, as the dog fox fights with the vixen, in the heart of darkness, in the fields of night.

Isa let her sewing drop. The great hooded chairs had become enormous. And Giles too. And Isa too against the window. The window was all sky without color. The house had lost its shelter. It was night before roads were made or houses. It was the night that dwellers in caves had watched from some high place among rocks.

Then the curtain rose. They spoke."

The physical embodiment of Virginia Woolf is no more, but her inimitable voice remains to speak to generations yet unborn. The first line of her last book begins, "It was a Summer’s night and they were talking"--The last paragraph ends: "Then the curtain rose. They spoke."

As long as English is read the voice may go on--if without new delight, also without fresh pain. For Virginia Woolf, the woman, "Peace, Let her pass!" as the author says of a person just dead in the pageant. "She to whom all’s one now, Summer and Winter."

The Years (Oxford World's Classics) Paperback – May 28, 2009 by Virginia Woolf (Oxford University Press) (IBRClassicsReview)

Virginia Woolf's Richest Novel
In "The Years" Her Art Reaches Its Fullest Development to Date

Mrs. Woolf's novel, her first since "The Waves" of 1931, is rich and lovely with the poetry of life. It might be called a chronicle novel, since it begins in 1880 and ends in the present day, or a "family" novel, since it narrates the fortunes of the large and representative Pargiter family. But it eludes both classifications. Though the founder of the present family, old Colonel Pargiter, who lost two fingers in the Indian Mutiny--is, in habit and class, a bit of a Forsyte, there is nothing of the careful solidity of Galsworthy's saga, with its verifiable genealogy, interludes and corroborative detail.

Rather this is a long-drawn-out lyricism in the form of a novel, with flying buttresses to sustain its airy and often absent-minded inspirations. There is the minimum of substructure. But there is everywhere, on one lovely page after another, a kind of writing which reveals a kind of feeling that is more illuminating than a dozen well-made and documented novels. Mrs. Woolf has made, or unmade, her novel in the form of a poem or a piece of music.

And so not built at all
and therefore built forever,

and it is this subtle and oblique composition, though we may perhaps exaggerate its durability, that gives whatever she writes its distinction.

She has not continued from "The Waves," which was the furthest the novel could go in the way of freedom, or even license, of reverie and the stream of consciousness. Instead she has turned back to earlier forms of her own. "The Years" resembles somewhat the general motive of "To the Lighthouse" in its marking of time as the chief protagonist of recorded life. But sometimes there is the traditional form of narration that she mastered so easily in the early "The Voyage Out." There is also the discontinuity of "Jacob's Room." There is also the unity and singleness of "Mrs. Dalloway," with the years of five decades toiling instead of the chiming of a day's hours. In short, Mrs. Woolf has written her longest novel, her richest and most beautiful novel, out of many years in the practice of writing.

The Pargiter family she writes of might very well be, in its extensions and influence, a summary of her own family or any upper middle-class family, though it is a relief to record that she never descends to personal justifications. The Colonel has seen service in India. Retired, well-to-do, with an invalid wife in the foreground and a mistress in the background, he gives way to his family. Children in the Eighteen Eighties, they begin to form their lives. Martin goes into the army, Morris to the bar, Edward to Oxford and a distinguished scholar's life. Delia marries and becomes a brilliant hostess. Milly marries into the squirarchy and a routine of horses and children. The militant Rose will take to smashing windows to demonstrate the right of women to vote and Eleanor will stay home to look after her father the Colonel. How very representative it is, and how very natural--almost like one of nature's laws--that this English family should spread itself imperturbably throughout the professions and the counties, with a fling at India and Africa, and still remain completely itself, unmistakably Pargiter.

So far as the book is a chronicle of family life, we must note that it has a perfect beginning and a perfect end, and almost no middle. The development of character, the process of growing up, the movie-life of fiction, so to speak, has never been easy to Mrs. Woolf; or perhaps she distrusts its genuineness. The childhoods in the house in Abercorn Terrace, opening at tea-time with Milly taking her invalid mother's place at the tea-kettle which works so badly, and the family coming in from here and there: Martin from school, Eleanor from being kind to the poor, the Colonel from his club and his mistress, Morris from his law office; and the dinner that follows and is interrupted with the death of the long-ailing mother--this opening is so brilliantly composed that one looks back with dismay to the opening of another novel of about the same year and time of afternoon, Galsworthy's "The Man of Property," so full of upholstery and exposition. Mr. Galsworthy himself wrote of "picking" and "embalming" his characters. But Mrs. Woolf's persons are alive with the excitement of life. No one, I believe, has quite her immediacy of effect, her recklessness of sensation, tempered by breeding and intelligence, turned into pure expressibility.

The ending is in the same key, which means that though her characters have become older and have suffered the Boer War and the war of 1914, the suffragette movement and the Irish trouble, and some have been killed and others have lost their money, they are still young at heart. The grand party that ends the book, like a grosse fuga, is still gay and lively with memories, dreams and aspirations. Some nostalgia there is, certainly, and melancholy for the passing years; but there is still the perpetual bubbling of sensation, like old wine into a new glass, perhaps a cheaper glass-- but still something to contain the poetry and effervescence. Mrs. Dalloway's party, which took so many pleasant pains of composition, is merely a precious and somewhat malicious prelude to this family largess of personalities and histories.

Between the beginning and end there is a sort of stasis, possibly more true to life than the dynamics of other novelists; but still part of a criticism of Mrs. Woolf's method. The characters were young; now they are old; and both Mrs. Woolf can render to perfection. In the meantime, events happen, and they are arbitrarily selected. Eleanor at a committee meeting, Rose in prison because of Votes for Women, Eleanor at dinner with her cousins during an air raid; these are pictures, vividly painted but without a frame, unless one's own experience supplies one. It is here that one recalls Galsworthy again, who charted the course of each character. Mrs. Woolf lets them wander at will, forgetting and remembering, as one does really in life, moving slowly or standing still and musing while new inventions and policies clamor for attention. Her people live in the past, in the family, in all the roles of Victorian decorum; and yet with a sense of fun and intelligence and common sense and uncommon sensibility; and, above all, with the eccentricity of personality, so that no category quite contains them: they are as likely to burst into poetry as politics, or to qualify the army with a quotation from Horace. There is no cataloguing them, and no way of regimenting them into the customary form of fiction.

It is this, really, that gives Mrs. Woolf's novels their utmost delight, a quality of pleasure in living, a lovely sense of people thinking and feeling and brooding by themselves, with vague memories and sharp present sensations, with bits of song and odd poetry; and still their contact with life, in 1880 or 1930, is quite definitely realized. The Years neither retreat into history nor knock at the future. They are there as something done, and something still existing, as Martin picking up his cousin Sally from St. Paul's and carrying her off to lunch at a City chop house, and then to a famous walk to the Serpentine; or Eleanor, the best prototype of Mrs. Woolf's Betty Flanders, Mrs. Dalloway and Mrs. Ramsay, picking out absent-mindedly her sisters and cousins, her nieces and nephews, taking her pleasure from them as human beings of bright and various discrepancies and compensations; or Peggy wondering if they are all they are said to be; or Nicholas, who, at the end of the party, makes no peroration, because, as he says, there had been no speech--so there they are, without peroration, or propaganda, or even perspective, exactly and minutely as they lived, a family through fifty-odd years from 1880 to 1930, delighting, in spite of their years and the wars and their attendant worries, in being alive and feeling the new warmth of fresh family life around it.

Lovely as "The Waves" was, "The Years" goes far behind and beyond it, giving its characters a local habitation and a name, and expressing Mrs. Woolf's purpose in the novel more richly than it has ever been done before.

Night and Day (Penguin Twentieth Century Classics) Reprint Edition by Virginia Woolf (Author), Julia Briggs (Editor, Introduction) (Penguin Classics)

Virginia Woolf’s novels have always seemed waif-like to me; slight, ethereal wisps of poetic prose that can be read in a single sitting. Night and Day, her second novel, couldn’t be more different to this impression; it has far more resemblance to the doorstop length sagas of her father’s contemporaries than to her later works that so epitomise the modernism of the 1920s and 1930s. It took me a long time to read; partly due to the sheer amount of words, but also because I was enjoying it so much that I wanted to remain immersed in it for as long as possible. It is an intriguing mix of 19th and 20th century, of classic and modern, of past influences and forward thinking innovation. Despite its seeming distance from her later novels, it is still unmistakeably Woolf. Only she could write the magnificently atmospheric scenes of misty twilight walks in London, only she could write with such passion and insight of the importance of work to a woman, only she could bring to life the quirks of a family whose existence is enshrined within the memory of famous Victorian ancestors, and only she could create prose with moments of beauty so profound that you can’t help but stop and revisit them again and again, drinking in the words with a thirst that can’t be satiated. It’s not her best work, by any means, but it is certainly rippling with greatness, and is a must read for those who wish to understand more of Woolf’s development and influences as a writer.

On the surface, it’s a rather conventional love story. In places it reminded me of an Austen novel, and in others, a Shakespearean comedy. Whomever she borrowed from, Woolf owes much to the greats in her plotting, as she uses a very traditional three act structure that introduces our protagonists, moves them off to different scenery to throw a spanner into the works, and then brings them back to their original habitat to tie everything up with a neat and tidy bow. However, as this is Woolf, there’s much more to it than that, and she introduces many ideas, philosophies and wonderful idiosyncracies throughout the novel that make it uniquely hers, and uniquely of its time.
The main character is Katherine Hilbery, a beautiful, free spirited girl in her late twenties who lives on the infamous Cheyne Walk in Chelsea with her well to do, intellectual parents. Her mother is the only child of England’s most treasured poet, and is much feted by the great and good of society thanks to this connection. As such, Katherine has grown up in a home of ideas, of intellect, of literature, romance and reverence. History and ancestry weigh heavily upon her, especially as her days are largely taken up with helping her overly romantic and easily distracted mother write a seemingly never ending biography of her famous grandfather. Katherine is being pursued by William Rodney, a very eligible, achingly conventional would be poet in his late thirties, who thinks that Katherine is a perfect exemplar of womanhood and an ideal model for his wife. Pompous and earnest, he writes reams of terrible Elizabethan inspired drama and imagines himself desperately in love with Katherine, when really he doesn’t know her at all. He reminded me of Pride and Prejudice‘s Mr Collins in many ways, and I do wonder whether Woolf used him as an inspiration when she wrote this character; his melodrama and insincerity are absolutely hilarious. However, William isn’t the only one who admires Katherine; Ralph Denham, an idealistic young lawyer who writes articles for Katherine’s father’s periodical, comes along to one of her parents’ salons and falls in love with her at first sight. He too will join the pursuit for her hand, though this will be complicated by his close friendship with Mary Datchet, a sensible suffragette who works for the cause in a dingy office in Bloomsbury and lives alone off the Strand. She is hopelessly in love with Ralph, and is in agony in his presence. Woolf sends this motley crew on a fateful Christmas in the countryside, where Katherine’s cousin Cassandra will enter the action, and set everything spinning on its head…
This summary makes it all sound very light hearted and comical, but amidst the almost farcical elements, this is actually a very serious and ambitious novel about women and men and their search for personal freedom. Katherine delays marriage because she wants to be able to pursue her own interests and not be bound to anyone else. She is afraid of the sacrifices marriage will entail, but she is also afraid of having to remain dependent on her parents forever. As a woman, what real choice does she have? Is there another way? Mary thinks she is in love, but she gradually learns that her work is the only thing that gives her true satisfaction. Able to channel her passion and talents into a fulfilling form of self expression, Mary doesn’t necessarily need a husband; her work is sufficient, and this can be a legitimate way to live her life. This is a daring conclusion indeed for a novel written in 1919. Night and Day might be mainly about the difference between men and women, but it is also to a certain extent about the difference between the soul and society, and how we are often forced to behave in a way that is totally opposite to our desire in order to satisfy others and conform to the expectations of our peers. There is a darkness, an unfathomable depth within each of us that we are never permitted to expose to the light of day; how do we find happiness when so much of our true selves is forced to remain hidden?
There is much hand wringing, much angst, much waffling philosophy, and it is overlong, with too much of some characters and not enough of others; I would particularly have loved to have seen more of the magnificent Mrs Hilbery, who floats through the novel quoting Tennyson and dreaming of Shakespeare’s tomb. Also, I didn’t agree with the outcome, and I thought that Mary Datchet was given rather short shrift; much more could have been done with her character. However, overall, this is quite a remarkable novel, a bridge between Woolf’s early and later works, and arguably most notable for its brilliant depiction of London, for which this could feasibly be used as a tour guide. The characters all roam the streets of a smoky, gas lit London, walking for miles along the river, riding atop omnibuses, pounding the red brick streets of Chelsea, working in the tall black terraces of Bloomsbury, mingling with the faceless crowds on the Strand, stopping in cafes dripping with condensation, rambling through the exotic plants at Kew, watching the monkeys perform acrobatics at the zoo…London is a character all of its own, and is beautifully, passionately, lovingly brought to life in all its splendour. I don’t think any novelist can quite capture London in the way Woolf does, and Night and Day is definitely worth reading for that alone.
‘Although the old coaches, with their gay panels and the guard’s horn, and the humours of the box and the vicissitudes of the road, have long mouldered into dust so far as they matter, and are preserved in the printed pages of our novelists so far as they partook of the spirit, a journey to London by express train can still be a very pleasant and romantic adventure. Cassandra Otway, at the age of twenty-two, could imagine few things more pleasant. Satiated with months of green fields as she was, the first row of artisans’ villas on the outskirts of London seemed to have something serious about it, which positively increased the importance of every person in the railway carriage, and even, to her impressionable mind, quickened the speed of the train and gave a note of stern authority to the shriek of the engine-whistle. They were bound for London; they have must have precedence of all traffic not similarly destined.’

The Ascent of Woman Paperback – November 4, 2004 by Melanie Phillips (Abacus)

The story of the fight to gain the vote for women is about much more than a peripheral if picturesque skirmish around the introduction of universal suffrage. It is an explosive story of social and sexual revolutionary upheaval, and one which has not yet ended. The movement for women's suffrage in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries prefigured to a startling extent the controversies which rage today around the role of women. Far from the stereotype of a uniform body of women chaining themselves to railings, the early feminist movement was riven by virulent arguments over women's role in society, the balance to be struck between self-fulfilment and their duties to family and children, and their relationship with men.

Melanie Phillips' brilliant book tells the story of the fight for women's suffrage in a way which sets the high drama of those events in the context of the moral and intellectual ferment that characterised it.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Belly of Paris (Oxford World's Classics) Paperback – September 28, 2009 by Emile Zola (Oxford University Press) (IBRClassicsReview)

Zola at his best