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Page 104

PART II - BOOKS
CHAPTER VII - THE EARLY NOVELS OF VIRGINIA WOOLF

1
IT is profoundly characteristic of the art of Virginia Woolf that when I decided to write about it and had planned a suitable opening paragraph, my fountain pen should disappear. Tiresome creature ! It slipped through a pocket into a seam. I could pinch it, chivy it about, make holes in the coat lining, but a layer of tailor's stuffing prevented recovery. So near, and yet so far ! Which is what one feels about her art. The pen is extricated in time, but during the struggle the opening paragraph has escaped ; the words are here but the birds have flown ;` opals and emeralds, they lie about the roots of turnips.' It is far more difficult to catch her than it is for her to catch what she calls life-'life ; London ; this moment in June." Again and again she eludes, until the pen, getting restive, sets to work on its own and grinds out something like this, something totally false such as :` Mrs. Woolf is a talented but impressionistic writer, with little feeling for form and none for actuality.' Rubbish. She has, among other achievements, made a definite contribution to the novelist's art. But how is this contribution to be stated ? And how does she handle the ingredients of fiction-human beings, time, and space ? Let us glance at her novels in the order of their composition.
The Voyage Out, was published in 1915. It is a strange, tragic, inspired book whose scene is a South America not found on any map and reached by a boat which would not float on any sea, an America whose spiritual boundaries touch Xanadu and Atlantis. Hither, to a hotel, various English tourists repair, and the sketches of them are so lively and ' life-like ' that we expect a comedy of manners to result. Gradually a current sets in, a deep unrest. What are all these people doing-talking, eating,

travel books:
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