Sunday, 25 January 2009

Night And Day - Virginia Woolf

Delicate and extremely subtle - the conventional story line of Night And Day (a couple edged into an engagement that their social position expects find they each love other people) acts as a counterpoint to Woolf's exploration of the complexities of the inner life, especially during emotional turmoil.

Often dismissed as the 'least' of her novels, and talked down by Woolf (in public, at least) this is an important step on the way to her later work. The Voyage Out ably proved her capabilities as a novelist and as someone prepared to over turn the expectations of a novel. In Night And Day, she has proven she can write a seemingly conventional novel, yet with virtually all the action taking place in the inner lives of the characters. As such it is an intriguing exploration of the very nature of experience, of how people in relationships see each other and work round the different visions they have.

Scenes are set in exquisite detail and characters allowed to blossom like orchids – precious, rare, beautiful, and almost always out of the ordinary. The evocation of London seen through the eyes of Katharine (the central character and, thus, Woolf herself) is restrained but honest. There is little in the way of social comment, despite the work undertaken by some of the characters and there is no mention of the First World War which raged as Woolf wrote.

Yet there is a picture here of anguish, of looking at the world and not understanding, of trying to keep passions under control – all of which Woolf was experiencing at the time. There is also a portrait of innocence; of a class so wrapped up in itself that it is oblivious of the darker world beyond the warm sunshine in which it bathes. Woolf makes gentle fun of this world (her own) whilst also questioning the role of women in this society.

Because it is the most conventional of Woolf’s novels, Night And Day is often overlooked. But it is a solid and highly accomplished foundation for the work that follows; work that may not have been so dazzlingly experimental and successful had she not this solid platform from which to take flight.