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Friday, August 29, 2014

Night and Day (1919) by Virginia Woolf

Book Review
Night and Day (1919)
by Virginia Woolf

  I've been reading Night and Day on my Microsoft Windows Phone Kindle App, and it has been a brutal slog.  Night and Day is 450 pages long in a paperback edition, which makes it 1,000 Kindle sized pages on my phone screen.  It has probably taken me more than two months to complete it this way, so long that I'm almost finishing up with the 1920s section of the 1001 Books Project, and Night and Day was published in 1919.

  Night and Day is early-ish Woolf, before he really integrated the influence of James Joyce and Marcel Proust in her work during the mid to late 1920s and beyond. Night and Day is still recognizable as a work by Virginia Woolf, but it isn't as formally innovative as Mrs. Dalloway or To The Lighthouse.  The story is a standard two couples set up, with a backing cast of ancillary family and friend.  Katharine Hilbery is the daughter of a literary family two generations  removed from greatness.  She is friends with Mary Datchet, a suffragette from  a less successful but still respectable family, who works on her own in a political action group focused on women's issues.  Hilbery is unhappily engaged to William Rodney and she falls for penniless academic Will Denham.  Of course, Rodney is wealthy and the approved match.

  What unfolds over 450 pages is a combination of something like the plot of a Shakespearean comedy combined with the cynicism of D.H. Lawrence.  It's not high modernism exactly but it is on that road. Woolf was insightful enough that the characters will resonate with a contemporary reader. Unlike her more experimental materials from later in her career, Night and Day is an essentially readable, if long, conventionally plotted and narrated early 20th century marriage plot.

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