More on the “lesser” works of authors — that is, expounding on that feeling one gets after reading a book you’re certain simply isn’t one of author X’s more notable pieces. [Earlier, I lamented on the lesser works of Siri Hustvedt, despite my love for her.] Off we go to The Mark on the Wall and Other Short Fiction by Virginia Woolf.
To put it bluntly: It simply isn’t the best introduction to Woolf, a writer well-loved, much-discussed, at times over-analyzed. The stories are — as noted in the introduction to the volume — often comparable to literary exercises. They are explorations of form, content, of narrative — experiments.
I was bored out of my head. Horrified at times. It all felt so self-indulgent, and, thus, alienating. I could feel Woolf sharpening her pencil, raising her head from her notebooks, then sighting an object with which to write about.
Most of them have this disconcerting fixation on things as things. That is, see, in the title story, our narrator is distracted by a mark on the wall. So many elaborations on the imagined history of that mark, its possible identities. Seriously. And then, in a deliberate let-down of a one-liner conclusion, we find out what that snail is. Spoiler alert — it’s a snail. [An animal that slithers in and out of Woolf’s stories.] Elsewhere, mysterious objects are rabbits and pebbles. Sometimes, yes, people — but, gah, with more focus on the snail that curls undisturbed in the foliage beside them.
Then again, this isn’t really my introduction to Woolf. I know of Woolf, have wanted to read her for a long time — have even dipped, now and then, into the first few pages of some of her works: Mrs. Dalloway, A Room of One’s Own, Orlando, and holy-Modernist-cheesecake, The Waves. She’s always been an author I feel like I would like immensely, if only I’d settle down and actually read her.
These short stories, in hindsight, are a disconcerting choice for committing to read Woolf. They don’t offer much to the reader who has barely read the author. I do realize that when I do get around to reading Woolf — and, perhaps, love her, as many of you do — these stories will make sense. Even if I was bored to tears, I did realize that the stories were insight into her longer work.
These stories — where Virginia Woolf sharpened her pencils, so to speak — were crucial to the Modernist works that made Woolf that much-esteemed writer that she is.