Monday, 18 November 2013

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf - Part 1

published 1927






Jasper offered her an opal necklace; Rose a gold necklace. Which looked best against her black dress? Which did indeed, said Mrs. Ramsay absent-mindedly, looking at her neck and shoulders (but avoiding her face) in the glass. And then, while the children rummaged among her things, she looked out of the window…

She let them take their time to choose: she let Rose, particularly, take up this and then that, and hold her jewels against the black dress, for this little ceremony of choosing jewels, which was gone through every night, was what Rose liked best, she knew. She had some hidden reason of her own for attaching great importance to this choosing what her mother was to wear. What was the reason, Mrs. Ramsay wondered, standing still to let her clasp the necklace she had chosen, divining, through her own past, some deep, some buried, some quite speechless feeling that one had for one’s mother at Rose’s age. Like all feelings felt for oneself, Mrs. Ramsay thought, it made one sad. It was so inadequate, what one could give in return; and what Rose felt was quite out of proportion to anything she actually was. And Rose would grow up; and Rose would suffer, she supposed, with these deep feelings, and she said she was ready now, and they would go down, and Jasper, because he was the gentleman, should give her his arm, and Rose, as she was the lady, should carry her handkerchief (she gave her the handkerchief), and what else? oh, yes, it might be cold: a shawl. Choose me a shawl, she said, for that would please Rose, who was bound to suffer so.



observations: Virginia Woolf – such a great writer , such a good feminist, such a favourite on the blog with her early discussion of the business of Clothes in Books in Orlando.

And To the Lighthouse – a wonderful book, a long-time favourite. And it is, it still is. But investigating the question of the boeuf en daube for a recent Guardian books blog piece, I found much of concern among the household arrangements.

For a start, Woolf has obviously never cooked a boeuf en daube, and neither has Mrs Ramsay, heroine of the book. They both appear to believe that the dish has knife-edge timing, and can burn, and that the bay-leaf ‘needs to be done to a turn’ – all of which is nonsense. The dish sounds delicious (Woolf has plainly eaten it, and a good one at that), and Mrs R says complacently - as she dishes it out like the dining-room queen she is, finding a specially tender piece for Mr Bankes - that it is her grandmother’s recipe.

But it has been cooked by someone called Mildred, and it is her masterpiece. While the dish is being finished off, Mrs Ramsay has spent the time upstairs putting on her black dress and letting the children choose her accessories.

There’ll be more about domestic matters chez Ramsay, and more about Mildred, later in the week.

And go to Elizabeth David to find out how to make a boeuf en daube.

Virginia Woolf is also on the blog here.

The picture is a fashion illustration for the French designer Madeleine Cheruit.

12 comments:

  1. Managing to suppress an irrational urge to rush out and buy this...phew a close run thing again

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    1. Now you'll never get to cook a boeuf en daube....

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  2. Woolf is a writer I have not read. I obviously concentrate on mysteries now, but at one time in my life I did read classics and other non-genre fiction. But not that... unless maybe some was assigned in classes I don't remember. In Alabama when I was younger, feminism was not a big thing. Or perhaps I am being unfair.

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    1. Interesting. I don't think we did any Woolf in school, and I don't know why. We mostly did earlier authors, but there was some modern stuff, not her. A pity, I think young people like her.

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  3. Moira - Woolf certainly did have style. Whether or not she could do a boeuf an daube or not, she certainly did know how to depict people's lives. I love it that you've mentioned her several times here. Reminds me that I must re-read. But - erm - I do think I'll brush up my cooking skills from another source... ;-)

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    1. Sorry Margot, I missed this at the time! Yes, she is eternally satisfying to read, though not to get recipes from....

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  4. Hey, I've always got a chicken gumbo to fall back on

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  5. Ah, one of my favourite writers... just seen a copy of a book about Kew Gardens written by VW and illustrated by Vanessa Bell - a Hogarth Press re-issue - in Oxfam books for £20... might have to rush back and buy it tomorrow!

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    1. Oh I think you should, that sounds fascinating.... and yes, a great writer, not affected by carping nitpickers like me!

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    2. Got it! Ought to give it to someone I suppose, but not for a few weeks at least! It is rather lovely...

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    3. That's always the best way: buy something as a potential present and then... strangely... find... eventually, that you've kept it.

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