Night and Day (Oxford World's Classics) Paperback – 12 Aug 1999
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'Together these ten volumes make an attractive and reasonably priced (the volumes vary between £3.99 and £4.99) working edition of Virginia Woolf's best-known writing. One can only hope that their success will prompt World's Classics to add her other essays to the series in due course.'Elisabeth Jay, Westminster College, Oxford, Review of English Studies, Vol. XLV, No. 178, May '94
'Woolf was an innovator who redefined the novel and pointed the way towards its future possibilities.' Jeanette WintersonSee all Product description
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The novel tells the story of Katharine Hilbery's gradual release from a life to which she has been ill-suited - a life of paying calls, pouring tea, being the research assistant and dutiful daughter of her parents. She does not have any responsibilities other than those of her social life and the household duties imposed. But despite her apparent passive acceptance, Katharine desperately seeks to escape from the frivolities of society to study mathematics and to dream of a different life. She falls in love with Ralph Denham, a young lawyer who works for a solicitor and writes articles for Mr. Hilbery's journal; he is poor but he has big qualities. His ambitions are stifled by his mother and six or seven brothers and sister who are dependent on him, and he seems to despise society and people like the Hilberys who lead idle lives and have plenty of money to spend. Ralph also takes refuge in his room from domestic life in order to work and to indulge in dreams.
Virginia Woolf brilliantly depicts the atmosphere in an intellectual middle-class family in early twentieth century British society. But she also describes the gradual change into a society the patterns and conventions of which are slowly disintegrating and the representatives of the younger generation begin to make their own way. We learn about the difficulties for Victorian women to find the time and the space to pursue their interests in serious work instead of permanently fulfilling their duties as 'Angels in the House'. Katharine is torn between "night" and "day", between her hidden passion for mathematics and astronomy and her social duties as hostess at the tea table in her father's house. Gradually, she gives up her self-abnegating role as dutiful daughter and her hostess for her family and discovers her own identity.
What I like about the book is Woolf's ironic style and her wit in which her social criticism is embedded. The novel does not read like a feminist manifesto that slags off the patriarchal values of British society, but is splendidly funny and leaves it entirely up to the reader to decide how much he or she wants to see in it. We understand Night and Day as the two complementary modes of existence, the rhythms of Woolf's books as they are of her life, depicted in a light-hearted and comic manner which makes it very enjoyable to read.
All would be well if this were the psychological drama it appears to be, set in an atmospheric turn-of-the-century London. But Virginia Woolf also pursues a political message: in this novel, women answer to male stereotypes and vice versa. The women are logical and career-minded, the men coy and romantic. This might be fine, and it makes for a few good scenes, except that it doesn't quite fit the characters. Mary's ill-starred fate seems gratuitous. Katherine's interest in mathematics is too obviously a code, never properly illustrated. And her falling in love with Ralph isn't credible - she is too good for him, and it is all too sudden. It seems Night and Day can't quite choose what it is supposed to be: psychological or social comedy. It lacks the simplicity of Woolf's first novel The Voyage Out, the wistfulness of Mrs Dalloway, or the experimental complexity of her later works.
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