Rachel Annand Taylor. “Virginia Woolf and Others.” The Spectator. May 14, 1927, p.871


Virginia Woolf and Others

To the Lighthouse. By Virginia Woolf. (The Hogarth Press.7s. 6d.)
The Marionette. By Edwin Muir. (The Hogarth Press. 6s.)
The Drums of Aulone. By Robert W. Chambers. (D. Appleton.7s. 6d.)
The Magic Formula. By L. P. Jacks. (Harper and Brothers. 7s. 6d.)

“THE dark light, the bright shadow” was what Leonardosought, he said, through all the sciences and all the arts. Thebright shadow, the dark light, seem to shift and flicker and fuse in strange pavane to make the fascinating chiaroscuro of the novels of Mrs. Woolf. The woven paces of dark and bright on the lovely superficies of any book of hers offer an aesthetic pleasure so deep that at moments you almost forget the dreaming figures beneath, whose vibrating hearts actually create that enigmatic pattern.

Enigmatic, darkly bright, flowing into the secret recesses of the consciousness, floating out its rose-pale shells, its wavering shapes, its blood-red coral, moulding people that combine a modern irony with a mystic reverie, the genius of Virginia Woolf is at once more difficult and more original than that of any other woman novelist of to-day. Mrs. Dalloway is a thing perfect in its kind, a gleaming super-subtle piece of fine filaments of impression and emotion gathered into the pattern of the Rose, a complete crystal eddy of the River of Life. To the Lighthouse is not so flawless in its aesthetic effect. The Unities agree with this novelist’s power; and here the Unity of Time is rather violently broken, while the parts of the book seem disproportionate. But it is even more wistfully human, perhaps. Nothing happens, and everything happens. To the lighthouse the child James desires to go; and, sitting by his mother’s feet, is tauntingly denied by his despotic, myriad-mooded father. To the lighthouse, long years after, he does go, dragged there reluctant by that despotic myriad-minded father, and is suddenly, mysteriously reconciled with him in his heart. Between these incidents people are born and marry and die, but all these matters are incidental to the souls that cross and intercross in the web ofan everlasting reverie.

In this book there are secret flames in flowers and inanimate things, waking in response to the fixed gaze of the unconscious symbolists who are weaving them into the tapestry of their dreams. Subtle sensations are caught here that are elusive asa fragrance or a flavour. Psychical processes are laid bare by burning piercing images. Cadences are heard that neverviolate the rhythm of prose, yet chime aërial and strange asthe rhythm of verse. In the ghostly second part, where the perishing life of the house sighs away, the lamenting style, withits lilted-in refrains, and its bitter tragic parentheses, in some passages chants heavily and dreamily like the prose litanies of Mallarmé, Frisson d’Hiver, for example.

Indeed more beauty and penetrative characterization than can here be described resides within this book. The Ramsays, husband and wife, move at the centre of attention, along the red torch-plants in the twilight garden. The husband is a remarkably observed figure; but I prefer to linger a moment onhis wife, who has the deathless grace, regality, and sweetness of legendary women. She is whimsical, extravagant in speech, absurd a little, versed in all tender ways of loving. She bewitches you. Even the crude Tansley thinks of cyclamen and violets when he sees her as if “stepping through fields offlowers, taking to her breast buds that had broken and lambs that had fallen.” Yet she is lost in an endless sad reverie: she feels remote and lonely like the white beam of the lighthouse laid on the darkness. She is sorrowful for something lost out of Time—something that, found, would illuminate eternity.So her spirit goes veiled and dreamy like the carved Greek women mourning on the side of a Sidonian sarcophagus.

Under the modern talk all the folk around her go sunken also in their peculiar meditation. But why, when this account ofthe interaction of “naked thinking hearts” needs merely a setting of a house and a terrace, some rocks, a bay and a lighthouse, must the house be placed in the Hebrides? Mrs.Woolf creates her own atmosphere wherever she takes her[next column]people; but to anybody who has been subdued by the magicof the Hebridean atmosphere, there is a disturbance of impression, a collision of spiritual values. Her pattern should neverbe superimposed.

It is a violent change to the hard edges, the vivid lights, the steep planes of Mr. Edwin Muir’s impersonal account, in a style of studied simplicity, of the isolated drama of a father and the idiot son whom he tries to develop by persuading him from his love of dolls to delight in a marionette theatre, where Faust (unsuitably, one thinks) is the chief play. As a piece of virtuosity, the brief story is extremely finished. Salzburg and its heights are printed zigzag on our minds; we see figures in futuristic shards and segments through the unlit eyes of Hans. The dreams of the marionette world which the poor boy builds in his mind have a bizarre and startling beauty, though they appear too coherent and significant for that feeble brain. The experiment fails through terror; yet the sympathy it has created between father and son remains, so that they are left becoming more and more alike. This seems rather horrible. The effect of the story is that of a bright, many-angled Cubist toy. You feel if you could press some spring along the implacable edges, you might release a pungent spice of pity.

Mr. R. W. Chambers has written an exciting and gallant romance in the Drums of Aulone. Court of Louis Quatorze, Court of King James—the actors are dashing, the incidents have a thrill. And sometimes the language is eloquent, though occasionally a trifle melodramatic.Those who take pleasure in a low-toned book, not without a gentle humour and a tolerant taste for human eccentricity, will be glad of The Magic Formula. The stories are not profound, and they have rather a theological than a mystical flavour. They that like this little volume will never read Virginia Woolf.