[Vwoolf] De gustibus ...

Stuart N. Clarke stuart.n.clarke at btinternet.com
Thu Sep 13 14:31:27 EDT 2012

I remember at primary school being asked to write an essay with the subject If you weren’t who you are, who would you like to be?  A remarkably stupid concept, I thought at the time, and still think so.  Of course, I had no idea how to answer it.  I hated stuff like Paint whatever scene you’d like to.  Child-centred education – pah!  Thank goodness we didn’t have much of *that*.

Struggling away, my answer was Hawthorne.  God knows how I managed to spin it out.  Much of my knowledge of Greek myths is founded on Tanglewood Tales and A Wonder Book.  Bet not many British people can say that.

So, it was an intense disappointment to read The Scarlet Letter in about 1993.  Of course, I couldn’t understand the beginning, and once I got going I found it deeply boring.  I finished it, tho’.

Whether I’ll manage my second reading of “Our Mutual Friend”, which I’m currently engaged on, I don’t know.  (I remember nothing of my first reading.)  I feel that this is going to be my last Dickens, unless I reread Great Expectations &/or Bleak House, which I am enthusiastic about.  I do find Dickens unsympathetic.  

And so, I have to agree with Virginia, if she really did think this – I preferred You Know Me Al – even tho’ I didn’t understand all of it, being written, as you know, in a foreign language – to The Scarlet Letter.


From: jeannette smyth 
Sent: Thursday, September 13, 2012 6:02 PM
To: Harish Trivedi 
Cc: vwoolf listserv 
Subject: Re: [Vwoolf] Leslie Stephen

My literary tastes are, God knows, not infallible. Then again, I don't make my living as a literary journalist. But even I know that Hawthorne is The Man. Recently re-read Scarlet Letter thinking I'd probably not feel it, the way one can no longer feel Anna Karenina (not least on account of Tolstoy's bone-deep misogynism). I was in tears at the end of it. Tears for Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale! From this withered and hardened old heart.

Interesting to think Stephen was blind to Dickens (also more and more prescient, sublime, Marxist, even)  and Woolf to Hawthorne. Thanks to all for these insights.

Take care,

Jeannette Smyth

  -----Original Message----- 
  From: Harish Trivedi 
  Sent: Sep 12, 2012 10:26 AM 
  To: jeannette smyth 
  Cc: Eleanor McNees , vwoolf listserv 
  Subject: Re: [Vwoolf] Leslie Stephen 

  Yes, indeed, let's not to be too correct or presentist. To see LS just as a father is rather like seeing VW just as a daughter. And to see him just as Mr Ramsay is like seeing VW just as a woman with a tendecy to go 'mad' from time to time, while disregarding completely what each of them wrote. Patriarchy here seems well met by some shades of Feminism.

  Of LS's DNB essays, one that has not stood the test of time too well is that on Dickens, who is now 200 years old but was still (luke)warm is his grave when LS wrote that entry.  As I recall, he said something to the effect that D must be reckoned great if popularity with the semi-literates 
  was to be regarded as proof of greatness. Very sniffy -- but hardly more so than VW on American Literature, where she prized Ring Lardner (!) above Hawthorne. 

  All said and done, she was her father's daughter.

  Harish Trivedi   

  On 12 September 2012 20:26, jeannette smyth <jeannette_smyth at earthlink.net> wrote:

    Noel Annan's bio is also enlightening; she seems to have inherited a great deal of his physical toughness, Stephen family mental high/low, and courage. She also inherited his place at the pinnacle of literary journalism and atheism. As an American I wondered for years how she found herself at the nexus of such a powerful group of friends, until I realized they'd all been friends for five generations, since the Clapham sect. This doesn't happen in America.


    Don't some of his DNB essays still stand?

    Take care,

    Jeannette Smyth


      -----Original Message----- 
      From: Eleanor McNees 
      Sent: Sep 10, 2012 1:19 PM 
      To: "vwoolf at lists.service.ohio-state.edu" 
      Subject: [Vwoolf] Leslie Stephen 

      Dear Woolf Colleagues,

      If one takes the time to read Leslie Stephen’s essays over the course of his life as well as his many entries in the Dictionary of National Biography which he initiated and edited for over a decade, one finds a rather different persona from the one so often criticized as a tyrannical and maudlin father. In addition his letters in the two-volume Bicknell edition present a far more human version. Woolf herself acknowledged especially in her retrospective piece for The Times how significant his literary influence on her was. 



      Eleanor McNees

      Associate Dean

      Professor of English

      Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

      Sturm Hall, 463

      2000 E. Asbury Ave.

      Denver, CO 80208-0900

      TEL: 303.871.2057

      FAX: 303.871.4436

      EMcNees at du.edu


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