There’s one point in the novel in which one of the characters reflects on the form of perceiving others. Looking at people from a distance, she thinks that this way of identifying and following others through their outlines is one workable approach. It can be taken, as I believe it’s meant to be, as an analogy for the whole form of the book. In a way it’s a book of intensely realized, complex, three dimensional characters each of whom encounters the other as if the outsider were a two dimensional sketch, lacking real substance. More than direct conflict, this aspect of the perception renders a deep insubstantiality in the social ties that people build, and the deep distance that they build more effectively. The isolation doesn’t emerge just from self-absorption, rather it’s a sense of lacking the language or real community for authentic relation. In this amazingly writen account that manifests not in the major dramatic disconnect we might expect but in quiet, subdued points of systemic, often unnoticed, rupture.
It’s a beautiful, heartfelt and deeply sophisticated novel. Says a lot about class, gender, family and the way such conditions shifted into the first world war, all in under two hundred pages. Deservedly classic, and indicates that Woolf applied a comparable level of talent to her fiction as to her essays.
Similar to and worse than: Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust
Similar to and better than: The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton