Virginia Woolf ~ “The Mark” Part I

Virginia WoolfVirginia Woolf (1882 – 1941) was born in London, the daughter of Leslie Stephens, a critic, biographer, and philosopher. She was largely self-educated, having access to her father’s extensive library. After her father’s death in 1904, Virginia, her sister, and two brothers moved to the Bloomsbury district of London. There they associated with a group of writers, scientists, and artists, which later became known as the “Bloomsbury group.” This group included Lytton Strachey, J. M. Keynes, Roger Fry, and E. M. Forster. Woolf’s first completely successful novel was Mrs. Dalloway, published in 1925. She also wrote a great many reviews and critical essays; A Room of One’s Own is one her best-known works.

The following excerpt is from “The Mark on the Wall.” Part 1

Perhaps it was the middle of January in the present year that I first looked up and saw the mark on the wall. In order to fix a date it is necessary to remember what one saw. So now I think of the fire; the steady film of yellow light upon the page of my book; the three chrysanthemums in the round glass bowl on the mantelpiece.

Yes, it must have been the winter time, and we had just finished our tea, for I remember that I was smoking a cigarette when I looked up and saw the mark on the wall for the first time. I looked up through the smoke of my cigarette and my eye lodged for a moment upon the burning coals, and that old fancy of the crimson flag flapping from the castle tower came into my mind, and I thought of the cavalcade of red knights riding up the side of the black rock. Rather to my relief the sight of the mark interrupted the fancy, for it is an old fancy, an automatic fancy, made as a child perhaps. The mark was a small round mark, black upon the white wall, about six or seven inches above the mantelpiece.

How readily our thoughts swarm upon a new object, lifting it a little way, as ants carry a blade of straw so feverishly, and then leave it… If that mark was made by a nail, it can’t have been for a picture, it must have been for a miniature–the miniature of a lady with white powdered curls, powder-dusted cheeks, and lips like red carnations. A fraud of course, for the people who had this house before us would have chosen pictures in that way–an old picture for an old room. That is the sort of people they were–very interesting people, and I think of them so often, in such queer places, because one will never see them again, never know what happened next.

They wanted to leave this house because they wanted to change their style of furniture, so he said, and he was in process of saying that in his opinion art should have ideas behind it when we were torn asunder, as one is torn from the old lady about to pour out tea and the young man was about to hit the tennis ball in the back garden of the suburban villa as one rushes past in the train.

But for that mark, I’m not sure about it.

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Adverbosity

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“If an adverb became a character in one of my novels, I’d have it shot. Immediately.”

Elmore Leonard

What is so deliciously funny about this statement is how much it is helped by an adverb. Leave it off and the sentence loses its determination. To appreciate the power of the adverb, change it to another adverb. “Eventually.” “Cheerfully.” “Reluctantly.” Each adverb changes the tone of the sentence. Each one helps the sentence in its own unique way. That’s what adverbs are; they are helping words – words that modify verbs (at least that is what I was taught in elementary school.)

There are a number of articles and books on writing that express varying opinions on adverbs; most agree that they should be used – dare I say it – rarely. Really, without a handy adverb, how else could one write that one should not use adverbs very often…a lot…ever. No matter how I try, the verb “use” needs the help of an adverb unless I go the way of Elmore Leonard and write it out of existence.

However, an action like that results in an equal and opposite reaction, especially when it comes to dialogue tags. If the old standby “said” is abandoned by its adverb helpers, writers will have to fill in the gap with excessive words to convey the proper meaning.

“I told you not to come,” she said angrily versus “I told you not to come,” she said, her face turning a deep, purple shade of magenta.

“Relax and stay awhile,” he said seductively versus “Relax and stay awhile,” he said as he hurried about the room, plumping the pillows, dimming the lights, pulling the cork out of the wine bottle, and checking that the CD player was set on track 7 “Tonight’s the Night.”

Another reaction is to eliminate “said” altogether as a dialogue tag and replace it with a show-not-tell word.

“I told you not to come,” she growled. “I told you not to come,” she raged, she wailed, she ejaculated (a salute to Wodehouse.)

The problem is sometimes show-not-tell dialogue tags create unintended mental images.

“Relax and stay awhile,” he purred.

“I don’t think I should,” she squeaked.

“Oh, please do. You’ll be safe with me,” he panted.

“That’s not what my mother told me,” she shivered.

Oh, dear, let’s draw the curtain on this little scene while we have the chance. Now getting back to adverbs, I have decided to allow for their existence, even those that become a character in an Elmore Leonard novel. I might even take a bullet for an adverb. Figuratively speaking.

Leonard’s Legs Leave Home

leonards-legsAvid

Slap. Slap. Slap. Slap 

The sound of running feet echoed across the desert.

Slap. Slap. Slap. Slap.

After years of threatening to do so, Leonard’s legs finally ran away with him. And he was suffering for it. His bones ached, his lungs burned, and his blood beat a steady tattoo in his ears. He glanced down at the road and groaned. He had crossed another state line.

Leonard was annoyed with his legs; this was a most inconvenient time for them to leave. He had deadlines to meet–appointments and obligations. Although he felt the burden of his responsibilities, apparently his legs did not. They didn’t seem to understand that if one is an avid writer, then one has to…well…write! His legs were so unreasonable!

And yet, Leonard had to admit that they had a point. He had grown increasingly distracted, like he was in another world. Well, he was sometimes. Actually, he always was, but lately the occasions that he emerged from his little cottage had diminished. It made contact with the outside world even more challenging; it was like having to learn to speak all over again. He groaned. He had become so disconnected that he recently misunderstood a writing prompt from a blogger. The blogger had asked for three-word titles; Leonard thought he was supposed to write a three-word title story. He wrote a lovely story with a three-word title and posted it on the blogger’s website. He wondered why there were almost three hundred responses to the prompt. Then he began reading them and realized they were all titles, not stories. How humiliating!

It was such a nice story, too, thought Leonard. It really cracked me up. All about that bull moose at Cabela’s. I even included a picture I took at Cabela’s when I visited there with my brother. What a shock that place was! Stuffed animals everywhere! I saw the lion my cousin killed in Africa mounted on one of the shelves. Strange seeing that lion in Cabela’s–I first saw it at my cousin’s house, along with his other trophies. The rhino was the worst; I hated seeing the stuffed rhino head. I love rhinos.

Slap. Slap. Slap. Slap.

Why? he thought. Why are my legs doing this? Was Chesterton right? Must we propitiate the barbaric god of legs with fire and wine?

A few days ago, Leonard’s arms got wind of what was happening, and they wanted a piece of the action. They demanded that the legs stop every hour so that they could do push-ups.

Oh, Lord, no, pleaded Leonard. Not that–I just couldn’t.

So far, the legs had refused to listen to the arms’ demands. Leonard’s arms were not pleased, and to show their displeasure, they waved themselves about as Leonard’s legs ran.

Slap. Slap. Slap. Slap.

 

Next town–Albuquerque

Text Structures

Van Gogh-Willows“What is it that can awaken a mind to the meaning of a text? When is the moment that the heart is moved by its beauty?”  The Book of Rhino

According to Webster’s dictionary, text is the main body of matter in a manuscript, book, newspaper, etc., as distinguished from notes, appendixes, headings, or illustrations. There are five basic expository text structures: description, sequence, comparison, cause and effect, problem and solution. Recognizing a particular text structure in a piece of writing always enhances my appreciation of the text.

Description:  The author describes a topic by listing characteristics, features, and examples. Cue words are: for example, characteristics are.

Sample passage

Trees are the largest of all plants. Trees can be divided into six main groups: broadleaf, needleleaf, palm, cyad, ferns, and gingko. Although the trees differ with respect to whether or not they have flowers, fruits, or cones, they all try to get along. The exceptions are the palm and the cyad. They are the Montagues and the Capulets of the tree world.

Sequence:  The author lists items or events in numerical or chronological order. Cue words are: first, second, third, next, then, finally.

Sample passage

Most trees begin life as a seed. First the female part of the tree comes in contact with male pollen, fertilizing the seed. Then the seeds are scattered by the wind, or by birds, or by a friendly squirrel. Unfriendly squirrels can’t be bothered. (The trees take note of this and exact a terrible revenge.) The young tree that develops from the seed is called a seedling until it reaches a height of six feet or more. At this point, it is granted sapling status and can legally buy mulch. It finally achieves full treehood when it is as tall as the other trees in the community.

Comparison:  The author explains how two or more things are alike and/or how they are different. Cue words are: different, in contrast, alike, same as, on the other hand

Sample passage

A tree differs from other plants in that trees grow at least 15 to 20 feet and have one woody stem, which is called a trunk. Plants, on the other hand, have a soft, juicy stem. Trees and plants are alike in that they both have leaves, but trees consider their leaves far superior to those of plants. Naturally, some plants chafe under their supposed inferiority and try to compensate. Seaweeds, for example, grow their stems 200 feet tall, but they cannot stand out of water, much to their chagrin–and the secret amusement of trees.

Cause and Effect:  The author lists one or causes and the resulting effect or effects. Cue words are: reasons why, if…then, as a result, therefore, because

Sample passage

There are several reasons why people love trees. Their leaves provide shade from the sun and the fruit of some trees can be used for food. Trees help conserve soil and preserve the balance of carbon dioxide and oxygen gases in the atmosphere. Their trunks are harvested for lumber and paper. For thousands of years, trees have played hide-and-seek with children and have been something to lean on when you’re having “that sort of day.” As a result, trees have been praised in poetry, worshipped in dance, and appeased with an occasional human sacrifice.

Problem and Solution:  The author state a problem and lists one or more solutions. Cue words are: problem is, dilemma is, puzzle is solved, question…answer.

Sample passage

Trees require enormous amounts of water. A large apple tree in full leaf may absorb as much as 95 gallons of water every day. This is not an issue when a tree is among other trees in a forest or field. But in suburban areas, this is a real dilemma. Without a nearby source of water, a tree will send its roots far and wide searching for it, invading swimming pools and septic tanks, if necessary. Humans do not like this; a root invasion in a septic tank is no joke. The solution is to provide each tree with its own swimming pool or septic tank so it doesn’t have to drink from yours.

This particular text is a description; I hope you found it interesting. Do you know of other expository text structures besides the ones listed?  If you do, please share in the comment section. I would like to know because I’m always curious.