Archive for August 4th, 2009


Anita Brookner

Anita Brookner published her first novel in 1981 at the age of 53, following with one a year until 2000 when she slowed down just a bit. Her 25th novel, Strangers, was released this year.

She rejects feminism, and her protagonists are very traditional, but sometimes they make surprisingly independent and unorthodox choices.

Virginia Woolf appears in at least two of her novels, once as a significant icon and once in passing, both references adding flavor to the stories.

Hotel du Lac

hotel du lacEdith Hope is a romance writer with the pen name of Vanessa Wilde. People have noted her resemblance to Virginia Woolf, including her publisher, who says: “She really does look remarkably Bloomsburian…the hollowed cheeks and the pursed lips.”

Her life in disarray, she retreats to a Swiss resort and its eclectic cast of characters. A man says, “Whoever told you that you looked like Virginia Woolf did you a grave disservice, although I suppose you thought it was a compliment.” Edith prefers men to women, and favors the work of Colette and Henry James. Yet she is proud that she earns her own money, and she rejects the opportunity for a conventional life of comfort and ease.

Undue Influence

undue influenceClaire faces her future after her mother’s death, content to take life as it comes: her job in a Bloomsbury bookshop, involvement with the lifeless Martin. Claire’s opening line is a hook: “It is my conviction that everyone is profoundly eccentric.” She admits to making hasty assessments as a result of observing rather than participating in life, but her bland façade hides secrets.

Claire says of the bookshop owners: “I was surprised that they…always had lived in Bloomsbury. But I suppose that what was once an accident of geography had hardened over the years to a conviction that he was part of a ‘set’, an authentic Bloomsburian. Whether [Virginia Woolf] ever noticed him when they passed in the street, as they must have done on occasions, would have been highly unlikely.”

The Debut

debutI reread Brookner’s first novel, with another woeful protagonist and dutiful daughter, and another great opening line (“Dr. Weiss, at forty, knew that her life had been ruined by literature”), wondering if I might find a forgotten reference to Virginia Woolf.

Woolf didn’t appear, but Ruth Weiss, an authority on women in Balzac, seems the academic counterpart to Edith Hope. “Her appearance and character were exactly halfway between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; she was scrupulous, passionate, thoughtful, and given to self-analysis, but her colleagues thought her merely scrupulous…” She is often sidelined by the exploits of her manipulative parents and escapes for a time to Paris to pursue her Balzac studies.

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