The the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

Right now I'm reading Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse. If you hate head-hopping, this is not the book for you. Head-hopping is part of the method. As Eudora Welty says in the foreword to this edition, "the novel never departs from the subjective."

Interesting, to me, is the presentation of Mr. Ramsay's professional thought. He's a professor of philosophy, apparently a scholar of some note and accomplishment. Woolf doesn't describe, or fake describing, his work. She doesn't use phrases like "the Absolute" or "noumenon and phenomenon." No, she gives us a basic simile: if thought is like the alphabet, Mr. Ramsay has gotten as far as the letter Q. He is striving to attain R. "Very few people in the whole of England ever reach Q... Z is only reached once by a man in a generation."

And that tells us, I'm sure, all we need to know of Mr. Ramsay's scholarship.

But there's another element to this strategy. This simplicity of the simile is disingenuous. As it is extended in mock-heroic terms, it becomes funnier and more cutting. "He had not genius; he laid no claim to that; but he had, or might have had, the power to repeat every letter of the alphabet from A to Z accurately in order." And in the next paragraph: "Yet he would not die lying down; he would find some crag of rock, and there, his eyes fixed on the storm, trying to the end to pierce the darkness, he would die standing. He would never reach R."