The Mark on the Wall, Virginia Woolf

This wonderful short muse appears in Woolf’s collection called Monday or Tuesday. I have specifically chosen not to call this a ‘story’ for it clearly is not one – Incurable Logophilia agrees with me on this point!Rather, it seems that here Woolf is experimenting with form, trying to draw our attention away from the safety of a sequential plot and to focus rather on an internal dialogue.

She seeks to distract us with this mark on the wall, its significance a means to lead us on a thought quest, a meandering through the differences of mundane reality and each individual’s desire to find something substance in his or her own personal monologue.

All the time I’m dressing up the figure of myself in my own mind, lovingly, stealthily, not openly adoring it, for if I did that, I should catch myself out, and stretch my hand at once for a book in self-protection. Indeed, it is curious how instinctively one protects the image of oneself from idolatry or any other handling that could make it ridiculous, or too unlike the original to be believed in any longer. Or is it not so very curious after all? It is a matter of great importance. Suppose the looking glass smashes, the image disappears, and the romantic figure with the green of forest depths all about it is there no longer, but only that shell of a person which is seen by other people – what an airless, shallow, bald, prominent world it becomes! A world not to be lived in.

So, Woolf takes us on this journey, delving into politics, human nature, society and Nature itself. Each sequence of thoughts is unfinished, interrupted abruptly by the intrusion of another thought, stolen mid-sentence and tossed into oblivion.

Clearly, Woolf is toying with us, forcing us to abandon our expectations of narrative form and structure and to rather savour her alternate route. This is Woolf’s way of encouraging us to stop and smell the proverbial roses.

For readers, the mark on the wall could function as a metaphor for a range of different things. Contextually, the mark could be a reference to World War I, the background to Woolf’s writing and mentioned throughout the text. The mark could also refer to a blot on the writer’s conscience, a distraction of sorts, a fixation. It could imply a challenge, a cry for help, or even a point of communication for it is this mark on the wall that allows the entry of another voice into the stream of consciousness musing. For Woolf it seems that this mark on the wall is the intrusion of reality, that looming thing that holds her back, stunts her ability to truly express herself, to master her craft:

The tree outside the window taps very gently on the pane … I want to think quietly, calmly, spaciously, never to be interrupted, never to have to rise from my chair, to slip easily from one thing to another, without any sense of hostility, or obstacle. I want to sink deeper and deeper, away from the surface, with its hard separate facts. To steady myself, let me catch hold of the first idea that passes …

The fact that the mark is ultimately a snail lends a strange humour to Woolf’s thought processes and might leave some readers disgruntled by the lack of closure in this text.

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2 responses to “The Mark on the Wall, Virginia Woolf

  1. I like your comment that the mark might be the intrusion of reality, the thing that is keeping Woolf from following her thoughts to their actual conclusion. It does keep reigning her in, so to speak, as she tries to let her thoughts flow from one thing to the next…the physical that intrudes into the intellectual. That seems very true.

  2. Yes, I think that my favourite part of this text was the fact that the mark was so mundane yet so present, like a distraction that she was desperately trying to escape yet somehow drawn to.

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