Commonplace-Book Entry: “Mrs. Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf, The Effects of Decisions in the Past

“Now of course, thought Clarissa, he’s enchanting! perfectly enchanting! Now I remember how impossible it was ever to make up my mind–and why did I make up my mind–not to marry him? she wondered, that awful summer?”

Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. Harcourt, Inc, 1925, page 40.

Looking at Peter Walsh now, Clarissa starts to think of decisions that she has made in the past and tries to remember how she came upon those decisions. She does this because as she is reflecting on her life now, she realizes that she has become unhappy with it and by looking on these decisions in the past and thinking of different paths that she could have chosen, such as wondering why she hadn’t chosen to marry Peter Walsh instead of Richard Dalloway, she thinks that by taking those different paths, her life could have been different than how it is now and perhaps she would have been more happy during this point in her life.

“A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” by James Joyce Commonplace-Book Entry: Childhood Magic of Christmas Decorations

“There were coloured lanterns in the hall of his father’s house and ropes of green branches. There were holly and ivy round the pierglass and holly and ivy, green and red, twined round the chandeliers. There were red holly and green ivy round the old portraits on the walls. Holly and ivy for him and for Christmas. Lovely…”

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Oxford University Press Inc., 2000, page 16.

I do not know if this passage in particular is from a dream or from a scenario that Stephen is wishfully thinking about in his head based on past experiences, but it seems so magical and exciting as a child to come home for the first day of winter break and seeing your house already decorated for the holidays. By Stephen focusing on the holly and ivy that are put up around certain areas of the house, it made me realize that part of what makes the holidays so special is seeing the house decorated in the same way that it always is, with the same decorations in the same spots that they are always put up, which gives everyone such a unique, but shared sense of familiarity, since each family’s way of decorating is different, but it is always one of the first signs that the holidays are approaching. Stephen’s way of describing the holly and ivy around his family’s house, with their specific placements, colors, and calling them lovely gives me the sense that he likes to observe and pay attention to little details, and also thinks that the little, simple things in life are beautiful, which I think are good traits for a child who is going to become an artist to have.

Commonplace-Book Entry: “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” by James Joyce, Childhood Innocence

“He felt the touch of the prefect’s fingers as they had steadied his hand and at first he had thought he was going to shake hands with him because the fingers were soft and firm: but then in an instant he had heard the swish of the soutane sleeve and the crash.”

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Oxford University Press Inc., 2000, page 43.

I thought that it was interesting that Stephen thought that Father Dolan was going to do something nice and polite in his gesture even though he had just seen what he had done to Fleming previously and knew that he was going to get hit as well. This makes me think that Stephen seems to always perceive adults in his life as kind, and I feel that this is perhaps because, at least up to this age, that every adult seems to have treated him kindly, such as those in his family, or maybe his soft, firm hands reminds him of someone that was kind to him, such as his father. Maybe this is also because of his childhood innocence, as he is a very timid child who seems to think more fondly of adults like his mother over his peers, who he tends to judge.

Henry James, “The Middle Years”

“This was the laceration – that practically his career was over: it was as violent as a rough hand at his throat” (James, 337).

The vivid and morbid imagery here is quite shocking. The use of the word “laceration” and the simile, “as violent as a rough hand at his throat” goes to show just how deeply Dencombe resonated the purpose of his life to his writing.

James, Henry. “The Middle Years.” H. James Complete Stories 1892-1898, The Library of America, 1996, page 337.

Commonplace-Book Entry: “The Middle Years” by Henry James, Unfinished Dream

“‘Yes, it’s what passes.’ Poor Dencombe was barely audible, but he had marked with the words the virtual end of his first and only chance.”

James, Henry. “The Middle Years.” Henry James: Complete Stories 1892-1898, The Library of America, 1996, page 355.

This story ends on a more sad and thoughtful note, as neither Doctor Hugh nor Dencombe, himself, were able to give Dencombe his dream of another chance at life, and without explanation as to what the other characters, such as Doctor Hugh, did after Dencombe passed. I feel that this deviates from the traditional endings of stories where they are happy and every loose end is tied together nicely. I suppose that this ending is meant to reflect complex, realistic endings in life where people die and some of their hopes and dreams are left unfinished while those they know and love still have to continue living without them, surrounded by their unfinished projects. 

Henry James, “The Middle Years”, Observation

“He couldn’t have chanted to himself a single sentence, couldn’t have turned with curiosity or confidence to any particular page.”

James, Henry. “The Middle Years.” H. James Complete Stories 1892-1898, The Library of America, 1996, page 337.

Dencombe is struggling with many losses, including but not limited to his life and his identity and his career as an author, which is incredibly important to him. This realization that he cannot remember a single detail of his revisions, for him especially, is something out of nightmares.

James, “The Middle Years”, and Observation

“He had followed literature from the first, but he had taken a lifetime to get alongside her. Only to-day, at last, had he begun to see, so that what he had hitherto done was a movement without direction. He had ripened too late and was clumsily constituted that he had had to teach himself by mistakes” (James 347).

James, Henry. “The Middle Years.” Henry James: Complete Stories 1892-1898, 335-55. New York: The Library of America, 1996. pp. 347.

Dencombe in his fading health observes how despite his achievement  of a soon to be successful novel, it marks the end of his bittersweet career. In his struggle to reach his ideal through mistakes, he had squandered the limited time he had to live and lost the time he needed to reach perfection.

James, “The Middle Years.” Topic: Observation

This act, and something in the movement of either party, instantly characterised the performers- they performed for Dencombe’s recreation- as opulent matron and humble dependant.

James, Henry. “The Middle Years.” In Complete Stories 1892-1898, edited by John Hollander and David Bromwich, 335-55. New York: Library of America, 1996, p. 336.

when does trio on beach become performers? being observed transforms people into performers (not only their fluid movements, but they must be seen), dichotomy of opulent matron/ humble dependant related to observer/performer?