Not surprisingly, considering my use of Woolf’s novel in the Analogy post, my emblem of quickness is a lighthouse. The lighthouse’s periodic flash of light indicates both inspiration (think of the “aha!” moment many describe as a light bulb turning on in the brain) and direction.
Stream of consciousness literature, such as Ah and To the Lighthouse, is full of these “aha!” moments, but sometimes, we may feel a little lost in the reading. This is where the emblem of the lighthouse comes in: though we see the flash of light at regular intervals, the lighthouse itself does not show us the way home. Rather, it is a tool to help us find our way. Likewise, quickness is a strategy authors use to help their readers find their way through a work of literature. While the text may seem inscrutable at times, every so often we experience a flash of understanding. This instant acts as a touchstone for us to understand what the author is trying to say. Like the lighthouse, we can use quickness (the logical pattern of the story) to navigate through the text and find our way home to the author’s meaning.
When I think of quickness, I think about the stream of consciousness novel, which came into its own at the beginning of the twentieth century. Authors writing in this style wished to craft prose that captured the fragmentation and simultaneity of thought: in essence, consciousness itself. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf is my favorite novel in this genre.
On a basic level, it tells the story of the Ramsay family and their activities at a seaside cottage, but it also encompasses World War One, the beginnings of the feminist movement, Lily Briscoe’s struggle to find her voice as an artist, new discoveries in quantum physics, and questions of faith and humanity’s place in the universe.
Woolf’s writing style can be difficult to comprehend at first; sometimes it feels as if she’s moving through the story a little too quickly. She constantly changes narrators and points of view, and she distorts our sense of linear time: the first half of the book covers the events of a single day, while all of World War One merits only a few pages. However, the quickness of the novel comes precisely from Woolf’s relentless drive to continue through the story. We experience one event after the other at lightning speed until all of a sudden, we arrive at the end, when Lily Briscoe fulfills her artistic vision in a sudden frenzy of creation and inspiration.
This novel, which moves along at a brisk clip, exemplifies quickness and efficiency of style in narrative. Woolf is clear and succinct: each paragraph is carefully crafted to evoke vivid images and further Woolf’s goal of emulating consciousness in prose.