#SoCS Fabulous Stream of Consciousness #Novels ‘Mrs Dallaway’ & ‘My Name is Lucy Barton’

This post was written in response to Linda Hill’s weekly Stream of Consciousness Saturday prompt. Follow the link on the banner for more information!

This weeks prompt is“fab.” Linda Hill says, “Use it as a word or find a word beginning with “fab.” As always, use any way you’d like. Have fun!”

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I’m going to ramble about two fabulous, stream of consciousness novels.

The first novel is Mrs Dallaway, Virginia Woolf’s unforgettable and inspiring masterpiece, which takes place in one single day in the month of June, in the early 1920s, shortly after the end of WWI.

Mrs Dalloway Virginia Woolf (Wordsworth Classics) (Wordsworth Collection)

Mrs Dallaway (Clarissa) is preparing an important society party while her thoughts come and go in diverse directions and timeframes in erratic flashbacks, as the reader discovers Clarissa’s unhappy marriage, the childhood sweetheart she loved but didn’t marry, her insecurities as a society wife, her bisexual tendency’s, and social issues, such as postwar depression and traumatized war veterans.

It’s a novel without a specific plot, in which nothing ‘important’ happens during the specific day, except the preparation of the party, and yet everything that’s happened in Clarissa’s life passes through her mind in that single day.

The protagonist is struggling unsuccessfully to find meaning in her life.

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Bearing in mind the carefully plotted, character driven, traditional 19th century novels, such as those written by the Bronte sisters, Mary Shelley, or even George Elliot, Mrs Dallaway, represented a significant turning point.

Photograph of Virginia Woolf in 1902; photograph by George Charles Beresford

Virginia Woolf initiated an innovative approach to the novel in the early 20th century. The novel no longer adhered to a strict timeline and tight plot, instead, the narrator could wander wherever his/her mind went.

Now I’m going to jump forward to the 21st century. It’s 2016 and we have another major and innovative Stream of Consciousness novel by Elizabeth Strout, called, My Name is Lucy Barton, which I discussed amply in my blog yesterday.

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This fabulous, stream of consciousness novel, takes Virginia Woolf’s approach even further. On this occasion, there is no plot at all, very little by way of characterisation and a disjointed timeline with erratic flashbacks and forwards, and some unsettling hospital visitors, while Lucy is in a hospital bed, recovering from an unspecfied illness.

Lucy should have read Camus or Sartre, they would have told her that her futile and obsessive search for the meaning of her life, was doomed to bring her distress, because there is none. The only solution for Clarissa and Lucy, and all of us, is to accept the fact that life is absurd, and still find reasons to be happy.

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Life isn’t always fair, random events occur, sometimes bad things happen to good people, and bad people get away with murder. We don’t choose our parents, our country or place of birth, our language or religion, and so many other things which shape our lives, and yet, there are still plenty of things we can choose and change.

I enjoyed reading both novels, but I have no sympathy for either Lucy or Clarissa. I suggest they stop blaming others, i.e. their childhood, parents, nationality, religion, politics, society, etc. for their problems.

It’s up to each one of us to decide what we’re prepared to accept and what we’re prepared to fight to change or rebel against.

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So, do you enjoy reading stream of consciousness, almost experimental, literary novels, which explore a character’s psyche intensely, but have little by means of a traditional plot or timeline?

Carrot Ranch #FlashFiction Challenge: Strike at the Quarry

This post was written in response to Chari Mills Carrot Ranch weekly 99-word fiction challenge

January 19, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a about a quarry. It can be a place or include the by-product. The quarry can be operational, abandoned, it can be in real-tie or mentioned from another time. Where will the quarry take you? Go where the prompt leads.

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Strike at the Quarry

Look at him, the great Sisyphus. Ever wondered where his rocks come from?’

‘Rocks? There’s only one.’

‘One, for all eternity? They get worn down in no time, and he’s got an army to roll ‘em up for him.’

‘Really?’

‘Do you know who does all the work?’ He asked pointing a finger at the pickets.

‘We dug those rocks out of the quarry, carried them for bloody miles, and pushed them up, but he gets all the praise.’

‘What a nerve!’

‘We’re going on strike. No more exploitation of the working classes. Get your own rocks, Sisyphus!’   

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I’ve gone all the way back in time to Greek mythology for my inspiration this time.

The myth of Sisyphus, the mortal King of Corinth who was punished by the Gods to carry the same rock up and down a hill for all eternity, has always fascinated me.

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Sisyphus by Titian (1548-49) Prado Museum, Madrid, Spain.

Then the great Albert Camus tried to convince me that Sisyphus was happy, because he had accepted his lot. Rebellion leads to unhappiness. Accept that life is harsh and absurd and you’ll be all right. A shocking suggestion for a nonconformist optimist like me, and yet the concept fascinates me because it’s what so many people do without questioning.

camus-quote

Am I doing what I want to do?

Is this the life I want for myself?

If your answer is no, you need to answer so many more questions you may never find the answer to, such as what are the alternatives? How can I achieve them? What if I fail? Will I ever be happy or satisfied? Will I be worse off in the end if I don’t accept my lot? etc.

According to Camus, questioning the harshness and absurdity of life will only lead to greater unhappiness.

However, if your answer is yes, I’ll do as I’m told, your problem is solved. Just get on with pushing the rock up every time it goes down. Don’t think, don’t complain, just do it. Obey.

on-camus-sisyphus

I’ve discovered my own answer.

I’m not following anyone’s rules.

I’m terribly disobedient, disrespectful, and challenging.

I’m not interested in doing what I’m told or even explicitly searching for happiness.

I want to experience life as an ongoing process, a journey which ends in death, and may or may not continue on to other unknown destinations.

And while I’m here, I can’t stop asking: what if?

What if Sisyphus wasn’t punished at all?

What if he craved glory?

What if he needed to be praised and loves carrying the rocks up the hill?

What if he loved showing off his muscles and his strength?

What if others were envious of him and his fame?

What if he got others to do his dirty work?

 

 

1 Day to Book Launch of ‘Midsummer at Eyre Hall’: My Happy Ending, Thanks to Camus, Orson Welles and My Daughter.

Tomorrow is the big day. The Eyre Hall Trilogy is officially complete and available for purchase and download on Amazon as a Kindle ebook.

My proof for the paperback version of Midsummer at Eyre Hall arrived today. I’ll be checking it through carefully, and it will be available to purchase in print before the end of the month.

Today’s post is about happy endings.

 

My Trilogy

The Eyre Hall Trilogy in my hands! What an exciting moment, even though Midsummer at Eyre Hall is the proof copy.

In this final post, I’m going to tell you about one of my greatest challenges. I needed to make sure the end of The Eyre Hall Trilogy was not disappointing for readers who had read the previous books. After their emotional investment and the time spent reading, I wouldn’t want to let them down.

The main dilemma regarding the ending: it  could be happy or not.

As I briefly discussed in my previous post, a happy ending is not mandatory in a romance, or in a gothic romance, or even in a Victorian gothic romance, but in the end, that’s what has happened in The Eyre Hall Trilogy.

Why did I think of an unhappy ending in the first place?

Well, I didn’t want to be accused of promoting false expectations or chosing the easy way to end my trilogy on a marriage or birth, after all, the end, the real end of our lives, is pretty depressing.

I finally decided to stop at a happy moment, mainly because it was my daughter’s request and Camus’ influence, so I followed Welles advice and found the right place to stop in order to have an optimistic ending.

 

Orson-Welles-fun-wise-quotes

 

Before we continue, let’s take a few minutes to discuss happiness. What is happiness? What is a happy ending?

According to Camus, life becomes absurd once we realise that from the moment we are born, we are walking towards our inevitable death.

Life is absurd, but we can make one of two important choices: to live or to die.

We can exert our freedom and refuse to play the absurd game by committing suicide, or we can freely accept the absurdity of life and chose to be happy.

So, if we choose to be happy, we accept our transient nature and implicitly agree to make the most of our time here.

camus qute

Now, back to The Eyre Hall Trilogy. Why is it a happy ending?

Mainly because the main characters, the characters the reader cares most about, are in harmony with the life they lead at the moment the narrative stops. They have made their choices, fought for what they wanted, and they have achieved what they desired, so they are happy at the end.

On the other hand, not all the plot lines are tied up optimistically, and not all the characters are living in harmony. John, Annette and Susan made some unwise decisions which they will have to live with. There is a shadow looming over Michael due to some risky decisions he made, and of course, Jane is getting older towards the end of the novel, and although she is in good health, in Victorian England life expectancy was low, but I wrote ‘The End‘ before she died.

The final moment in Midsummer at Eyre Hall is full of harmony, but the characters, the reader, and the writer are well aware that this is a photograph of a fleeting moment. In any case, I hope you enjoy this temporary representation of happiness.

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The following is an extract from Twelfth Night at Eyre Hall, where Charles Dickens and Jane Eyre are discussing the difficulty of ending a novel. Mr. Dickens is visiting Jane and they are chatting by the fireplace at Eyre Hall, after dinner. He calls her Miss Elliot, beause it was the pen name Jane used at that time.

It’s one of my favourite intertextual scenes in the novel; the author I most admire chatting to my favourite fictional character about literature. A magnificent moment.

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Dickens Victorian lady

“The time has come to end this wonderful evening. I would not like to tire you, or I shall not be invited again.”

“Endings are so sad in real life, and so hard to write in fiction. How does an artist know a work of art has reached its end? And what is a good ending to a great story?”

“Indeed. It is no secret that I struggle with every ending.”

“I prefer happy endings, as you know, Mr. Dickens. Readers prefer a satisfactory conclusion. It makes the reading more rewarding.”

“Perhaps you are right, my dear Miss Elliot, but I am afraid it is not always possible.”

“Who should we bear in mind when writing the end, the reader or the story?”

“The reader always. We write for our readers. I had a more pessimistic ending for Great Expectations, but my dear friend Wilkie Collins persuaded me, or shall we say convinced me, that my readers would prefer a more positive ending, so I left the door open for Pip and Estella.”

“And are you pleased with this modification?”

“Yes. I have no doubt the story will be more acceptable with the altered ending. After all, I think Wilkie was right. It is for the better.”

“I must admit, it is one of my favourite novels, and I am glad you decided to present a happy ending. Would you read the last chapter before we retire?”

“It would be a pleasure, Miss Elliot.”

She handed me a copy of Great Expectations. I opened the last chapter and read the ending she wanted to hear.

‘I took her hand in mine, and we went out of the ruined place; and, as the morning mists had risen long ago when I first left the forge, so the evening mists were rising now, and in all the broad expanse of tranquil light they showed to me, I saw no shadow of another parting from her.’

Seconds later, I closed the book and watched a single tear slide down her cheek.

“Thank you, Mr. Dickens. That is the most perfect ending anyone has ever written.”

I wanted to add that it was a mere illusion, because there can be no happy ending to any story. We will have to surrender everything we have, in the end, and we will leave this planet as naked and helpless as we came, but I was silent. Why spoil the magic moment?

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What kind of endings do you prefer in the novels you read or write?

Flash! Friday Contest and King Sisyphus

I’m back again! I’ve taken part in most Flash Friday Contests since last summer, but this is my first one this year!

What do Flash Friday Contest and King Sisyphus have in common?

Basically the recurrent and repetitive nature of the challenge they face. So, is that a good thing or not? Isn’t everything we do repeated periodically… incessantly? What’s new in our lives? in the history of humanity?

Life often seems monotonous and disheartening. We do essentially the same things day after day, endlessly. We have the illusion of moving forward, and then we have to start all over again.

Winter with its leafless trees and barren fields reminds us of death, and the inevitable cycle of life, and long cold evenings invite our minds to search for impossible answers to eternal questions…

 

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Sisyphus by Titian (1548–49) by Titian, Prado Museum, Madrid, Spain

The repetitive nature of life reminded me, once again, of what happened to the avaricious, deceitful, and murderous King Sisyphus. Zeus condemned him to roll a huge enchanted boulder up a steep hill, and once he reached the top the boulder rolled downhill again. Sisyphus followed it back down and resumed his useless task, time and time again.

 

MythOfSisyphus
Albert Camus, became my favourite writer when I read La Chute for my French ‘A’ level, as a teenager, and my appreciation grew when I was studying French, at College. In his 1942 essay The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus introduces his philosophy of the absurd, comparing the absurdity of man’s life with Sisyphus’s futile occupation.

On his way down, burdenless, Sisyphus searches for meaning in an incomprehensible world devoid of God and eternal truths or values, while on his way up he is occupied with the unachievable task: the boulder will never stay at the top.

In spite of this, according to Camus, Sisyphus is finally happy because he has understood and accepted his absurd fate. In other words, the knowledge and acceptance that life is a meaningless task with no hope of completion, is our only chance of happiness. Or is it?

 

The struggle
I still admire Camus’s insatiable search for the meaning of life, however, I used to think I wasn’t so pessimistic or critical, any more. Perhaps because I have children and grandchildren, who have given my life another perspective, or perhaps because over thirty years have passed, and my rebellious search for a rational explanation to the ‘meaning of life’, has been dulled.

Yet last Friday, something happened. I saw a picture and wrote a story, and I realized that Camus’ ‘absurd’ is more ingrained in my subconscious, than I thought.

Photo prompt Flash Friday Fiction Challenge 6th February

rain

Dragons bidding

a-fleeting-moment

My entry: North and South.

I looked over the barren fields, dry wells, famished cattle, and dug my blackened nails into the thick, crumbly earth. My parched lips made a last feeble effort to cry for mercy.

I remembered how just before the meteor struck our planet, she had appeared and walked through me. I felt a shudder and my body froze for less than an instant.

“Ask and it shall be given,” she said.
“I want to live,” I begged.
“Go south,” she whispered and was gone.

That’s why I was there, dying in the waterless south.
Once again, I sensed the shadow of the spectre approach.

“Ask and it shall be given,” she teased.
“Water,” I implored. “My people need water.”
“Go north,” she whispered and left.

I turned to my people and said, “We must go north.”
They followed hopefully.

When we arrived, the streets were wet. We rejoiced and drank, and thanked the Gods.

The next day, the flooding started. Within days we were living in boats, frantically searching for dry land.

The fleeting ghost returned once more.

“Ask and it shall be given,” she smiled.
“Will it always be like this?” I cried.
She nodded and left.

@LucciaGray (200 words).

Want to To read some of the other stories? You’ll find them here

I’d like to finish on a more optimistic note. I’m sure we can be happy, but only Today.

Today is all we have, so make the most of it.

Have a wonderful day!

Lama