You must now be quite familiar with my love for Virginia Woolf. I wish I had read all of her novels and yet her world fascinates me already. “The Voyage Out” was her first ever novel to be published. Out in 1915, when Woolf was 33, her first novel dealt with self-discovery and the depiction of the modern world and Edwardian life and drew positive reviews. The writer herself commented on her first work calling it “such a harlequinade as it is, such an assortment of patches, here simple and severe, here frivolous and shallow, here like God’s truth, here strong and free“. Re-reading her first novel was necessary for her, in order to see the comparisons between that and her newest release at the time: “Night and Day“, published in 1919. Critics and readers often brought up the comparison, forcing Woolf to go back to “The Voyage Out” after not reading it since the summer of 1913. She did quite see how she progressed from that stage in her evolution as a writer, yet she realised how people preferred it to ‘Night and Day‘ and clarified that she didn’t admire it more, but found it “a more gallant and inspiring spectacle“.
“Night and Day” was highly praised by the critics. Woolf uses the four main characters to explore pivotal themes for society such as marriage, love and happiness and is based on a consistent depth that stands out in comparison to her first novel. According to her dear friend Morgan (E.M. Forster), “Night and Day” was “strictly formal and classical work” and that its characters are much more loveable than those of “The Voyage Out“, which is to be seen as a “vague and universal” work.
She was, of course, happy about all the positive reviews. Yet, the only unfavourable one was that of Forster and she was almost grateful about it. She called his opinion an “intelligent criticism” and was so overwhelmed by praises that his review was almost felt as a relief, describing her feelings “as if one were in the human atmosphere again, after a blissful roll among elastic clouds and cushiony downs“.
However, for Virginia Woolf it wasn’t a matter of good or bad criticism per se. She questioned the role of criticism in a writer’s life. Recalling George Eliot‘s statement that reviews can hamper the writing process, Woolf considered reviews to interrupt the creative flow, “cast one’s eyes backwards, make one wish to explain or investigate“, thus stealing time and wasting energy that could otherwise be implemented in the direction of the craft. Is art ever questionable? Shouldn’t the work of art come to the world as a coded element? One that, as an instrument, can be played in different ways according to who’s using it? I believe so.
Opinions can vary, and certainly critics have every right to come up with their study on a newly released novel. But should the writer ever pay attention to what they say? And doesn’t this alter the writer’s creating process?