Synopses & Reviews
Purchase one of 1st World Library's Classic Books and help support our free internet library of downloadable eBooks. Visit us online at www.1stWorldLibrary.ORG - - It was a Sunday evening in October, and in common with many other young ladies of her class, Katharine Hilbery was pouring out tea. Perhaps a fifth part of her mind was thus occupied, and the remaining parts leapt over the little barrier of day which interposed between Monday morning and this rather subdued moment, and played with the things one does voluntarily and normally in the daylight. But although she was silent, she was evidently mistress of a situation which was familiar enough to her, and inclined to let it take its way for the six hundredth time, perhaps, without bringing into play any of her unoccupied faculties. A single glance was enough to show that Mrs. Hilbery was so rich in the gifts which make tea-parties of elderly distinguished people successful, that she scarcely needed any help from her daughter, provided that the tiresome business of teacups and bread and butter was discharged for her. Considering that the little party had been seated round the tea-table for less than twenty minutes, the animation observable on their faces, and the amount of sound they were producing collectively, were very creditable to the hostess. It suddenly came into Katharine's mind that if some one opened the door at this moment he would think that they were enjoying themselves; he would think, 'What an extremely nice house to come into! and instinctively she laughed, and said something to increase the noise, for the credit of the house presumably, since she herself had not been feeling exhilarated. At the very same moment, rather to her amusement, the door was flung open, and a young man entered the room. Katharine, as she shook hands with him, asked him, in her own mind, 'Now, do you think we're enjoying ourselves enormously? . . . 'Mr. Denham, mother, she said aloud, for she saw that her mother had forgotten his name.
Katherine Hilbery, torn between past and present, is a figure reflecting Woolf's own struggle with history. Both have illustrious literary ancestors: in Katherine's case, her poet grandfather, and in Woolf's, her father Leslie Stephen, writer, philosopher, and editor. Both desire to break away from the demands of the previous generation without disowning it altogether. Katherine must decide whether or not she loves the iconoclastic Ralph Denham; Woolf seeks a way of experimenting with the novel for that still allows her to express her affection for the literature of the past. This is the most traditional of Woolf's novels, yet even here we can see her beginning to break free; in this, her second novel, with its strange mixture of comedy and high seriousness, Woolf had already found her own characteristic voice.