Thoughts on Night and Day—Freewrite
Having been ruminating over Night and Day for a couple of weeks now, two main (somewhat related) issues come to mind. The first arises out of also reading Derek Ryan’s new book on Woolf and the Materiality of Theory. In his second chapter on Granite and Rainbow he does a brilliant job of showing how to look at binary frameworks in Woolf not in terms of “generalized polarities” in need of synthesis but as subversions of the very oppositions they invoke. I think the dichotomy of Night and Day operates in a similar fashion. Early critics make night and day into an opposition or dialectic—the factual world of day vs, the visionary realm of night, the dark inner world vs. the daylight outer one, the “Dreams and Realities” of the original title. But it’s not just that the two need to be synthesized. The very distinction between the two needs to be broken down. Yeats says “in dreams begin responsibilities.” Woolf’s version of this seems to be “in dreams begin reality.” In her Introduction to the Penguin edition of the novel, the blessed Julia Briggs points out the importance of day-dreams to the book. Both Katharine and Ralph begin by discounting/denying the validity of their idealized daydreams—his visions of her as a Greek goddess, her attraction to the figure of the magnanimous hero riding through the forest. But those very illusions are the key to their respective psyches and instead of representing lies, are the bedrock truths on which their relationship is founded. It does seem quite Jungian: the magnanimous hero is her animus; the Greek goddess is his anima; they are in love with each other’s unconscious.
The other major issue is how to read Ralph. Kathy Phillips’ read of him as a typical representative of colonizing, domineering masculinity seems just overboard to me. I see Ralph as sensitive from the beginning to Katharine’s interior life, at times more aware of that life than she is herself. Yes, he has idealizing tendencies, but so does she. Yes he is drawn to her because she represents aspirational desires, but it seems to me that just as the novel charts her growing acceptance of the validity of the unconscious, intuitive, and passionate, it also shows his gradual relinquishing of the need to make her into a goddess figure, and consequent movement towards a recognition/ acceptance of her need for autonomy. It is true that both sometimes still “lapse” into their old habits: he worships her; she wants only to be alone. But I feel like they both give each other permission to have those lapses, almost make them into a shared joke. She knows he’s always going to tend to worship her; he knows she is always going to need her moments of impersonality and abstraction. It reminds me a bit of Clarissa in Mrs. Dalloway, who marries Richard because he will allow her the white upstairs room of her own. (Shades of Possession by A.S. Byatt and Maud and Roland’s shared dream of a white bed)
These two problems are of course actually related to each other and turn on the issue of whether one reads the book as a Shakespearian comedy of integration or as an ironic deconstruction of that possibility. While I agree that Woolf’s entire opus can be seen a series of critiques of domestic institutions, this is the one novel where she allows for a traditional comic ending in marriage, and so while I don’t deny the stresses and compromises, I do want, this one time, to feel a happy-ever-after is possible, at least something like the vital arrangement that Virginia and Leonard lived out.