Night and Day is Virginia’s attempt at reconciling the past and the present. Here Virginia Woolf submits to the traditional form of a novel. Yet this submission is qualified, for one can see the traces of stream of conscious writing which was fully developed in her later novels.
Edwardian time marked a change in social perception and a deviation from rigid Victorian conventions. These changes affected the concepts of love, relationship, and marriage. In Night and Day Virginia attempts to throw some light on these slow changes that were steadily taking place.
One of the unique features of Virginia Woolf is that she does not write a story. Instead, she writes about events, about places, about concepts, about moments, about feelings, about emotions. In Night and Day, she writes about the daily life of four youths, their personalities, their perceptions of love, marriage, happiness, and success.
Katherine Hilbery, the protagonist, is a complex character. Her idea of a happy and successful life is to study mathematics and live in freedom. Being a privileged middle-class girl, her learnings and duties are restricted to the “drawing room”. This highly unsatisfactory life makes her unfeeling, moody, and absent-minded. Katherine finds her trapped in a love triangle but her view on marriage as an encumbrance makes her shy away from it. Even after falling in love, she contemplates an unconventional living that scandalizes her parents. William Rodney, one of the pursuers of Katherine is an unsuccessful poet. He is the traditional wing of the story. Ralph Denham, the other pursuer, is a solicitor, and he represents the modern wing. Mary Datchet, a suffragist, represents the social and political changes that are slowly coming about.
The main characters of the story are in stark contrast with each other, but at the same time, they are similar in their inconsistencies and inarticulate manner of expression. Their differences as to personalities, feelings, and emotions are intensely and passionately described so that one forgets them to be fictitious.
All these characters, places, moments, feelings, emotions will however be bare, if not for her beautiful writing. It’s her writing with its poetic beauty that I love the most. Night and Day, being an early work of Virginia, descriptive writing dominates although traces of stream of consciousness can be observed. But what struck me with awe is her description of emotions and feelings through symbols, colours, and landscapes. The effect had such a strong impact on me that I found myself, struck with its beauty, unable and refusing to move on. Undoubtedly Virginia’s writing is her most treasured gift to the literary world. But reading her is not easy. It is demanding, and it saps your energy. All the same, the effort is worth it.
With Night and Day, I have read four of her works; and I can say each is unique and original. I feel privileged and honored to have met her through her books. Decidedly Virginia Woolf is the best literary production of the twentieth century.