Solid Objects

tutorial, critical comment, plot, and study resources

Solid Objects was written in 1918 and first published in The Athenaeum in October 1920. It was reprinted in A Haunted House in 1944.


Solid Objects

Virginia Woolf – portrait


Solid Objects – critical commentary

The two men at first appear to be presented in a positive manner, with ‘unmistakable vitality’, though they are almost caricatures of masculinity, with their ‘moustaches, tweed caps, rough boots, shooting coats, and check stockings’. This positive impression appears to be underlined by authorial endorsement: ‘nothing was so solid, so living, so hard, red, hirsute and virile’.

But this turns out to be a form of ironic overstatement, for as soon as they come to rest they lapse into infantile behaviour: Charles skims stones across the water, and John digs a hole in the sand like a child playing sandcastles. As soon as he digs up the piece of glass out of the sand, the remainder of the story plots his steady decline into obsessive monomania and a retreat from the real world.

First of all he attaches all sorts of wonderful characteristics to what is merely a fragment of glass, then he is attracted to bric-a-brac, but this quickly descends into a fascination with bits of rubbish with no value whatsoever.

He neglects and then abandons altogether his parliamentary ambitions, and despite all evidence to the contrary goes on believing that his searches amongst rubbish heaps and back alleys will somehow bear miraculous fruit. His monomania cuts him off from society in general, and in the end he is abandoned by his oldest friend.


Solid Objects – study resources

Solid Objects The Complete Shorter Fiction – Vintage Classics – Amazon UK

Solid Objects The Complete Shorter Fiction – Vintage Classics – Amazon US

Solid Objects The Complete Shorter Fiction – Harcourt edition – Amazon UK

Solid Objects The Complete Shorter Fiction – Harcourt edition – Amazon US

Solid Objects Monday or Tuesday and Other Stories – Gutenberg.org

Solid Objects Kew Gardens and Other Stories – Hogarth Press – Amazon UK

Solid Objects Kew Gardens and Other Stories – Hogarth Press – Amazon US

Solid Objects The Mark on the Wall – Oxford World Classics edition – Amazon UK

Solid Objects The Mark on the Wall – Oxford World Classics edition – Amazon US

Solid Objects The Complete Works of Virginia Woolf – Kindle edition

Red button The Cambridge Companion to Virginia Woolf – Amazon UK

Red button Virginia Woolf – Authors in Context – Amazon UK

Red button The Cambridge Introduction to Virginia Woolf – Amazon UK


Solid Objects – story synopsis

Two young men, Charles and John, are walking on a beach. When they sit down for a while Charles skims pieces of slate across the sea and John digs up a piece of glass out of the sand, marvelling at its possible provenance.

The piece of glass becomes a paperweight on his mantelpiece where he keeps papers relating to his parliamentary ambitions, and he begins to look out for more objects of its kind.

One day he discovers a star shaped fragment of china and misses an important appointment whilst retrieving it from behind some railings.

He begins to frequent rubbish dumps and plots of waste ground in his pursuit of objects trouvé, and in doing so neglects all his professional duties.

He suffers disappointments and derision, but is sustained by the belief that his searches will one day be rewarded. He grows older and retreats from society in general.

His old friend Charles visits him and realises that John has lost touch with reality and leaves him – for ever.


Monday or Tuesday – first edition

Monday or Tuesday - first edition

Cover design by Vanessa Bell


Further reading

Red button Quentin Bell. Virginia Woolf: A Biography. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972.

Red button Hermione Lee. Virginia Woolf. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.

Red button Nicholas Marsh. Virginia Woolf, the Novels. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998.

Red button John Mepham, Virginia Woolf. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992.

Red button Natalya Reinhold, ed. Woolf Across Cultures. New York: Pace University Press, 2004.

Red button Michael Rosenthal, Virginia Woolf: A Critical Study. New York: Columbia University Press, 1979.

Red button Susan Sellers, The Cambridge Companion to Virginia Woolf, Cambridge University Press, 2010.

Red button Virginia Woolf, The Common Reader. New York: Harvest Books, 2002.

Red button Alex Zwerdling, Virginia Woolf and the Real World. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986.


Other works by Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf Between the ActsBetween the Acts (1941) is her last novel, in which she returns to a less demanding literary style. Despite being written immediately before her suicide, she combines a playful wittiness with her satirical critique of English upper middle-class life. The story is set in the summer of 1939 on the day of the annual village fete at Pointz Hall. It describes a country pageant on English history written by Miss La Trobe, and its effects on the people who watch it. Most of the audience misunderstand it in various ways, but the implication is that it is a work of art which temporarily creates order amidst the chaos of human life. There’s lots of social comedy, some amusing reflections on English weather, and meteorological metaphors and imagery run cleverly throughout the book.
Virginia Woolf - Between the Acts Buy the book at Amazon UK
Virginia Woolf - Between the Acts Buy the book at Amazon US

 

The Complete Shorter FictionThe Complete Shorter Fiction contains all the classic short stories such as The Mark on the Wall, A Haunted House, and The String Quartet – but also the shorter fragments and experimental pieces such as Mrs Dalloway in Bond Street. These ‘sketches’ (as she called them) were used to practice the techniques she used in her longer fictions. Nearly fifty pieces written over the course of Woolf’s writing career are arranged chronologically to offer insights into her development as a writer. This is one for connoisseurs – well presented and edited in a scholarly manner.
Virginia Woolf - The Complete Shorter Fiction Buy the book at Amazon UK
Virginia Woolf - The Complete Shorter Fiction Buy the book at Amazon US

 


Virginia Woolf: BiographyVirginia Woolf is a readable and well illustrated biography by John Lehmann, who at one point worked as her assistant and business partner at the Hogarth Press. It is described by the blurb as ‘A critical biography of Virginia Woolf containing illustrations that are a record of the Bloomsbury Group and the literary and artistic world that surrounded a writer who is immensely popular today’. This is an attractive and very accessible introduction to the subject which has been very popular with readers ever since it was first published..
Virginia Woolf - A Biography Buy the book at Amazon UK
Virginia Woolf - A Biography Buy the book at Amazon US


Virginia Woolf – web links

Red button Virginia Woolf at Mantex
Biographical notes, study guides to the major works, book reviews, studies of the short stories, bibliographies, web links, study resources.

Virginia Woolf web links Blogging Woolf
Book reviews, Bloomsbury related issues, links, study resources, news of conferences, exhibitions, and events, regularly updated.

Virginia Woolf web links Virginia Woolf at Wikipedia
Full biography, social background, interpretation of her work, fiction and non-fiction publications, photograph albumns, list of biographies, and external web links

Virginia Woolf web links Virginia Woolf at Gutenberg
Selected eTexts of her novels and stories in a variety of digital formats.

Virginia Woolf web links Woolf Online
An electronic edition and commentary on To the Lighthouse with notes on its composition, revisions, and printing – plus relevant extracts from the diaries, essays, and letters.

Virginia Woolf web links Hyper-Concordance to Virginia Woolf
Search texts of all the major novels and essays, word by word – locate quotations, references, and individual terms

Virginia Woolf web links Orlando – Sally Potter’s film archive
The text and film script, production notes, casting, locations, set designs, publicity photos, video clips, costume designs, and interviews.

Virginia Woolf web links Women’s History Walk in Bloomsbury
Tour of literary and political homes in Bloomsbury – including Gordon Square, Gower Street, Bedford Square, Tavistock Square, plus links to women’s history web sites.

Virginia Woolf web links Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain
Bulletins of events, annual lectures, society publications, and extensive links to Woolf and Bloomsbury related web sites

Virginia Woolf web links BBC Audio Essay – A Eulogy to Words
Charming sound recording of radio talk given by Virginia Woolf in 1937 – a podcast accompanied by a slideshow of photographs.

Virginia Woolf web links A Family Photograph Albumn
Leslie Stephen compiled a photograph album and wrote an epistolary memoir, known as the “Mausoleum Book,” to mourn the death of his wife, Julia, in 1895 – an archive at Smith College – Massachusetts

Virginia Woolf web links Virginia Woolf first editions
Hogarth Press book jacket covers of the first editions of Woolf’s novels, essays, and stories – largely designed by her sister, Vanessa Bell.

Virginia Woolf web links Virginia Woolf – on video
Biographical studies and documentary videos with comments on Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group and the social background of their times.

Virginia Woolf web links Virginia Woolf Miscellany
An archive of academic journal essays 2003—2014, featuring news items, book reviews, and full length studies.

© Roy Johnson 2013


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