Kristen Radtke

Read Lauren Groff's Introduction to Virginia Woolf's 'Night and Day'

Dear Readers,

We are thrilled to be releasing a new edition of Virginia Woolf’s Night and Day in celebration of its 100th anniversary! This timely and much-overlooked novel, Woolf’s second, is introduced for Restless Classics by award-winning author of Fates and Furies Lauren Groff and illustrated by graphic artist Kristen Radtke.

Night and Day, which shares many similarities with Shakespearean comedies, follows the romantic aspirations of two friends, Katharine Hilbery and Mary Datchet, as love is announced and rejected, weddings orchestrated and cancelled, until we finally arrive at two engagements. In the background of these dramas lies the burgeoning women’s movement for voting rights and equal wages, which Woolf creatively uses to twist the conventional trope of romantic comedy and expose her doubt in the gender binary and the bureaucracy of marriage. 

“The conversation Virginia Woolf is conducting in her second novel is not the conversation of her later books,” Groff writes in her introduction, “the one with avant-garde authors of the early twentieth century like James Joyce and Gertrude Stein, but rather a shrewd and ultimately subversive discussion with the male writers of the Edwardian age, like Henry James, John Galsworthy, and her friend E.M. Forster. This is a book that gazes backward in time with skepticism and a virago’s impulse to shred into tatters all that it sees.”

Read an excerpt from Groff’s introduction below, supplemented with beautiful illustrations by Kristen Radkte. 

 

An Introduction to Night and Day, by Lauren Groff

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Beware, sweet Night and Day reader, of being seduced by the name of Virginia Woolf on the spine of this novel into believing you are about to read a work of high Modernism, a sister to the author’s towering To the Lighthouse and Orlando and The Waves. Along that path lies only bewilderment. This is not to say that you won’t find the Virginia Woolf you know and love in this book, because you certainly will, if mostly after the first half, and in an endearingly tender, nascent form. What I mean is that the conversation Virginia Woolf is conducting in her second novel is not the conversation of her later books, the one with avant-garde authors of the early twentieth century like James Joyce and Gertrude Stein, but rather a shrewd and ultimately subversive discussion with the male writers of the Edwardian age, like Henry James, John Galsworthy, and her friend E. M. Forster. This is a book that gazes backward in time with skepticism and a virago’s impulse to shred into tatters all that it sees.

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No book is written in a vacuum, and an author’s sophomore novel is in many respects a product of the trauma caused by writing and publishing her debut. In Virginia Woolf’s case, that trauma was severe. Woolf’s first novel, The Voyage Out, was published in 1915, when the writer was thirty-three years old, after more than seven years of composition, massive revisions to temper the sharper and angrier of her political commentary, a dropped engagement to her friend Lytton Strachey, a marriage to Leonard Woolf, and at least one nervous breakdown and suicide attempt. Woolf’s mental state had never been secure since the sudden death of her mother when she was thirteen, after which, in the severity of her grief, she tried to throw herself out a window. Two years after her mother died, her stepsister, Stella—the de facto mother figure to the four bereaved Stephen siblings, a soft and good-hearted young woman who was able to control the egomaniacal rages of their father—married, moved out, and within two months died of a sudden illness, and the life that Virginia and her siblings had been able to piece together after their mother’s death was totally obliterated.

This was the story that Virginia Woolf tried to master by fictionalizing it in The Voyage Out: an innocent, naive young girl slowly awakening into her sexuality, falling in love, and dying suddenly, leaving her lover bereft. I find hers a thoroughly strange and beautiful first novel, with its flights of brilliance and awkward misfit moments, a book that inhabited a South America that Virginia Woolf had visited only in her imagination, yet one that was already masterful in its delineation of the swift, ineffable, barely glimpsed currents of emotion that were Woolf’s great genius to explore. I sense real madness in The Voyage Out, and a corresponding real courage in the young writer who left those wild, mad parts intact in her novel.

Read the full introduction in the The Paris Review.

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From the introduction to Night and Day. Copyright © 2019 by Lauren Groff.

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Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) is the author of acclaimed works of fiction like Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and To the Lighthouse (1927) as well as the feminist call to arms, A Room of One’s Own (1929). Born to a wealthy family in South Kensington, London, Woolf was the seventh child of eight. Her mother died in 1895 and Woolf experienced her first mental breakdown; two years later, Woolf’s stepsister and surrogate mother, Stella Duckworth, also died.

After attending the Ladies’ Department of King’s College London, Woolf started to write seriously with the encouragement of her father. Woolf’s father died in 1905 and Woolf experienced a second mental breakdown. She married Leonard Woolf in 1912 and in 1917 they founded Hogarth Press.

At the age of 37, Woolf published her second novel, Night and Day. She continued to have a successful literary career and is remembered as one of the most important modernist writers of the twentieth century. Woolf also had an affair with peer and author Vita Sackville-West, who is the inspiration for the main character in Orlando (1928). At the age of 59, Woolf drowned herself in a river; she struggled with bouts of depression and bipolar disorder throughout her life.

Lauren Groff is the author of five books, including the National Book Award Finalists Fates and Furies and Florida. She is a Guggenheim and Radcliffe Fellow, and in 2018 she was named one of Granta's Best of Young American Novelists. She lives in Gainesville, Florida.

Kristen Radtke is the art director and deputy publisher of The Believer magazine and the author of the graphic nonfiction book Imagine Wanting Only This. She is at work on a graphic essay collection, Seek You: Essays on American Loneliness, and Terrible Men, a graphic novel, both forthcoming from Pantheon. Her writing and illustrations have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, Marie Claire, The Atlantic, GQ, New Yorker’s “Page Turner,” Oxford American, and many other places.