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Night And Day - Chapter 3 Post by :John_Pawlett Category :Long Stories Author :Virginia Woolf Date :February 2011 Read :1373

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Night And Day - Chapter 3

Denham had accused Katharine Hilbery of belonging to one of the most
distinguished families in England, and if any one will take the
trouble to consult Mr. Galton's "Hereditary Genius," he will find that
this assertion is not far from the truth. The Alardyces, the Hilberys,
the Millingtons, and the Otways seem to prove that intellect is a
possession which can be tossed from one member of a certain group to
another almost indefinitely, and with apparent certainty that the
brilliant gift will be safely caught and held by nine out of ten of
the privileged race. They had been conspicuous judges and admirals,
lawyers and servants of the State for some years before the richness
of the soil culminated in the rarest flower that any family can boast,
a great writer, a poet eminent among the poets of England, a Richard
Alardyce; and having produced him, they proved once more the amazing
virtues of their race by proceeding unconcernedly again with their
usual task of breeding distinguished men. They had sailed with Sir
John Franklin to the North Pole, and ridden with Havelock to the
Relief of Lucknow, and when they were not lighthouses firmly based on
rock for the guidance of their generation, they were steady,
serviceable candles, illuminating the ordinary chambers of daily life.
Whatever profession you looked at, there was a Warburton or an
Alardyce, a Millington or a Hilbery somewhere in authority and

It may be said, indeed, that English society being what it is, no very
great merit is required, once you bear a well-known name, to put you
into a position where it is easier on the whole to be eminent than
obscure. And if this is true of the sons, even the daughters, even in
the nineteenth century, are apt to become people of importance--
philanthropists and educationalists if they are spinsters, and the
wives of distinguished men if they marry. It is true that there were
several lamentable exceptions to this rule in the Alardyce group,
which seems to indicate that the cadets of such houses go more rapidly
to the bad than the children of ordinary fathers and mothers, as if it
were somehow a relief to them. But, on the whole, in these first years
of the twentieth century, the Alardyces and their relations were
keeping their heads well above water. One finds them at the tops of
professions, with letters after their names; they sit in luxurious
public offices, with private secretaries attached to them; they write
solid books in dark covers, issued by the presses of the two great
universities, and when one of them dies the chances are that another
of them writes his biography.

Now the source of this nobility was, of course, the poet, and his
immediate descendants, therefore, were invested with greater luster
than the collateral branches. Mrs. Hilbery, in virtue of her position
as the only child of the poet, was spiritually the head of the family,
and Katharine, her daughter, had some superior rank among all the
cousins and connections, the more so because she was an only child.
The Alardyces had married and intermarried, and their offspring were
generally profuse, and had a way of meeting regularly in each other's
houses for meals and family celebrations which had acquired a semi-
sacred character, and were as regularly observed as days of feasting
and fasting in the Church.

In times gone by, Mrs. Hilbery had known all the poets, all the
novelists, all the beautiful women and distinguished men of her time.
These being now either dead or secluded in their infirm glory, she
made her house a meeting-place for her own relations, to whom she
would lament the passing of the great days of the nineteenth century,
when every department of letters and art was represented in England by
two or three illustrious names. Where are their successors? she would
ask, and the absence of any poet or painter or novelist of the true
caliber at the present day was a text upon which she liked to
ruminate, in a sunset mood of benignant reminiscence, which it would
have been hard to disturb had there been need. But she was far from
visiting their inferiority upon the younger generation. She welcomed
them very heartily to her house, told them her stories, gave them
sovereigns and ices and good advice, and weaved round them romances
which had generally no likeness to the truth.

The quality of her birth oozed into Katharine's consciousness from a
dozen different sources as soon as she was able to perceive anything.
Above her nursery fireplace hung a photograph of her grandfather's
tomb in Poets' Corner, and she was told in one of those moments of
grown-up confidence which are so tremendously impressive to the
child's mind, that he was buried there because he was a "good and
great man." Later, on an anniversary, she was taken by her mother
through the fog in a hansom cab, and given a large bunch of bright,
sweet-scented flowers to lay upon his tomb. The candles in the church,
the singing and the booming of the organ, were all, she thought, in
his honor. Again and again she was brought down into the drawing-room
to receive the blessing of some awful distinguished old man, who sat,
even to her childish eye, somewhat apart, all gathered together and
clutching a stick, unlike an ordinary visitor in her father's own arm-
chair, and her father himself was there, unlike himself, too, a little
excited and very polite. These formidable old creatures used to take
her in their arms, look very keenly in her eyes, and then to bless
her, and tell her that she must mind and be a good girl, or detect a
look in her face something like Richard's as a small boy. That drew
down upon her her mother's fervent embrace, and she was sent back to
the nursery very proud, and with a mysterious sense of an important
and unexplained state of things, which time, by degrees, unveiled to

There were always visitors--uncles and aunts and cousins "from India,"
to be reverenced for their relationship alone, and others of the
solitary and formidable class, whom she was enjoined by her parents to
"remember all your life." By these means, and from hearing constant
talk of great men and their works, her earliest conceptions of the
world included an august circle of beings to whom she gave the names
of Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth, Shelley, and so on, who were, for
some reason, much more nearly akin to the Hilberys than to other
people. They made a kind of boundary to her vision of life, and played
a considerable part in determining her scale of good and bad in her
own small affairs. Her descent from one of these gods was no surprise
to her, but matter for satisfaction, until, as the years wore on, the
privileges of her lot were taken for granted, and certain drawbacks
made themselves very manifest. Perhaps it is a little depressing to
inherit not lands but an example of intellectual and spiritual virtue;
perhaps the conclusiveness of a great ancestor is a little
discouraging to those who run the risk of comparison with him. It
seems as if, having flowered so splendidly, nothing now remained
possible but a steady growth of good, green stalk and leaf. For these
reasons, and for others, Katharine had her moments of despondency. The
glorious past, in which men and women grew to unexampled size,
intruded too much upon the present, and dwarfed it too consistently,
to be altogether encouraging to one forced to make her experiment in
living when the great age was dead.

She was drawn to dwell upon these matters more than was natural, in
the first place owing to her mother's absorption in them, and in the
second because a great part of her time was spent in imagination with
the dead, since she was helping her mother to produce a life of the
great poet. When Katharine was seventeen or eighteen--that is to say,
some ten years ago--her mother had enthusiastically announced that
now, with a daughter to help her, the biography would soon be
published. Notices to this effect found their way into the literary
papers, and for some time Katharine worked with a sense of great pride
and achievement.

Lately, however, it had seemed to her that they were making no way at
all, and this was the more tantalizing because no one with the ghost
of a literary temperament could doubt but that they had materials for
one of the greatest biographies that has ever been written. Shelves
and boxes bulged with the precious stuff. The most private lives of
the most interesting people lay furled in yellow bundles of close-
written manuscript. In addition to this Mrs. Hilbery had in her own
head as bright a vision of that time as now remained to the living,
and could give those flashes and thrills to the old words which gave
them almost the substance of flesh. She had no difficulty in writing,
and covered a page every morning as instinctively as a thrush sings,
but nevertheless, with all this to urge and inspire, and the most
devout intention to accomplish the work, the book still remained
unwritten. Papers accumulated without much furthering their task, and
in dull moments Katharine had her doubts whether they would ever
produce anything at all fit to lay before the public. Where did the
difficulty lie? Not in their materials, alas! nor in their ambitions,
but in something more profound, in her own inaptitude, and above all,
in her mother's temperament. Katharine would calculate that she had
never known her write for more than ten minutes at a time. Ideas came
to her chiefly when she was in motion. She liked to perambulate the
room with a duster in her hand, with which she stopped to polish the
backs of already lustrous books, musing and romancing as she did so.
Suddenly the right phrase or the penetrating point of view would
suggest itself, and she would drop her duster and write ecstatically
for a few breathless moments; and then the mood would pass away, and
the duster would be sought for, and the old books polished again.
These spells of inspiration never burnt steadily, but flickered over
the gigantic mass of the subject as capriciously as a will-o'-the-
wisp, lighting now on this point, now on that. It was as much as
Katharine could do to keep the pages of her mother's manuscript in
order, but to sort them so that the sixteenth year of Richard
Alardyce's life succeeded the fifteenth was beyond her skill. And yet
they were so brilliant, these paragraphs, so nobly phrased, so
lightning-like in their illumination, that the dead seemed to crowd
the very room. Read continuously, they produced a sort of vertigo, and
set her asking herself in despair what on earth she was to do with
them? Her mother refused, also, to face the radical questions of what
to leave in and what to leave out. She could not decide how far the
public was to be told the truth about the poet's separation from his
wife. She drafted passages to suit either case, and then liked each so
well that she could not decide upon the rejection of either.

But the book must be written. It was a duty that they owed the world,
and to Katharine, at least, it meant more than that, for if they could
not between them get this one book accomplished they had no right to
their privileged position. Their increment became yearly more and more
unearned. Besides, it must be established indisputably that her
grandfather was a very great man.

By the time she was twenty-seven, these thoughts had become very
familiar to her. They trod their way through her mind as she sat
opposite her mother of a morning at a table heaped with bundles of old
letters and well supplied with pencils, scissors, bottles of gum,
india-rubber bands, large envelopes, and other appliances for the
manufacture of books. Shortly before Ralph Denham's visit, Katharine
had resolved to try the effect of strict rules upon her mother's
habits of literary composition. They were to be seated at their tables
every morning at ten o'clock, with a clean-swept morning of empty,
secluded hours before them. They were to keep their eyes fast upon the
paper, and nothing was to tempt them to speech, save at the stroke of
the hour when ten minutes for relaxation were to be allowed them. If
these rules were observed for a year, she made out on a sheet of paper
that the completion of the book was certain, and she laid her scheme
before her mother with a feeling that much of the task was already
accomplished. Mrs. Hilbery examined the sheet of paper very carefully.
Then she clapped her hands and exclaimed enthusiastically:

"Well done, Katharine! What a wonderful head for business you've got!
Now I shall keep this before me, and every day I shall make a little
mark in my pocketbook, and on the last day of all--let me think, what
shall we do to celebrate the last day of all? If it weren't the winter
we could take a jaunt to Italy. They say Switzerland's very lovely in
the snow, except for the cold. But, as you say, the great thing is to
finish the book. Now let me see--"

When they inspected her manuscripts, which Katharine had put in order,
they found a state of things well calculated to dash their spirits, if
they had not just resolved on reform. They found, to begin with, a
great variety of very imposing paragraphs with which the biography was
to open; many of these, it is true, were unfinished, and resembled
triumphal arches standing upon one leg, but, as Mrs. Hilbery observed,
they could be patched up in ten minutes, if she gave her mind to it.
Next, there was an account of the ancient home of the Alardyces, or
rather, of spring in Suffolk, which was very beautifully written,
although not essential to the story. However, Katharine had put
together a string of names and dates, so that the poet was capably
brought into the world, and his ninth year was reached without further
mishap. After that, Mrs. Hilbery wished, for sentimental reasons, to
introduce the recollections of a very fluent old lady, who had been
brought up in the same village, but these Katharine decided must go.
It might be advisable to introduce here a sketch of contemporary
poetry contributed by Mr. Hilbery, and thus terse and learned and
altogether out of keeping with the rest, but Mrs. Hilbery was of
opinion that it was too bare, and made one feel altogether like a good
little girl in a lecture-room, which was not at all in keeping with
her father. It was put on one side. Now came the period of his early
manhood, when various affairs of the heart must either be concealed or
revealed; here again Mrs. Hilbery was of two minds, and a thick packet
of manuscript was shelved for further consideration.

Several years were now altogether omitted, because Mrs. Hilbery had
found something distasteful to her in that period, and had preferred
to dwell upon her own recollections as a child. After this, it seemed
to Katharine that the book became a wild dance of will-o'-the-wisps,
without form or continuity, without coherence even, or any attempt to
make a narrative. Here were twenty pages upon her grandfather's taste
in hats, an essay upon contemporary china, a long account of a summer
day's expedition into the country, when they had missed their train,
together with fragmentary visions of all sorts of famous men and
women, which seemed to be partly imaginary and partly authentic. There
were, moreover, thousands of letters, and a mass of faithful
recollections contributed by old friends, which had grown yellow now
in their envelopes, but must be placed somewhere, or their feelings
would be hurt. So many volumes had been written about the poet since
his death that she had also to dispose of a great number of
misstatements, which involved minute researches and much
correspondence. Sometimes Katharine brooded, half crushed, among her
papers; sometimes she felt that it was necessary for her very
existence that she should free herself from the past; at others, that
the past had completely displaced the present, which, when one resumed
life after a morning among the dead, proved to be of an utterly thin
and inferior composition.

The worst of it was that she had no aptitude for literature. She did
not like phrases. She had even some natural antipathy to that process
of self-examination, that perpetual effort to understand one's own
feeling, and express it beautifully, fitly, or energetically in
language, which constituted so great a part of her mother's existence.
She was, on the contrary, inclined to be silent; she shrank from
expressing herself even in talk, let alone in writing. As this
disposition was highly convenient in a family much given to the
manufacture of phrases, and seemed to argue a corresponding capacity
for action, she was, from her childhood even, put in charge of
household affairs. She had the reputation, which nothing in her manner
contradicted, of being the most practical of people. Ordering meals,
directing servants, paying bills, and so contriving that every clock
ticked more or less accurately in time, and a number of vases were
always full of fresh flowers was supposed to be a natural endowment of
hers, and, indeed, Mrs. Hilbery often observed that it was poetry the
wrong side out. From a very early age, too, she had to exert herself
in another capacity; she had to counsel and help and generally sustain
her mother. Mrs. Hilbery would have been perfectly well able to
sustain herself if the world had been what the world is not. She was
beautifully adapted for life in another planet. But the natural genius
she had for conducting affairs there was of no real use to her here.
Her watch, for example, was a constant source of surprise to her, and
at the age of sixty-five she was still amazed at the ascendancy which
rules and reasons exerted over the lives of other people. She had
never learnt her lesson, and had constantly to be punished for her
ignorance. But as that ignorance was combined with a fine natural
insight which saw deep whenever it saw at all, it was not possible to
write Mrs. Hilbery off among the dunces; on the contrary, she had a
way of seeming the wisest person in the room. But, on the whole, she
found it very necessary to seek support in her daughter.

Katharine, thus, was a member of a very great profession which has, as
yet, no title and very little recognition, although the labor of mill
and factory is, perhaps, no more severe and the results of less
benefit to the world. She lived at home. She did it very well, too.
Any one coming to the house in Cheyne Walk felt that here was an
orderly place, shapely, controlled--a place where life had been
trained to show to the best advantage, and, though composed of
different elements, made to appear harmonious and with a character of
its own. Perhaps it was the chief triumph of Katharine's art that Mrs.
Hilbery's character predominated. She and Mr. Hilbery appeared to be a
rich background for her mother's more striking qualities.

Silence being, thus, both natural to her and imposed upon her, the
only other remark that her mother's friends were in the habit of
making about it was that it was neither a stupid silence nor an
indifferent silence. But to what quality it owed its character, since
character of some sort it had, no one troubled themselves to inquire.
It was understood that she was helping her mother to produce a great
book. She was known to manage the household. She was certainly
beautiful. That accounted for her satisfactorily. But it would have
been a surprise, not only to other people but to Katharine herself, if
some magic watch could have taken count of the moments spent in an
entirely different occupation from her ostensible one. Sitting with
faded papers before her, she took part in a series of scenes such as
the taming of wild ponies upon the American prairies, or the conduct
of a vast ship in a hurricane round a black promontory of rock, or in
others more peaceful, but marked by her complete emancipation from her
present surroundings and, needless to say, by her surpassing ability
in her new vocation. When she was rid of the pretense of paper and
pen, phrase-making and biography, she turned her attention in a more
legitimate direction, though, strangely enough, she would rather have
confessed her wildest dreams of hurricane and prairie than the fact
that, upstairs, alone in her room, she rose early in the morning or
sat up late at night to . . . work at mathematics. No force on earth
would have made her confess that. Her actions when thus engaged were
furtive and secretive, like those of some nocturnal animal. Steps had
only to sound on the staircase, and she slipped her paper between the
leaves of a great Greek dictionary which she had purloined from her
father's room for this purpose. It was only at night, indeed, that she
felt secure enough from surprise to concentrate her mind to the

Perhaps the unwomanly nature of the science made her instinctively
wish to conceal her love of it. But the more profound reason was that
in her mind mathematics were directly opposed to literature. She would
not have cared to confess how infinitely she preferred the exactitude,
the star-like impersonality, of figures to the confusion, agitation,
and vagueness of the finest prose. There was something a little
unseemly in thus opposing the tradition of her family; something that
made her feel wrong-headed, and thus more than ever disposed to shut
her desires away from view and cherish them with extraordinary
fondness. Again and again she was thinking of some problem when she
should have been thinking of her grandfather. Waking from these
trances, she would see that her mother, too, had lapsed into some
dream almost as visionary as her own, for the people who played their
parts in it had long been numbered among the dead. But, seeing her own
state mirrored in her mother's face, Katharine would shake herself
awake with a sense of irritation. Her mother was the last person she
wished to resemble, much though she admired her. Her common sense
would assert itself almost brutally, and Mrs. Hilbery, looking at her
with her odd sidelong glance, that was half malicious and half tender,
would liken her to "your wicked old Uncle Judge Peter, who used to be
heard delivering sentence of death in the bathroom. Thank Heaven,
Katharine, I've not a drop of HIM in me!"

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Night And Day - Chapter 4 Night And Day - Chapter 4

Night And Day - Chapter 4
At about nine o'clock at night, on every alternate Wednesday, MissMary Datchet made the same resolve, that she would never again lendher rooms for any purposes whatsoever. Being, as they were, ratherlarge and conveniently situated in a street mostly dedicated tooffices off the Strand, people who wished to meet, either for purposesof enjoyment, or to discuss art, or to reform the State, had a way ofsuggesting that Mary had better be asked to lend them her rooms. Shealways met the request with the same frown of well-simulatedannoyance, which presently dissolved in a kind of half-humorous, half-surly shrug, as of a large

Night And Day - Chapter 2 Night And Day - Chapter 2

Night And Day - Chapter 2
The young man shut the door with a sharper slam than any visitor hadused that afternoon, and walked up the street at a great pace, cuttingthe air with his walking-stick. He was glad to find himself outsidethat drawing-room, breathing raw fog, and in contact with unpolishedpeople who only wanted their share of the pavement allowed them. Hethought that if he had had Mr. or Mrs. or Miss Hilbery out here hewould have made them, somehow, feel his superiority, for he was chafedby the memory of halting awkward sentences which had failed to giveeven the young woman with the sad, but inwardly