Book review: Night and Day

Title: Night and Day

Author: Virginia Woolf

Date: 1919, 1971

Publisher: Penguin

ISBN: none

Length: 471 pages

Quote: “It suddenly came into Katharine’s mind that if some one opened the door at this moment he would think that they were enjoying them­selves.”

Katharine is one of six young single adults in her neighborhood. If they were alive today, this little group would probably be a polyamorous community; they’re all young and hormonal enough to enjoy sex with practically anything, or anyone, and any of them could obviously enjoy a night with any other of them—at least, in a heterosexual pairing. They’re so hormonal, in fact, that they don’t even care that at least four of them are cousins to each other. This detail puts me off the whole pack of them, but Virginia Woolf managed to write almost 500 pages about the difficulties these incestuous Brits have in restricting themselves to one formal courtship, leading to one marriage, at a time. What a scandal it is that Katharine and William, who announce their engagement first and break it off first, actually remain friends and help each other marry the people they really want to marry.

Pet names aren’t used in this crowd. The girls are Katharine, Cassandra, and Mary. The guys are William, Henry, and Ralph. Katharine’s and William’s engagement was favored by their elders at least partly because they stand to inherit more money than Henry and Cassandra, and much more money than Mary and Ralph.

I find this tasteful, yet hormone-driven, study of youth very tiresome. I tried to read the whole novel in the 1990s, gave it up, and have only just finished it. The book qualifies as a study of why modern-style dating displaced traditional-style courtship in the twentieth century, why the rules of nineteenth-century-traditional courtship served our six characters so poorly. As such, it subjects readers to levels of impatience almost comparable with those the characters suffer…so caveat lector!

If you like long-drawn-out novels of manners, if you’ve always thought Jane Austen’s main shortcoming was brevity, then Night and Day might be your cup of tea. If you’re making a study of Virginia Woolf, you’ll need to refer to this novel. For readers in these two categories Night and Day is recommended.

Woolf no longer needs a dollar, and the minimum price for purchasing books online here is $5 per book + $5 per package. And I’ve sold the copy I physically owned, since the time this review was written and the time it was uploaded. Go ahead and buy this one cheaper from another source if you like. However, if you’ve bought a Fair Trade Book and want to tuck a small, thick paperback copy of Night and Day into the package, payment may be sent to either address in the lower left-hand corner of the screen.

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