Thursday, March 5, 2015

Back to the Classics: Night and Day by Virginia Woolf

On the face of it, the plot of Night and Day seems simple. Published in 1919, the novel is set in London before World War I where Katherine Hilbery, a lively, headstrong young woman lives with her parents. Her now deceased grandfather was a famous poet, and the house is a place where the intellectuals of the day meet. As Katherine and her flighty mother work on a biography of the grandfather, Katherine's mother proves to be quite comical in her quest to come up with new details to add to the book, much to Katherine's consternation.

William Rodney, Katherine's fiance, is a mediocre poet and writer of Elizabethan drama. He's in his thirties, although he acts much older. Pompous, egotistical, and exacting, he wants to mold Katherine into his ideal. Although I didn't like William, I found him humorous at times in his thinking about women.

Katherine's life seems planned, but there are other characters in the mix who change the dynamics of the story. Another suitor appears through Ralph Denham. Katherine knows Ralph because he writes articles for her father's periodical. Ralph,who supports his large family of his mother and his brothers and sisters, can't stop thinking about Katherine. The practical Mary Datchet, a suffragette, is a working woman who has her own flat. Mary has an unrequited love for Ralph and finds herself in a position of influence since she is a confidante of both Katherine and Ralph. 

Another wrinkle to the story is Katherine's eccentric cousin, Cassandra, who spends her time playing the piano and growing silk worms in her bedroom. She catches William's eye to such an extent that his engagement to Katherine might be in peril. 

While there is a comedic element to Night and Day, there is something deeper going on. The novel deals with the role of women in society and in marriage, if women have to get married to be happy, and whether love is necessary for a successful marriage. Virginia Woolf perfectly captures the complexities of relationships between men and women.

What I love about Virginia Woolf's writing is the way she uses such beautiful language, especially to create lovely ethereal scenes of night time in London, whether it's one of the characters walking at night, or Ralph looking out his window into the evening. Night and Day is an intricate story full of details, and I loved visiting that time period of Edwardian pre World War I London.

I read Night and Day as part of the Back to the Classics Challenge at Books and Chocolate for the category of Classic by a Woman Author.


  1. I picked this up from Girlebooks, and now I'm really looking forward to reading it!

    1. I'll look forward to your thoughts on Night and Day! Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Night and Day is one of my favorite V. Woolf novels; but then I like most of what she writes. :)

    1. I've only read a few of her novels, but I want to read more of her work. Thanks for your comment!