Thursday, June 21, 2018

Digested classics / Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

John Crace
Saturday 7 June 2008

"It's not a bad camp, Sir," said Hooper. "A big, private house with two or three lakes. You never saw such a thing."
"Yes I did," I replied world-wearily. "I've been here before."
I had been there; first with Sebastian more than 20 years before on a cloudless day in June, when the ditches were creamy with meadowsweet and the sentences heavy with nostalgia. We had met several months earlier when he had been amusingly sick in my Oxford rooms. He had begged my forgiveness and thereafter allowed me to be his friend.
"Jump in the boot, Charles," he had said, placing his teddy bear, Aloysius, on the front seat beside him. We're going to have champagne and strawberries with Nanny."
"You d-d-do know that my s-s-stutter is to let you know I'm a p-p-proper homosexual," drawled the aesthete Anthony Blanche some time later in the manner of the Wandering Jew, "and to l-l-let the reader know your's and Sebastian's c-c-campness is p-p-purely p-p-platonic. And n-n-ow is as good a time as any to fill in the b-b-backstory of Sebastian's family. His father, Lord M-M-Marchmain, lives in Venice with his mistress, while L-L-Lady Marchmain remains at B-B-Brideshead. His eldest sister, L-L-Lady Julia, is rather aloof. The youngest, C-C-Cordelia, is a hoot."

I returned home rudderless and without money that summer. "I'm in queer street," I told my father.
"Why don't you get a job then?" he replied.
Such common sentiments irked me greatly and it was with some relief that I received a telegram from Sebastian. "I'm bored and you're the only person I know desperate enough to drop everything and come immediately," it read. That summer was very heaven as we lay sketching, drinking and being clever.
"Let's go to Venice to see Daddy," Sebastian chirruped one day. "I'll pay."

"Welcome to the palazzo," growled Lord Marchmain. "Don't you hate Catholicism?"
Sebastian and I were inseparable the following year. Perhaps I should have noticed then that Sebastian's sadness was giving way to sullenness and that he was becoming a drunkard, but I was intoxicated with pleasure myself that I, a mere agnostic member of the middle classes, should be allowed such proximity to Catholic aristocrats.
"I want a drink," Sebastian shouted.
"You have done a very bad unCatholic thing by giving Sebastian whisky," Lady Marchmain reprimanded me icily. "I banish you from Brideshead."
Knowing my place in the world, I had no feelings whatsoever about losing my friendship with Sebastian. Not even a jejune irritation. It was not until sometime after, when I met Rex, Julia's arriviste Canadian fiancé, in Paris, that I heard how Sebastian had escaped the clutches of Lady Marchmain's appointed chaperone, stolen money from Blanche in Constantinople and run off to Tangier.
Rex and Julia's wedding was a quiet affair. I later learned their plans had had to be hastily changed.
"Rex has been previously married," had shrilled Lady Marchmain. "Why didn't you tell me?" Julia had wondered.
"Because if I had there would have been no last-minute Catholic hand-wringing," Rex laughed.
I returned to London to observe the General Strike and it struck me as strange that if the lower orders really didn't want to work, why didn't they do nothing in the first place like me?
"Mummy is dying," sobbed Julia. "She wants to apologise for being so beastly to you."
"I absolve ourselves of any wrongdoing," Lady Marchmain whispered. "Now run along to Tangier and see how Sebastian is getting on."
Sebastian lay bearded and unkempt, preyed on by a parasitical German. His upper-class charm shone brightly, though his alcoholism was still a bit of a problem. "I'm staying here," he slurred.
Ten years passed, years in which I did agreeably little. My theme is memory, that winged host. Unfortunately mine is not that good, because on my return to New York from sketching in Mexico, I was unable to remember the name of my son or that my wife had been pregnant when I left.
"Gosh. Really?" I said, when Celia told me the news.
The storm raged, divinely symbolic of my inner turmoil. I took Julia in my arms and kissed her hard.
"Thank God Celia was unfaithful first so I'm not a cad," I murmured.
"And I thank the Almighty that Rex is having an affair as well."
"Then let's get married once we're both divorced."
The arrangements were proceeding amicably when Julia announced her father had returned to England to die. "Come back to God," the priest threatened. Lord Marchmain made a sign of the cross and died.
"See how Daddy has returned to Catholicism," Julia cried. "Sebastian is working for a monastery, Cordelia is doing good works, so I too must embrace my Faith. We can't be wed after all."
"I quite understand," I said, deferential to the last. Brideshead looked at peace as we marched through its gates. I made my way to the chapel and prostrated myself. I too could be a Catholic.

Irvine Welsh's Top Ten List

Irvine Welsh's Top Ten List

Irvine Welsh (born 1958) is a Scottish novelist, playwright and short story writer whose work is characterized by raw dialect and fierce depictions of life in Edinburgh. He achieved instant fame with his first novel, Trainspotting (1993), which recalled both Last Exit to Brooklynand A Clockwork Orange in its electric use of brutal street slang to tell the story of a group of nihilistic young heroin addicts with no dreams or possibilities. His other novels include Filth (1998),Porno (2002), Crime (2008) and The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins (2014). His latest new, A Decent Ride (2015), short-listed for the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse prize for comic fiction, celebrates an un-reconstructed misogynist hustler—a central character who is shameless but also, oddly, decent. His four short story collections include The Acid House (1994) and Reheated Cabbage (2009). For more information, visit hisofficial website.
1. Ulysses by James Joyce (1922). Filled with convoluted plotting, scrambled syntax, puns, neologisms, and arcane mythological allusions, Ulysses recounts the misadventures of schlubby Dublin advertising salesman Leopold Bloom on a single day, June 16, 1904. As Everyman Bloom and a host of other characters act out, on a banal and quotidian scale, the major episodes of Homer’s ­Odyssey—including encounters with modern-day sirens and a Cyclops—Joyce’s bawdy mock-epic suggests the improbability, perhaps even the pointlessness, of heroism in the modern age.

2. Underworld by Don DeLillo (1997). A finalist for the National Book Award, this literary page-turner is about the second half of the twentieth century in America and about two people, an artist and an executive, whose lives intertwine in New York in the fifties and again in the nineties. With cameo appearances by Lenny Bruce, J. Edgar Hoover, Bobby Thompson, Frank Sinatra, Jackie Gleason and Toots Shor, it has been called a “dazzling, phosphorescent work of art.”

3. Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy (1985). D. H. Lawrence famously remarked that the archetypal American hero was a stoic, a loner, and a killer. Cormac McCarthy’s tale of the formation and dissolution of a band of scalp hunters in northern Mexico in the late 1840s embodies that dire maxim. Led by a soldier named Glanton and a mysterious, hairless, moral monstrosity known as the “Judge,” these freebooters wipe out Indians, Mexicans, and each other amidst a landscape of such sublime desolation one feels it leaching into their very souls.

4. Cities of the Red Night by William S. Burroughs (1981). This  novel follows various plot strands – including 18th century pirates seeking to live lives of freedom according to articles written by Captain James Mission; a present-day detective, “Clem Snide, Private Asshole,” investigating the ritual sex murder of young boys, and the rise of a radioactive virus that may involve the CIA. An opium-infused apocalyptic vision from the legendary author of Naked Lunch, it is the first of the trilogy with The Places of the Dead Roads and his final novel, The Western Lands.

5. A Disaffection by James Kelman (1989). Patrick Doyle is a 29 year old Glasgow teacher in an ordinary school. Disaffected, frustrated and increasingly bitter at the system he is employed to maintain, Patrick begins his rebellion, fuelled by drink and his passionate, unrequited love for a fellow teacher.

6. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1880). In perhaps the consummate Russian novel, Dostoevsky dramatizes the spiritual conundrums of nineteenth-century Russia through the story of three brothers and their father’s murder. Hedonistic Dmitri, tortured intellectual Ivan, and saintly Alyosha embody distinct philosophical positions, while remaining full-fledged human beings. Issues such as free will, secularism, and Russia’s unique destiny are argued not through authorial polemic, but through the confessions, diatribes, and nightmares of the characters themselves. An unsparing portrayal of human vice and weakness, the novel ultimately imparts a vision of redemption. Dostoevsky’s passion, doubt, and imaginative power compel even the secular West he scorned.

7. Men at Arms by Evelyn Waugh (1952). Meet Guy Crouchback, a 35-year-old divorced Catholic. Though the armed services really don't want him, he manfully succeeds in joining the Royal Corps of Halberdiers during World War II. There he meets Apthorpe, an eccentric African who is devoted to his “thunderbox” (aka chemical closet). Together they make quite a team. This is the first book in Waugh’s “Swords of Honour” trilogy which explores war, religion and politics. It is followed by Officers and Gentlemen (1955) and Unconditional Surrender(1961).

8. Lanark: A Life in Four Books by Alasdair Gray (1981). In the maverick Scottish author’s testy allegory, four (eccentrically illustrated) “books,” which are presented nonsequentially, trace the lives of two protagonists who are a single frustrated artist. Grim naturalism depicts Glaswegian painter Duncan Thaw’s losing battles with public indifference and chronic illness. Blakean fantasy traces the parallel sufferings of Thaw’s eponymous alter ego, whose misadventures in the dystopian city of Unthank represent Thaw’s continuing miseries in the hereafter he inhabits following his suicide. Accusatory, opaque, redundant—the novel is also, oddly enough, compulsively readable and perversely memorable.

9. Tender Is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1934). The heartbreaking, semiautobiographical story of two expatriate Americans living in France during the 1920s: a gifted young psychiatrist, Dick Diver, and the wealthy, troubled patient who becomes his wife. In this tragic tale of romance and character, her lush lifestyle soon begins to destroy Diver, as alcohol, infidelities, and mental illness claim his hopes. Of the book, Fitzgerald wrote, “Gatsby was a tour de force, but this is a confession of faith.”

10. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886). This novel might easily have become a victim of its own surpassing fame, which has removed all suspense from its central riddle: What is the relationship between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Yet as our narrator plumbs Dr. Jekyll’s descent into drug-addled, alter-ego madness, we are riveted by Stevenson’s portrait of the good and evil that lurks in one man’s heart. “This, too, was myself,” Jekyll says of Hyde. Somehow we suspect it’s us, too.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Howards End by EM Forster / Review

Howards End by EM Forster


Well, it is odd and sad that our minds should be such seed-beds, and we without power to choose the seed. But man is an odd, sad creature as yet, intent on pilfering the earth, and heedless of the growths within himself. He cannot be bored about psychology. He leaves it to the specialist, which is as if he should leave his dinner to be eaten by a steam-engine. He cannot be bothered to digest his own soul. Margaret and Helen have been more patient, and it is suggested that Margaret has succeeded--so far as success is yet possible. She does understand herself, she has some rudimentary control over her own growth. Whether Helen has succeeded, one cannot say. 
Howards End is about two families. The Schlegel sisters, Helen and Margaret, are intellectuals, deeply interested in what they call "personal relations," and the life of the mind. The Wilcoxes, who own the titular country house, are pragmatic and businesslike, care little for "personal relations," and only value what is useful to them. If one of these sounds preferable to you, it sounds also preferable to me, and when I tell you that this novel is about the essential struggle between these two perspectives perhaps you will understand why I do not think Howards End is quite successful. 
In short: Margaret Schlegel befriends the Wilcox matron, Ruth, who promptly dies and leaves Margaret Howards End, though it is written in a note to the remaining Wilcoxes who proceed to ignore it. Margaret then befriends the widower (and much older) Henry Wilcox, who, surprisingly, asks Margaret to marry him. Margaret, surprisingly, accepts. (Observant readers may note that this puts her on the path to inherit Howards End anyway, which is the only way the book could end, really.) The engagement is not conflict-free, and Howards End represents the stakes is in this allegorical battle: England, the world, the future, etc. In this passage Forster rhapsodizes over a hilltop view of the English countryside and coast:

England was alive, throbbing through all her estuaries, crying for joy through the mouths of her gulls, and the north wind, with contrary motion, blew stronger against her rising seas. What did it mean? For what end are her fair complexities, her changes of soil, her sinuous coast? Does she belong to those who have moulded her and made her feared by other lands, or to those who had added nothing to her power, but have somehow seen her, seen the whole island at once, lying as a jewel in a silver sea, sailing as a ship of souls, with all the brave world's fleet accompanying her towards eternity?

Though it sports some nice prose, I am ambivalent about this passage. It very tidily expresses the novel's entire theme, but to do so Forster, as he frequently does, stamps all over the book, showing his footprints. Was he this intrusive in A Room with a View?
The larger problem, for me, is that I simply don't buy the central plot point of the book's second half, that Margaret would accept Wilcox' proposal. Wilcox is a lout, dismissive to Margaret, disdaining of servants and the poor, valuing only what he can use or buy and throwing the rest on the mind's rubbish-heap. Margaret keeps insisting on his fundamental goodness, but I fail to see it. Forster's own opinion seems to be that the Wilcoxes are worthwhile because, as one character puts it, "They keep England going, it is my opinion." (I suppose Forster wrote too early to know how Mussolini was respected for making the trains run on time.)
But through a convoluted series of happenings, Wilcox is redeemed and all is set right. His redemption fails to redeem Margaret's poor judgment in marrying him, which in turn undermines Forster's regard for her sense of "personal relations." Thinkers and doers are reconciled, and you yourself may guess where they spend the rest of their happy days.


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

AS Byatt's Possession / Review

AS Byatt's Possession 

Is it possible to love a novel for all the wrong reasons? Yesterday, I finished A.S. Byatt's Possession (1990) for the first time—"a romance" (the front cover tells me), "an intellectual mystery and triumphant love story" (the back cover continues) about "a pair of young scholars researching the lives of two Victorian poets." Jay Parini's New York Times review of the award-winning novel describes its mass of fictional research material—a completely fabricated trace of poems, letters, diaries, and scholarly biographical excerpts—as its "most dazzlingly aspect." While this artificial archive is certainly impressive and no doubt brilliantly composed and arranged as a counterpoint to the main plot, I confess that I fall into the camp of bad readers who skimmed the letters and diaries and often skipped the poetry altogether. I found it difficult to invest my time and mental energy in this material, especially since most of that energy is currently going toward research projects of my own or class prep for the upcoming fall semester. Although I enjoyed Byatt's style and the novel's plot, characters/caricatures, and settings (and I am certainly interested in reading her Lawrentian quartet), I just didn't—couldn't—care about the affair between Chistabel LaMotte and Randolph Henry Ash.

As I scroll through the Goodreads reviews, I find myself chastised, "READ THE POETRY, PEOPLE!" and left out of what, for many readers, appears to have been a profound, transformative experience. And yet I'm beginning to wonder what sort of ideal reader the novel itself presumes. It seems to me that Possession's ideal reader is a patient student who will slow their pace when appropriate (a three-page poem does not read as quickly as three pages of narrative, after all; letters or diaries do not function dramatically the way realist dialogue does). Byatt's ideal reader is also a detective who, like its main characters, will search epigraphs and long lost research material for clues or echoes that amplify the novel's plot and ideas (about love, death, literary studies, public funding, Anglo-American difference, etc.). Maybe I resisted this role, since I was not looking to study this novel or to become the sort of academic sleuth exemplified by Maud Bailey, Roland Michell, and others. (I'm neither an archivist nor a researcher on a heroic quest for solutions to mysteries.) And maybe I resisted for good reason, since the novel itself seems ambivalent about the value of its ideal reader (who is doubled and tripled by its characters). Indeed, the obsessive and possessive investment of its characters in uncovering the truth of what happened between these poets—especially when seen through the non-academic eyes of family members or journalists—looks overinflated, self-centered, or misdirected. Even the plot must personalize the truth of the LaMotte–Ash affair; in the end, this postmodern Dickensian novel is really all about the discovery of a major character's familial connection to the very mysteries driving her.

And so I'm left with a few questions: How does one depict or explain an academic's attachment to their subject of study? Is "possession"—ownership of an object, of a copyright, of a favorite author, of a field of study, of a lover, of a future—the most convincing metaphor? Reading on . . .

Digested classics / Crash by JG Ballard

Crash by JG Ballard

John Crace ploughs into the still controversial tale of fetishised collisions, so you don't have to. It's been somewhat toned down, believe it or not, but remains highly unsuitable for almost everyone. You have been warned

John Crace
Thu 22 Apr 2010

aughan died yesterday in his last car-crash. Driven on a collision course towards the limousine of the film actress, Elizabeth Taylor with whom he had dreamed of dying for so long, his car jumped the rails of the London Airport flyover and plunged into a bus of tourists.

As I knelt over Vaughan's body, I remembered the vision he had had of her death; compound fractures of the thighs impacted on the handbrake mounting, wounds to the genitalia, her uterus pierced by the heraldic beak of the manufacturer's marque.
Before his death, Vaughan had taken part in many crashes, where blood had spilled from open wounds while semen jerked from his mutilated penis and the seats were smeared with excrement. For him the car-crash and his sexuality were fused into a techno-erotic dystopia of twisted metal, punctured lungs and natal clefts drenched in blood and rectal mucus. I guess you get the picture.
I began to understand the sexual excitements of the car-crash for myself when I first met Vaughan shortly after coming out of hospital. I had been admitted with multiple fractures to my legs after my car had hit the central reservation of the Western Avenue and hit a saloon travelling in the opposite direction, instantly propelling the driver through the windscreen and into the path of a lorry which crushed his torso under its wheels, leaving his wife catatonic by the wayside.

For many weeks I had lain in the empty ward that was normally reserved for air-crash victims at Ashford Hospital, squeezing the pus from my wounds and trying to stir my penis into life. From time to time my wife Catherine would visit, She worked at the airport and I could smell the rancid semen of the many airline pilots she would take as lovers on her fingers.
"Tell me about your encounters," I would ask as she idly gave my penis a Chinese burn.
"I had 10 men penetrating me inside the silver phallic fuselage," she would say, yawning, before tearing open my stitches. I bit off her nipples and my penis jerked into life, entering her natal cleft still sticky with the other men's stale ejaculate. We rutted a while, looking out of different windows, before petering out in a tired orgasm.

"This isn't working, James," she said.
"I know," I replied. "But I'm only any good at creating dystopian worlds. I can't do character development so we're resigned to pretty much repeating the same kind of pointlessly shocking sexual behaviour for the next 150 pages."
My head spun with graphic images of bowels opened by chromium tail-fins and clitorises severed on instrument binnacles etc, etc in the days before I went home. "There's some man watching me," I said while Catherine lubricated my penis with engine coolant as I slit her perineum to make a single orifice in which to insert a carburettor.
"They sure as hell aren't reading you any more," she replied, as pitiful globules of semen dripped from my glans.
Within days of getting home, I rented a car identical to the one in which I had nearly died. And once Catherine had left for the airport to have sex with 93 masked BOAC pilots, I took Renata, an assistant with whom I had been having an affair at the advertising agency where I worked, for a drive.
"Oh Mr Ballard, Do you really think Elizabeth Taylor will appear in one of our car ads?" she enquired.
I smiled as I saw a look of bemused recognition cross the readers' faces as they realised that I was a meta-fictional persona of the author. Satisfied that I was now in a work of cutting edge postmodernism rather than a one-dimensional X-rated piece of sci-fi, I gunned the accelerator and steered the car out of my suburban Shepperton semi on to the Western Avenue. As we reached the roundabout where I nearly died, I placed Renata's hand on my scarred thighs, while forcing my fist into her natal cleft, both juddering with excitement as we orgasmed simultaneously as the car sideswiped a cyclist.

"There you are, Mr Ballard," said the man who had been following me. "I'm Vaughan. I'd like your help in meeting Elizabeth Taylor."
Vaughan took me to a yard full of tangled car wrecks. In one corner, with the help of a stunt driver named Seagrave and a crippled woman called Gabrielle, Vaughan had staged re-enactments of the crashes in which James Dean and Jayne Mansfield had been killed. All the car seats were coated with thick layers of semen and vaginal mucus. Also at the scene was Helen Rimington, the widow of the man I had killed. Wordlessly she got in my car, and as we approached the scene of an accident where five babies had been thrown through the windscreen with another impaled on the instrument binnacle, she allowed me to sodomise her vigorously etc, etc.
I felt as if I was chained to treadmill. My prose had limited itself to merely repeating phrases, such as "natal cleft", "instrument binnacle", "stale semen" and "severed clitoris" as the plot stagnated in a pool of putrid bodily fluids, minatorily extruded through disfigured orifices.
"You seem to have forgotten you are a cog in a powerful exegesis on how normal sexual relations become alienated by the cold steel of technology," Vaughan said.
I had to confess I hadn't been aware this was necessarily that interesting or valid an idea, but such was the spell under which Vaughan had put me that first I took Gabrielle for a drive, forcing my erect penis deep into the scar tissue on her legs as we ran over 12 pedestrians on a zebra crossing. And then, after I had told Vaughan that Elizabeth Taylor had withdrawn from negotiations for the advert, I allowed him to brutalise two airport whores in the back of my car before consenting to let him sodomise me as we drove on to the runway and ploughed into a jumbo jet.
Returning home with Vaughan's semen still flowing from my anus, I found Catherine in a state of trauma. Earlier that day Vaughan had strapped her to the bonnet of a sports car and repeatedly forced a pilot to penetrate her natal cleft with the nose cone of his aircraft, while he had sex with the decomposing bodies of women who had died in a multiple car crash the week before. On dropping Catherine home, he had stolen our car and tried to run her over.
I knew then he was in danger of losing his mind and it was no surprise to find him a week later, lying dead in a twisted heap of sheared metal and semen after his failed attempt to drive his car into Elizabeth Taylor's. But as I wiped his semen on to my own penis, I was already designing my own next car-crash. Of a novel.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Virginia Woolf / 'Mrs. Dalloway' Review

Virginia Woolf

'Mrs. Dalloway' Review

by James Topham
Updated March 17, 2017
Mrs. Dalloway is a complex and compelling modernist novel by Virginia Woolf. It is a wonderful study of its principal characters. The novel enters into the consciousness of the people it takes as it subjects, creating a powerful, psychologically authentic effect. Although quite rightly numbered amongst the most famed modernist writers--such as Proust, ​​Joyce, and ​Lawrence--Woolf is often considered to be a much gentler artist, lacking the darkness of the male contingent of the movement.
With Mrs. Dalloway, though, Woolf created a visceral and unyielding vision of madness and a haunting descent into its depths.


Mrs. Dalloway follows a set of characters as they go about their lives on a normal day. The eponymous character, Clarissa Dalloway, does simple things: she buys some flowers, walks in a park, is visited by an old friend and throws a party. She speaks to a man who was once in love with her, and who still believes that she settled by marrying her politician husband. She talks to a female friend with whom she was once in love. Then, in the final pages of the book, she hears about a poor lost soul who threw himself from a doctor's window onto a line of railings.


This man is the second character central in Mrs. Dalloway. His name is Septimus Smith. Shell-shocked after his experiences in ​World War I, he is a so-called madman who hears voices. He was once in love with a fellow soldier named Evans--a ghost who haunts him throughout the novel.
His infirmity is rooted in his fear and his repression of this forbidden love. Finally, tired of a world that he believes is false and unreal, he commits suicide.
The two characters whose experiences form the core of the novel--Clarissa and Septimus--share a number of similarities. In fact, Woolf saw Clarissa and Septimus as more like two different aspects of the same person, and the linkage between the two is emphasized by a series of stylistic repetitions and mirrorings.
Unbeknownst to Clarissa and Septimus, their paths cross a number of times throughout the day--just as some of the situations in their lives followed similar paths.

Clarissa and Septimus were in love with a person of their own sex, and both repressed their loves because of their social situations. Even as their lives mirror, parallel, and cross--Clarissa and Septimus take different paths in the final moments of the novel. Both are existentially insecure in the worlds they inhabit--one chooses life, while the other commits suicide.

A Note on Style: Mrs. Dalloway

Woolf's style--she is one of the most foremost proponents of what has become known as "stream of consciousness"--allows readers into the minds and hearts of her characters. She also incorporates a level of psychological realism that Victorian novels were never able to achieve. The every day is seen in a new light: internal processes are opened up in her prose, memories compete for attention, thoughts arise unprompted, and the deeply significant and the utterly trivial are treated with equal importance. Woolf's prose is also enormously poetic. She has the very special ability to make the ordinary ebb and flow of the mind sing.

Mrs. Dalloway is linguistically inventive, but the novel also has an enormous amount to say about its characters.
Woolf handles their situations with dignity and respect. As she studies Septimus and his deterioration into madness, we see a portrait that draws considerably from Woolf's own experiences. Woolf's stream of consciousness-style leads us to experience madness. We hear the competing voices of sanity and insanity.
Woolf's vision of madness does not dismiss Septimus as a person with a biological defect. She treats the consciousness of the madman as something apart, valuable in itself, and something from which the wonderful tapestry of her novel could be woven.