Night and Day – Virginia Woolf’s second novel is a social comedy and a love story but also a subtle examination of women’s roles. The narrative, like that of The Voyage Out – which I read last year – is much more conventional than her later modernist novels To the Lighthouse, and Mrs Dalloway that I read in January. Although a little over four hundred pages it is a novel with a very simple plot – it is however, the complex, changing relationships between the central characters, which give the novel its depth. I enjoyed it enormously – it isn’t a difficult read, and these were characters I liked spending time with.
Night and Day is a slightly longer novel than I associate with Woolf, I confess on a busy tiring week it took me the whole week to read. The prose is less poetic than To the Lighthouse for example and Orlando which I read last year. The structure of the novel and the narrative are tighter – more so even, I think than her first novel, which had a more meandering quality at times. Woolf uses several recurring motifs throughout the novel, the sky, stars the River Thames and walking – especially through London recur time and again. Women’s suffrage and the question of whether love and marriage can co-exist are explored in this novel through the fortunes of four main characters. Set in the very early twentieth century before or around the First World War – this is a society on the brink of change – Victorian attitudes still abound in many quarters – while a younger generation look toward the future. It has been suggested that Woolf’s fragile mental state during this period can account for her not making any reference to the wider political world, or the war – the reports of which had severely traumatised her.