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How Should One Read a Book? 应该如何读书?

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2019年06月10日

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How Should One Read a Book?

应该如何读书?

Virginia Woolf

弗吉尼亚·伍尔芙

作者简介

弗吉尼亚·伍尔芙(Virginia Woolf,1882—1941),英国女作家,意识流小说的代表人物。

她生于伦敦的书香名门,天分极高但身体虚弱。她自幼立志成为作家,22岁开始在《泰晤士报文学评论》(Times Literary Supplement)等报刊上发表文章。她的文学成就主要体现在小说上,代表作有《雅各的房间》(Jacob's Room)和《达洛维夫人》(Mrs. Dalloway)等。她的小说往往富有诗意,语言更像诗体散文,带有唯美主义的情调。此外,伍尔芙还写过许多散文和随笔,《普通读者I》(The Common Reader)和《普通读者II》(The Second Common Reader)均收录了她的文论。

本文选自1932年出版的《普通读者II》,是一篇脍炙人口的读书随感。文中,伍尔芙与读者分享了自己阅读小说、传记、诗歌的心得,笔触清新淡雅,令人对书中世界悠然神往。

In the first place, I want to emphasise the note of interrogation at the end of my title. Even if I could answer the question for myself, the answer would apply only to me and not to you. The only advice, indeed, that one person can give another about reading is to take no advice, to follow your own instincts, to use your own reason, to come to your own conclusions. If this is agreed between us, then I feel at liberty to put forward a few ideas and suggestions because you will not allow them to fetter that independence which is the most important quality that a reader can possess. After all, what laws can be laid down about books? The battle of Waterloo was certainly fought on a certain day; but is Hamlet a better play than Lear? Nobody can say. Each must decide that question for himself. To admit authorities, however heavily furred and gowned, into our libraries and let them tell us how to read, what to read, what value to place upon what we read, is to destroy the spirit of freedom which is the breath of those sanctuaries. Everywhere else we may be bound by laws and conventions—there we have none.

But to enjoy freedom, if the platitude is pardonable, we have of course to control ourselves. We must not squander our powers, helplessly and ignorantly, squirting half the house in order to water a single rose-bush; we must train them, exactly and powerfully, here on the very spot. This, it may be, is one of the first difficulties that faces us in a library. What is “the very spot”? There may well seem to be nothing but a conglomeration and huddle of confusion. Poems and novels, histories and memoirs, dictionaries and blue-books; books written in all languages by men and women of all tempers, races, and ages jostle each other on the shelf. And outside the donkey brays, the women gossip at the pump, the colts gallop across the fields. Where are we to begin? How are we to bring order into this multitudinous chaos and so get the deepest and widest pleasure from what we read?

It is simple enough to say that since books have classes—fiction, biography, poetry—we should separate them and take from each what it is right that each should give us. Yet few people ask from books what books can give us. Most commonly we come to books with blurred and divided minds, asking of fiction that it shall be true, of poetry that it shall be false, of biography that it shall be flattering, of history that it shall enforce our own prejudices. If we could banish all such preconceptions when we read, that would be an admirable beginning. Do not dictate to your author; try to become him. Be his fellow-worker and accomplice. If you hang back, and reserve and criticise at first, you are preventing yourself from getting the fullest possible value from what you read. But if you open your mind as widely as possible, then signs and hints of almost imperceptible fineness, from the twist and turn of the first sentences, will bring you into the presence of a human being unlike any other. Steep yourself in this, acquaint yourself with this, and soon you will find that your author is giving you, or attempting to give you, something far more definite. The thirty-two chapters of a novel—if we consider how to read a novel first—are an attempt to make something as formed and controlled as a building; but words are more impalpable than bricks, reading is a longer and more complicated process than seeing. Perhaps the quickest way to understand the elements of what a novelist is doing is not to read, but to write; to make your own experiment with the dangers and difficulties of words. Recall, then, some event that has left a distinct impression on you—how at the corner of the street, perhaps, you passed two people talking. A tree shook; an electric light danced; the tone of the talk was comic, but also tragic; a whole vision, an entire conception, seemed contained in that moment.

But when you attempt to reconstruct it in words, you will find that it breaks into a thousand conflicting impressions. Some must be subdued; others emphasized; in the process you will lose, probably, all grasp upon the emotion itself. Then turn from your blurred and littered pages to the opening pages of some great novelist—Defoe, Jane Austen, Hardy. Now you will be better able to appreciate their mastery. It is not merely that we are in the presence of a different person—Defoe, Jane Austen, or Thomas Hardy—but that we are living in a different world. Here, in Robinson Crusoe, we are trudging a plain high road; one thing happens after another; the fact and the order of the fact is enough. But if the open air and adventure mean everything to Defoe they mean nothing to Jane Austen. Hers is the drawing-room, and people talking, and by the many mirrors of their talk revealing their characters. And if, when we have accustomed ourselves to the drawing-room and its reflections, we turn to Hardy, we are once more spun round. The moors are round us and the stars are above our heads. The other side of the mind is now exposed—the dark side that comes uppermost in solitude, not the light side that shows in company. Our relations are not towards people, but towards Nature and destiny. Yet different as these worlds are, each is consistent with itself. The maker of each is careful to observe the laws of his own perspective, and however great a strain they may put upon us they will never confuse us, as lesser writers so frequently do, by introducing two different kinds of reality into the same book. Thus to go from one great novelist to another—from Jane Austen to Hardy, from Peacock to Trollope, from Scott to Meredith—is to be wrenched and uprooted; to be thrown this way and then that. To read a novel is a difficult and complex art. You must be capable not only of great fineness of perception, but of great boldness of imagination if you are going to make use of all that the novelist—the great artist—gives you.

But a glance at the heterogeneous company on the shelf will show you that writers are very seldom “great artists”; far more often a book makes no claim to be a work of art at all. These biographies and autobiographies, for example, lives of great men, of men long dead and forgotten, that stand cheek by jowl with the novels and poems, are we to refuse to read them because they are not “art”? Or shall we read them, but read them in a different way, with a different aim? Shall we read them in the first place to satisfy that curiosity which possesses us sometimes when in the evening we linger in front of a house where the lights are lit and the blinds not yet drawn, and each floor of the house shows us a different section of human life in being? Then we are consumed with curiosity about the lives of these people—the servants gossiping, the gentlemen dining, the girl dressing for a party, the old woman at the window with her knitting. Who are they, what are they, what are their names, their occupations, their thoughts, and adventures?

Biographies and memoirs answer such questions, light up innumerable such houses; they show us people going about their daily affairs, toiling, failing, succeeding, eating, hating, loving, until they die. And sometimes as we watch, the house fades and the iron railings vanish and we are out at sea; we are hunting, sailing, fighting; we are among savages and soldiers; we are taking part in great campaigns. Or if we like to stay here in England, in London, still the scene changes; the street narrows; the house becomes small, cramped, diamond-paned, and malodorous. We see a poet, Donne, driven from such a house because the walls were so thin that when the children cried their voices cut through them. We can follow him, through the paths that lie in the pages of books, to Twickenham; to Lady Bedford's Park, a famous meeting-ground for nobles and poets; and then turn our steps to Wilton, the great house under the downs, and hear Sidney read the Arcadia to his sister; and ramble among the very marshes and see the very herons that figure in that famous romance; and then again travel north with that other Lady Pembroke, Anne Clifford, to her wild moors, or plunge into the city and control our merriment at the sight of Gabriel Harvey in his black velvet suit arguing about poetry with Spenser. Nothing is more fascinating than to grope and stumble in the alternate darkness and splendour of Elizabethan London. But there is no staying there. The Temples and the Swifts, the Harleys and the St. Johns beckon us on; hour upon hour can be spent disentangling their quarrels and deciphering their characters; and when we tire of them we can stroll on, past a lady in black wearing diamonds, to Samuel Johnson and Goldsmith and Garrick; or cross the channel, if we like, and meet Voltaire and Diderot, Madame du Deffand; and so back to England and Twickenham—how certain places repeat themselves and certain names!—where Lady Bedford had her Park once and Pope lived later, to Walpole's home at Strawberry Hill. But Walpole introduces us to such a swarm of new acquaintances, there are so many houses to visit and bells to ring that we may well hesitate for a moment, on the Miss Berry's doorstep, for example, when behold, up comes Thackeray; he is the friend of the woman whom Walpole loved; so that merely by going from friend to friend, from garden to garden, from house to house, we have passed from one end of English literature to another and wake to find ourselves here again in the present, if we can so differentiate this moment from all that have gone before.

This, then, is one of the ways in which we can read these lives and letters; we can make them light up the many windows of the past; we can watch the famous dead in their familiar habits and fancy sometimes that we are very close and can surprise their secrets, and sometimes we may pull out a play or a poem that they have written and see whether it reads differently in the presence of the author. But this again rouses other questions. How far, we must ask ourselves, is a book influenced by its writer's life—how far is it safe to let the man interpret the writer? How far shall we resist or give way to the sympathies and antipathies that the man himself rouses in us—so sensitive are words, so receptive of the character of the author? These are questions that press upon us when we read lives and letters, and we must answer them for ourselves, for nothing can be more fatal than to be guided by the preferences of others in a matter so personal.

But also we can read such books with another aim, not to throw light on literature, not to become familiar with famous people, but to refresh and exercise our own creative powers. Is there not an open window on the right hand of the bookcase? How delightful to stop reading and look out! How stimulating the scene is, in its unconsciousness, its irrelevance, its perpetual movement—the colts galloping round the field, the woman filling her pail at the well, the donkey throwing back his head and emitting his long, acrid moan. The greater part of any library is nothing but the record of such fleeting moments in the lives of men, women, and donkeys.

Are there not some pursuits that we practise because they are good in themselves, and some pleasures that are final? And is not this among them? I have sometimes dreamt, at least, that when the Day of Judgment dawns and the great conquerors and lawyers and statesmen come to receive their rewards—their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble—the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say, not without a certain envy when he sees us coming with our books under our arms, “Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them here. They have loved reading.”

首先,我想强调一下标题后面的问号。即使我能回答这个问题,答案也只适合我而不是你。实际上,一个人能给另一个人唯一的阅读建议,就是别接受任何建议,而是听从自己的直觉,运用自己的理性,得出自己的结论。如果我们对此达成了共识,我就能无拘无束地提出一些想法和建议,因为你不会让自己的独立见解受到禁锢——独立见解正是读者所能拥有的最重要的品质。说到底,你能给阅读制定什么规则呢?滑铁卢之战发生在某一天,此事确凿无疑;但《哈姆雷特》比《李尔王》更优秀吗?没人说得清。每个人都会得出自己的答案。如果允许权威人士走进我们的书房,让他们告诉我们如何阅读、该读什么、我们读的书有何价值,无论他们穿着多么雍容华贵,这都会破坏书所蕴涵的自由精神。世间别处皆有规范习俗,唯有阅读完全自由。

但要享受自由——如果你能忍受这个俗套的说法——我们就必须约束自己。我们不能挥霍自己的能力,不能只为了给一丛玫瑰浇水,就无助而无知地把水喷遍半所房子;我们必须精心培养自己的能力,从此时此地开始。我们在书房面临的第一个问题或许就是——此时从何处开始?我们眼前似乎一片混乱。诗歌和小说、史书和回忆录、词典和蓝皮书1在架上挤成一团。它们以不同的语言写就,作者有男有女,其性格、种族、年龄更是各不相同。门外有驴子嘶叫,女人在水泵边闲聊,马驹在田野上奔跑。我们该从何处开始?我们该如何给这片混乱制定规则,以便从所读的书里获得最深刻、最广博的乐趣?

书分为不同种类,如小说、传记、诗歌,所以我们应该区别对待,汲取各类书所应提供的养分。这话说起来简单,但多数人往往向书要求它提供不了的东西。通常,我们对书的看法既模糊又割裂,在小说中寻找真实,在诗歌中寻找假象,希望传记里有奉承之词,指望历史符合一己之见。如果我们阅读时能摒弃这些偏见,那将是个极好的开端。别指挥作者做这做那,试着做他吧,做他的同事和同伙。如果你一开始就故步自封、先入为主、求全责备,只会妨碍自己从所读的书里获得最大收益。但如果你能尽量敞开心扉,那么那些起初看来纠结扭曲的句子都会提供一些微妙的暗示,将你带到一个与众不同的人面前。投身其中,熟悉此景,你很快就会发现,作者向你传达的东西,或试图向你传达的东西,是如此显而易见。我们先来说说如何阅读小说。作者撰写小说的32个章节,就像构建和管理一座大厦;但词语不像砖块那样看得见、摸得着,阅读比观看更漫长、更复杂。要理解小说家究竟做了些什么,最快的方式或许不是阅读,而是写作——以此来体会遣词造句的危险和艰辛。请回想一件给你留下了清晰印象的事,比如在街角和两个聊天的人擦身而过。树影婆娑,灯光摇曳,聊天的语调既滑稽又悲凉。那个瞬间似乎包含了完整的想象和全部的概念。

但当你试图用文字再现这一场景时,它却支离成了千百个矛盾的印象。有些需要略述,有些需要强调。在诉诸文字的过程中,你或许已无法把握当时的感受。那么,还是抛开你模糊混乱的记录,翻开笛福、简·奥斯汀、哈代等伟大小说家的作品吧。现在你才能更好地欣赏他们的杰作。我们不仅面对不同的作家——笛福、简·奥斯汀、托马斯·哈代,还置身于不同的世界。读《鲁滨孙漂流记》时,我们是在一马平川的公路上蹒跚前行,事情一件接一件发生,弄清事实和事实的顺序就够人受的了。但如果说荒郊和冒险对笛福意味着一切,它们对简·奥斯汀来说则毫无意义。奥斯汀关注的是客厅和聊天的人们,以及通过言谈反映的人物性格。在习惯了客厅及聊天反映的人物性格之后,我们再回头去读哈代,就会又一次晕头转向。在哈代的作品中,我们周遭是茫茫荒野,头顶是浩瀚星空。这时人性的另一面又展现出来了——不是在群体中让人展现出的内心光明的一面,而是孤独使人暴露出的内心黑暗的一面。此时,我们不是与人沟通,而是与自然和命运交流。尽管这些世界截然不同,但每个世界都能自洽。每位创造者都谨慎地遵循自身的法则。无论他们向我们展示了多少紧张关系,都不至于让人摸不着头脑。他们不会像普通作家经常做的那样,将两类格格不入的现实塞进同一本书。从一位伟大的小说家读到另一位——从简·奥斯汀到哈代,从皮考克到特洛勒普,从斯科特到梅瑞狄斯,这是一种折磨,就像被从一个世界猛然拔起,再抛进另一个世界。阅读小说是一项艰难而复杂的艺术。如果你想好好利用小说家——同时也是伟大的艺术家——能给你的一切,你不仅要有细致入微的感悟力,还得有大胆无畏的想象力。

但只要扫一眼书架上良莠不齐的作品,你就会知道,只有极少的作家可称为“伟大的艺术家”,能称为“艺术品”的书就更少了。例如,记叙已逝伟人生平的传记和自传,与小说和诗集肩并肩立在书架上。我们要拒绝读那些传记,因为它们并非“艺术品”吗?还是说,我们应该读这些书,但要带着另一种目的,以另一种方式去读。阅读是否应该先满足我们时不时冒出的好奇心?我们就像夜晚时分徘徊在一栋灯火通明、帘幕未降的大屋前,屋里每一层向我们展示了人类生活的不同方面。然后,我们会对这些人充满好奇,为他们的生活而着迷。那长舌的仆人、用餐的绅士、为赴舞会而梳妆打扮的女孩和坐在窗前编织的老妇人,他们是什么人?是干什么的?叫什么名字?他们在做什么?在想什么?有过怎样的冒险?

传记和回忆录会回答这类问题,会照亮无数座这样的大屋。这些书会告诉我们,人们如何处理日常事务、如何辛苦劳作、如何经历成败、如何享受美食、如何体验爱恨,直到生命终结。有时,当我们还在观察的时候,大屋的影像突然淡去,铁栅栏也消失无踪;我们突然来到了海上;出外狩猎、航行、战斗;与野蛮人和士兵为伍;参与一场场伟大的战役。或者,如果我们喜欢待在英国伦敦,场景也会发生变化——街道变得狭窄,屋子变得矮小,房间变得逼仄,出现菱形窗格,空气充满恶臭。我们看见诗人多恩正逃离这样一座屋子。因为墙壁太薄,孩子的哭声穿墙而入。我们可以跟随他,穿过书中所写的通道,来到特威克纳姆,来到贝德福德女士的花园,一个著名的贵族和诗人的聚集地。然后,我们来到草坡下的威尔顿大宅,聆听锡德尼为妹妹诵读《阿尔卡迪亚》2。接着,我们在那片沼泽中漫步,观察那部著名浪漫小说中提及的苍鹭。而后,我们与彭布罗克夫人安妮·克利福德一道向北进发,去往她的那片荒野;或是跑到城里去,看穿黑色天鹅绒上衣的加布里埃尔·哈维如何与斯宾塞进行诗歌论战,并从中取乐。伊丽莎白女王时期的伦敦,黑暗与光辉交织,没有什么比在此蹒跚摸索更令人着迷。但我们不宜久留,坦普尔、斯威夫特、哈雷和圣·约翰召唤着我们向前。我们可以花很多个小时解读他们作品里的争论、诠释他们作品里的人物。读厌了之后,我们继续闲逛,和一位戴钻石的黑衣女子擦肩而过,去塞缪尔·约翰逊、戈德史密斯和盖瑞克那儿做客。如果我们愿意的话,还可以跨越海峡,去拜访伏尔泰、狄德罗和德芳夫人,再回到英国的特威克纳姆——这个地名又出现了!它曾是贝德福德女士花园的所在地,后来是蒲柏的居所——前往沃波尔3位于草莓山庄的家。但沃波尔向我们介绍了一大群新朋友,有那么多屋子等我们去拜访,那么多门铃等我们去按响,以至于我们对是否要前往犹豫了片刻。在贝瑞小姐的门阶上,我们稍作迟疑,便看见了萨克雷——他是沃波尔喜爱的这位女士的朋友。因此,我们只是在朋友、花园和大屋之间穿梭,便将英国文学史转了个遍,醒来发现自己回到了当下——如果我们还能区分当下和过去的话。

这便是阅读这些生平和信件的一种方式。我们可以让它们照亮往昔的窗口,关注已逝名人身上似曾相识的习惯。有时,我们会想象自己和他们很亲密,惊讶于他们的小秘密;有时,我们会找出他们写的戏剧或诗歌,看看了解作者之后读起来有何不同。但这也会引起其他问题。我们必须问自己,作家的生平对一本书的影响有多大?对作家阐释到什么程度算合适?作家本人引起我们的同情或憎恶,我们应该抵制还是接受?作者的文字如此敏锐,他的性格是否同样善于接纳?读作家生平和信件时,我们都会产生这些疑问。我们必须自己回答,因为在涉及如此个人化的事情时,受他人偏好引导是最致命的。

但我们也可以抱着另一个目的读这些书——不是为了弄懂文学作品,不是为了熟悉各位名人,而是为了恢复和锻炼自己的创造力。书架右手边不是有扇敞开的窗户吗?放下手中的书朝窗外望去是多么令人愉快的事!马驹在田野上奔跑,女人从井中提水,驴子把头扭向身后,发出长长的、刺耳的嘶鸣——这幅并不刻意、毫无联系、持续变化的场景是多么启迪人心。任何书房最妙的部分,莫过于记录这些转瞬即逝的片段,记录这些男人、女人和驴子的生活瞬间。

……

我们追求某些事物,不就是因为追求本身的美好以及最终获得的快乐?阅读不就是这样的乐事吗?至少我有时会想象,末日审判4时人们到上帝面前领取奖赏,伟大的征服者获得了王冠,优秀的律师获得了桂冠,杰出的政治家获得了刻在大理石上不朽的名字。上帝看见我们胳膊底下夹着书走来,会不无妒意地把头转向圣彼得5,说:“看,这些人不需要奖赏。我们这里什么也给不了他们。他们爱的是阅读。”

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1.蓝皮书,一般指包括名人录、指南、手册之类的工具书,也包括纪念画册等。

2.菲利普·锡德尼爵士(Sir Philip Sidney,1554—1586),英国作家、政治家和军人。1580年,锡德尼在威尔顿大宅与妹妹相依为命,《阿尔卡迪亚》即为这一时期写成。

3.这里指英国第四任牛津伯爵霍勒斯·沃波尔(Horace Walpole,1717—1797)。后文提及的贝瑞小姐(Miss Berry)和萨克雷(Thackeray)都是其作品《沃波尔书信》 中出现的人物。

4.末日审判,指基督教及其他一些宗教中上帝在世界终结前对世人进行审判。

5.圣彼得,耶稣十二门徒之一,也是耶稣拣选的第一个门徒。


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