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Night and Day  
First edition cover
Author Virginia Woolf
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre(s) Novel
Publisher Duckworth
Publication date 20th October 1919
Media type Print
Pages 442 pp

Night and Day (published on 20 October 1919) is a novel by Virginia Woolf. Set in Edwardian London, Night and Day contrasts the daily lives of two friends, Katharine Hilbery and Mary Datchet. The novel examines the relationships between love, marriage, happiness, and success.

Dialogue and descriptions of thought and actions are used in equal amount, unlike in Woolf's later book, To the Lighthouse. There are four major characters (Katharine Hilbery, Mary Datchet, Ralph Denham, and William Rodney) who are continually returned to. Night and Day deals with issues concerning women's suffrage, if love and marriage can coexist, and if marriage is necessary for happiness. Motifs throughout the book includes the stars and sky, the River Thames, and walks; also, Woolf makes many references to the works of William Shakespeare, especially from As You Like It.




Katharine Hilbery

Katharine Hilbery is one protagonist. As the granddaughter of a distinguished—yet fictional—poet, she is blessed (and cursed) with being from a privileged class. Though she is expected to write prize-winning literature, Katharine secretly prefers mathematics to literature. At the beginning of the novel Katharine is engaged to William Rodney; after a time they end their engagement. Eventually Katharine agrees to marry Ralph Denham.

Katharine's mother, known to the reader only as Mrs. Hilbery, plays a significant role in Katharine's life, while Katharine's father, Mr. Trevor Hilbery, is only seen on a few occasions. Mr. Hilbery disapproves of the actions of the young protagonists towards the end of the novel, such as Katharine and William's abandonment of their engagement and then William's rapid engagement to Cassandra, Katharine's cousin. Though Mary and Katharine are the primary women characters, Katharine does not often interact with Mary. Katharine is a very solitary person, and the conflict between marriage and independence is evident in her.

Ralph Denham

A lawyer who occasionally has articles published by Katharine's father, Ralph Denham is first seen in the book at the Hilbery's tea party. He leaves the party saying "She'll do...Yes, Katharine Hilbery'll do...I'll take Katharine Hilbery" (p 24), and from this point Ralph is in constant pursuit of Katharine. Multiple times he stalks Katharine through the streets of London and often passes her house, hoping to see her within.

Ralph's relationship with William Rodney is relatively formal, while Ralph's relationship with Mary is more friendly. At one point in the story Ralph realizes Mary's love for him and he proposes to her; however, Mary has already realized he is truly in love with Katharine.

Mary Datchet

Mary Datchet, the daughter of a country vicar, is a suffrage worker in the city. Though she could live comfortably without working, Mary chooses to work. Mary can be considered as parallel to the ideal of Virginia Woolf as detailed in A Room of One's Own, "Professions for Women", and other feminist essays.

Mary's romantic life is short-lived and unsuccessful. She falls wildly in love with Ralph Denham, and wishes to move to the country with him. However, when he finally proposes to her, she rejects him, deeming him insincere.

Mary also serves as an emotional outlet for the characters, especially Ralph and Katharine. Whenever Ralph, Katharine, or the other characters need to tell someone about their love or anguish, they always go for tea at Mary's.

Unlike the other characters at the novels conclusion, Mary is not married off.

William Rodney

Rodney is a budding poet and often has people listen to his mediocre works. He is Katharine's first romantic interest; however, he is mostly attracted to Katharine for her grandfather's status as one of the greatest English poets. Rodney often tries to impress Katharine; however, he does not realize that he is not as good as he thinks he is. After Katharine drifts away from him, Rodney becomes interested in Cassandra Otway, Katharine's cousin. While Katharine represents the new generation of ideas about marriage, Cassandra represents the old, Victorian ideas about marriage: the woman serves the man. At the end of the book, Rodney becomes engaged to Cassandra.

Other Minor Characters

The story, though it centers around Katharine, Ralph, Mary, and William, is dotted with other minor characters (most of whom appear only in the various tea parties) including:

  • Cassandra Otway, Katharine's cousin who becomes engaged to William
  • Mr. and Mrs. Hilbery
  • Mr. Datchet
  • Mrs. Cosham
  • Aunt Celia
  • Cyril, a man who has two children with the woman he is living with, but not married to; he represents the new age of modern ideas about marriage and relationships
  • Mr. Clacton and Mrs. Seal, Mary's co-workers in her suffrage office.
  • Mr. Basnett
  • Joan, Ralph's sister
  • Harry Sandys, Ralph's old college friend



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