May 15, 2013

What Virginia Woolf Represents for Me



Today, on the anniversary of the publication of Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway, the Paris Review posted the cover and this quote from the novel on Facebook.

Beauty, the world seemed to say. And as if to prove it (scientifically) wherever he looked at the houses, at the railings, at the antelopes stretching over the palings, beauty sprang instantly. To watch a leaf quivering in the rush of air was an exquisite joy. Up in the sky swallows swooping, swerving, flinging themselves in and out, round and round, yet always with perfect control as if elastics held them; and the flies rising and falling; and the sun spotting now this leaf, now that, in mockery, dazzling it with soft gold in pure good temper; and now again some chime (it might be a motor horn) tinkling divinely on the grass stalks—all of this, calm and reasonable as it was, made out of ordinary things as it was, was the truth now; beauty, that was the truth now. Beauty was everywhere.

This is in the point of view of a war veteran with PTSD named Septimus who kills himself in a later section.   

I’ve read almost everything written by VW, including her diaries.  I very much identify with her.

One of the many things I love about VW is that she did what I try to do, which is to dramatize everyday moments, some of them mundane but some of them horrific.  How appropriate and wonderful and horrible that this is a man about to commit suicide?  And then VW herself commits suicide.  By that I mean that he notices the beauty in the world, just as she does through her writing.

But what I really love about VW is how she’s all mixed up in my mind with England.  I’m a dyed-in-the-wool Anglophile.  I think it originated from reading The Wind in the Willows and The Secret Garden and all those wonderful children’s books as a child.  I took such comfort in the worlds that were created.  And then it translated to reading English writers as an adult.  I am transported to another world when I read English authors.  Nothing like they imagined, I suppose ~ my own made-up place, my very own Pooh Corner. 

Strangely, all VW’s dark material within this world just endears her to me more.  Because for me it’s a safe world in which to explore those dark feeling that I have too.  Here is Septimus leaping to his death onto a wrought iron fence, but he’s seeing beauty, and right around the corner is Mrs. Dalloway, who’s concerned with past love affairs and social convention. 

She also brings to mind my lovely trip to London and Dublin.  I stayed at a fabulous B&B in South Kensington run by Miss St. Clair, a lovely older lady whose parents were in Africa with the military when she was born.  I stayed for a week in each city, and those memories stick in my mind ~ the free museums, having Kerala cuisine in a little out-of-the-way place, watching 15-minute Shakespeare, and meeting my English professors to take in Mrs. Warren’s Profession. So much more. By the end of the trip, though, I was homesick and had to stay the last night in a dark little place.  I obsessed a little about VW that last night, definitely shouldering her dark moods.

But when I see the name “Virginia Woolf,” I immediately get a feeling that’s hard to describe.  Nostalgic, certainly.  A healthy dose of innocent Winnie the Pooh feeling. But also a dose of darkness that deepens the feeling.

She, along with Hemingway, is one of my writer gods.

2 comments:

"As We Speak" said...

So, so happy to see you back on twitter. Wonderful post!

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Tamara said...

Thank you so much! Great to be back.

I hope all is well with you!

~ Tamara