Tag Archives: Leonard Woolf

A TARDIS Please.

English: This diagram gives a detailed overvie...

There’s a little game that I like to play, and I bet you’ve played it yourself, where people answer the question: If you could live in any time period what would it be and why? Of course, being the irritatingly anal person that I am I ask: If you could live in any section of society in any time period (assuming that you will be a healthy individual who will not succumb to the local illnesses such as, for example, the Bubonic Plague if you are in Europe in the 14th century) who would you be? If you are playing with thoughtful and intelligent people this can provide you with hours of fun (alright, maybe I spend too much time with History majors).

Since I know that you are all curious about what my answer to this would be, here it is:

I would quite like living as myself in England at anytime during the Interwar period (1918-1939). Theoretically I would prefer to be eighteen years old just at the end of WWI, just able to avoid the draft but be old enough to enjoy life on my own, and I would enjoy becoming involved with the Bloomsbury Group (I suppose it goes without saying that I would need to be, at the very least, upper-middle class). The Interwar period, or the much more elegant Interbellum, has always held my fascination. Great Britain, and Europe, have just come out of one of the most shocking events in living memory: a slaughter held not even in their backyard but in their own house. The trauma of this shook the Victorian-Edwardian sensibilities of Great Britain’s society and helped to launch new schools of thought that began to reshape their world. This was the era of the Woolfs, Kafka, new philosophies, a changing world.

In my head I see myself taking tea with brilliant artists, locking myself away in a cottage to finish my most recent piece of writing, indulging my “artistic temperament”. There would be poetry readings, writing blistering literary reviews, gay dinners. (I would of course use this time period to become intimately acquainted with Quentin Crisp, Coco Chanel, Virginia Woolf, JRR Tolkien, among others.)

I do recognize that this time is not just the foundation of a brave new world but was also marked by racism, antisemitism, classism, along with a plague of other issues. The fact that as a white male I would have substantial societal privileges can not be denied (although my pansexuality, disregard for gender norms and Hebrew heritage would be factored into this I would still end up in a very cozy spot in the hierarchy). But isn’t this true at anytime? I mean, we still have a white male privilege system in effect today. This was also a time where some of these norms were being challenged (look at the Woolfs or Lytton Strachey or a variety of others) and I like to think that I would be directly involved.

And so, as the snow finally settles onto our little mountain, I dream of a past world. Tweeds. Walking through the halls and cobble streets of venerable Oxford. Striding across country fields. Crammed omnibuses. Rich voices over the wireless. Cold rooms where the fireplace can not reach. Music that swung. Discussing Homer and Plutarch and Montaigne in country homes as winter piles up outside.

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Selections From “To The Lighthouse”

Portrait of Virginia Woolf (January 25, 1882 –...

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I’ve been reading Virginia Woolf‘s “To The Lighthouse” (is there an underscore feature on WordPress?) and her language has been just blowing me away. The exactness of her words, the complexity of her phrasing, the power that she carries with her. An image from one of the special features from the movie “The Hours” has been stuck in my mind as a I read this (actually, the image is always with me but more so as I read this): that of Virginia Woolf striding across the heath (or heather or peat or whatever it is she would be striding across) and barking out the phrases from her writings as she formed them in her mind. (I’ve found myself doing the same and call it “composing”.)

Anyways, here are some of my favorite passages from “To The Lighthouse”:

[p. 192:] But what after all is one night? A short space, especially when the darkness dims so soon, and so soon a bird sings, a cock crows, or a faint green quickens, like a turning leaf, in the hollow of the wave. Night, however, succeeds to night. The winter holds a pack of them in store and deals them equally, they darken. Some of them hold aloft clear planets, plates of brightness. The autumn trees, ravaged as they are, take on the flash of tattered flags kindling in the gloom of cool cathedral caves where gold letters on marble pages describe death in battle and how bones bleach and burn far away in Indian sands. The autumn trees gleam in the yellow moonlight, in the light of harvest moons, the light which mellows the energy of labour, and smooths the stubble, and brings the wave lapping blue to the shore.

[p. 280:] So we took a little boat, she thought, beginning to tell herself a story of adventure about escaping from a sinking ship. But with the sea streaming through her fingers, a spray of seaweed vanishing behind them, she did not want to tell herself seriously a story; it was the sense of adventure and escape that she wanted

[p. 283:] He read, she thought, as if he were guiding something, or wheedling a large flock of sheep, or pushing his way up and up a single narrow path; and sometimes he went fast and straight, and broke his way through the bramble, and sometimes it seemed a branch struck at him, a bramble blinded him, but he was not going to let himself be beaten by that; on he went, tossing over page after page.

[p. 284:] so much depends, she thought, upon distance: whether people are near us or far from us; for her feeling for Mr Ramsay changed as he sailed further and further across the bay.

[p. 289:] Mr Carmichael had “lost all interest in life.” What did it mean — that? she wondered. Had he marched through Trafalgar Square grasping a big stick? Had he turned pages over and over, without reading them, sitting in his room in St. John’s Wood alone?

[p. 293:] He must have confided in her on one of those long expeditions when people got separated and walked back alone.

[p. 299:] At last then somebody had come into the drawing-room; somebody was sitting in the chair. For Heaven’s sake, she prayed, let them sit still there and not come floundering out to talk to her.

[p. 306:] He was so pleased that he was not going to let anybody share a grain of his pleasure.

[p.  309:] Then, surging up, puffing slightly, old Mr Carmichael stood beside her, looking like an old pagan god, shaggy, with weeds in his hair and the trident (it was only a French novel) in his hand.

The page numbers relate to my edition (Harcourt, Brace & World Inc.; New York; Copyrighted: 1955 by Leonard Woolf) and with special thanks to http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/woolf/virginia/w91t/index.html from where many of my final quotes were copy and pasted from (finger cramps and all that.)

You’ll notice that several of the quotes are from the final pages of the book. Soon after starting this post I realized that I could not fit every quote I wanted into the post (for a complete collection of my favorite passages go to your local library or local bookstore and get your own copy) and so focused onto one section to weed and prune until I had the exact ones I wanted.

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