April Readings: Virginia Woolf

I come to Virginia Woolf very late; I suspect she is one of those writers who might be unintelligible until one has had a bit of living.

I read To the Lighthouse almost thirty years ago as a freshman.  It did not leave an impression — but then, I don’t remember too many works from that voluminous reading list for the year-long  “Great Works of Western Civilization” course.  I still have some of those books, but not the ones I actually liked — Rules of St. Benedict and St. Augustine’s Confessions, for example — though I still have Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling (and all the amazingly inane marginal notes I made) but not Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents. Just as well, I suppose.

About a month ago, I came across Susan Sellers’ Vanessa and Virginia, and I am immeasurably grateful that my re-encounter with Virginia Woolf came from such a literate writer.  First person, present tense, short sentences: I admire anyone who can make that combination work — but then, Susan Sellers is a professor of English . . . .  So now, here I am, wading through Hermione Lee’s biography of Woolf, a pleasurable and a painful read.  I imagine Virginia Woolf, a middle-class Victorian, never entirely successful at divesting herself of all those social and cultural and familial things she was born with and carried with her all her life.  And if you can’t ever make for yourself a true “room of one’s own,” then what is left?

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