Remembering Virginia Woolf

By Carolyn Nesbitt-Larking

I’ve been working on the bookshelves in our home office trying to (re)organize the eclectic mix that exists. I think I’ve also been going through a bit of a mental cleanse from the dominating new cycle at the moment.

It has been great to reconnect with all the books acquired over the years. All the ideas I’ve been exposed to, the ideas that have challenged me and helped me grow intellectually and the authors I have come to cherish.Virginia Woolf is one of those.

So today I am taking a bit of time to remember Virginia Woolf who was born on this day in 1882. Woolf was born into a family of wealth, social standing, with a rich intellectual and literary life; perhaps that’s where the DNA came from to catapult her to write such famous works like Mrs Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), Orlando (1928). And of course her most famous, A Room of One’s Own (1929), where she was best known for expressing that, ” A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” Maybe it wasn’t the DNA coursing through her after all, but a place, her place, where should could write her truths as she saw them. I have realized that since I began reading Woolf many years ago the notion of truths, particularly women’s truths have seeped into my own writing, both fiction and non.

Woolf also found infamy as a member of the Bloomsbury Group: writers, intellectuals, and artists whose work influenced modern attitudes on feminism, sexuality, literature, and criticisam. But Woolf also kept a personal journal, as many of us do, about the daily happenings of her life. Early in World War II, on March 8, 1941 she wrote:

“And now with some pleasure I find that it’s seven; and must cook dinner. Haddock and sausage meat. I think it is true that one gains a certain hold on sausage and haddock by writing them down.”

I’ve read many of Woolf’s novels over the years, understanding their meaning (and myself) more as I begun to reread them through the eyes of an older woman, yet I felt I began to understand even more what she was trying to say by reading these simple missives as the one above.

Sadly, Woolf’s life was to end as a tragic story. Less than three weeks later, on March 28, fearful of the return of mental illness which had plagued her all her life, she loaded up her pockets with stones and drowned herself in the river Ouse near her Sussex home.

She left a suicide note for her husband, though I have always thought of this note more a love letter than suicide note:

“I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I can’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier ’til this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can’t even write this properly. I can’t read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that — everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer. I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been. V”

There are many references to food in Virginia Woolf’s diaries, which makes me think she found much pleasure in the simple act of cooking, and being able to write about it. Even though she noted the pleasant anticipation of cooking her wartime dinner, perhaps her diary entry also tells of her awareness of her fragile hold on day-to-day things. Or perhaps it is only through the awareness a writer has to recognize we only begin to understand what we do not know when we begin to write it down.

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