Friday, December 08, 2006

Reading Virginia Woolf

For the past two weeks or so, I've been reading the first volume of Virginia Woolf's diaries. That tells you how little time I've had for pleasure reading lately, as I'd normally finish a book of it's size in a few hours. However, reading it slowly, a few entries a day, has become my treat at night before bed, when I can finally stop thinking about my papers for a few minutes.

I've always found Virginia Woolf a fascinating person. I read quite a lot of her work in my undergraduate, and her mind is just extraordinary. She's also a central character in one of my favourite films, The Hours, although Nicole Kidman's representation of her is less than accurate.

I started reading her diaries because Anne Wilkinson read them, and also loved them, and I figured, why not keep my brain in AW- land even while reading for fun? It seems to be working out so far.

I think the things that fascinate me the most are just the normalcies of Virginia Woolf's life, and and how ordinary many of the things that she writes about are. I guess on some level I assumed that a brilliant & often mad person would write brilliantly and madly, but her journal is much like anyone else's. I mean, of course most of her friends were quite famous and influential, but for her, they were just her friends. She writes about having dinner parties, drinking tea & reading by the fire with Leonard, gluing pages for Hogarth Press, visiting friends who have just had babies, finding housekeepers for her sister- normal things (although VW wasn't exactly destitute, so having a cook isn't quite what I'd consider normal.) And I have to admit that I love the fact that one of her guilty pleasures is going to London and spending too much money on stationery! And I was right- she is very particular about her pens. (See posting for November 16th.)

Of course, VW doesn't write her journal in her times of madness, so there are big gaps once in a while. Those are the parts that I think I'd find most interesting- what is it like to be inside of her head? But that's something that I'll just have to speculate about. I'm happy that once I finish this volume, there are four more to go. I want to see what happens when she meets Vita Sackville-West (what does Leonard think about this?) and if her writing changes towards the time of her death. It's a bit morbid & intrusive, really, to be reading the journals of someone who committed suicide, but they've been published by her family, so they apparently thought that this was what she would have wanted.

I think I'll have to go back and read all of her novels. AW I'm sure is referring to Orlando in at least one of her poems, and there are probably references that I'm not catching because I haven't read some of VW's novels in awhile. Maybe I'll start with A Room of One's Own over the Christmas break. I wrote a paper on it for my 4th year literary theory class, which I just loved (the best professor of my undergraduate, Mari Ruti) and I don't think I've read it since. It's so true though- how can one become a great writer if one has no place to write?

PS- in case the picture of Virginia Woolf is difficult to see on the screen, the title of this post is a bit of a pun. The drawing is made up of the text of A Room of One's Own (in French) that are shaded in different tones of black and grey to create her portrait. Hence, you can both read her writing, and read her picture. The artist has done this for a number of writers, mostly French. You can check it out at


Purple Mangos said...

Have you read Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar? If not, I think you would really enjoy it.

Melissa said...

It's on my Christmas/summer reading list. I've read some of her poetry, but not the novel yet.

Purple Mangos said...

It's definitely a must read. Although it might not be good Christmas holiday reading, if you're the type of person who gets really involved in the emotions of books.

Melissa said...

Very true. Plath is a difficult person to read & people tend to read everything of hers biographically; I'm marking papers on some of her poetry now, and it's quite funny how caught up my students get in her suicide. One tried to argue that a poem that has nothing to do with it is actually completely about it. Any other good books to recommend?

Anonymous said...

I reccommend The Kite Runner. Great novel! :) (i forget the author offhand lol)