Moments In Time with Virginia Woolf
“I met your mother, in a gloom happily encircled by the firelight, and peopled with legs and skirts. We drifted together like ships in an immense ocean and she asked me whether black cats had tails. And I answered that they had not, after a pause in which her question seemed to drop echoing down vast abysses, hitherto silent.” Virginia Woolf describing older sister Vanessa Bell
A series of untimely family deaths affected Virgina Woolf in such a way to cause her first mental breakdown at age 13. Her mother died in 1895, her step-sister Stella in 1897. In 1904 her father died, and then her beloved brother Toby died in 1906. It was shortly after her father’s death that her older step-brother George Duckworth, bullied and sexually abused Virginia.
Adeline Virginia Woolf was a true survivor. She was an astute observer of human nature. A woman with keen insights on life, death, suffering, disease, loneliness, art and love. She turned to writing essays then novels as a way of proving to her parents, siblings, and herself that she was essentially a person of self-worth.
Her only autobiographical work, Moments of Being, was published after her death. A series of five pieces, it reveals a woman of considerable range and introspection. This is Woolf at her finest, in her own authentic style. Originally a manuscript she called, A Sketch of the Past, Woolf treds carefully reflecting back on her life but then before the reader knows it dives deep beneath the surface to explore hidden depths.
Woolf is exploring the nature of consciousness when she says, ”From this I reach what I might call a philosophy; at any rate it is a constant idea of mine; that behind the cotton wool is a hidden pattern; that we – I mean all human beings- are connected with this; that the whole world is a work of art; that we are parts of the work of art. Hamlet or a Beethoven quartet is the truth about this vast mass that we call the world. But there is no Shakespeare, there is no Beethoven; certainly and emphatically there is no God; we are the words; we are the music; we are the thing itself.”
When discussing her writing as a means of self-discovery she says, "But whatever the reason may be, I find that scene making is my natural way of marking the past. A scene always comes to the top; arranged; representative. This confirms me in my instinctive notion–it is irrational; it will not stand argument–that we are sealed vessels afloat upon what it is convenient to call reality; at some moments, without reason, without an effort, the sealing matter cracks; in floods reality; that is a scene…”
What Virginia Woolf has done in writing these series of essays as her autobiography is open the floodgates and let it all spill out on the page. This takes great courage to reveal one’s self and it took its toll on her through her many bouts of depression. Even in a fragile emotional state, her mind was genius and she shared with us all the aspects of being human.
We must remember that the legacy of Virginia Woolf is immense as was the woman. She was a woman who was loved by her extended biological family and later her husband Leonard, her lover-friend Vita Sackville-West, her close associates, the Strachys, Maynard Keynes, Duncan Grant, Roger Fry — and her beloved older sister, Vanessa Bell.
I urge anyone who is curious to learn more about this intriguing woman, to read her autobiography and also her novels. I think she was one of the bravest truest souls who ever put pen to paper. For her legacy is one of great beauty!
Thank you Adeline Virginia Woolf.
Moments Of Being A Collection of Autobiographical Writing by Virginia Woolf, Edited by Jeanne Schulkind, 1985, Harcourt Press, USA
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