Monday, January 26, 2015

Virginia and Vanessa

I've time for only a very quick post today, again drawing on Hermione Lee's biography of Virginia Woolf. Lee is particularly good on Virginia Woolf's relationship with her sister, Vanessa Bell, making their combination of intimacy, love, need, jealousy, and competitiveness suitably complicated and wholly convincing. What caught my eye today was the following, from a letter Virginia wrote to Vanessa on February 20, 1922 after an afternoon spent with Vanessa where she must have let her jealousy--of Vanessa's lovers, children, Paris life, art--show:
Yes, I was rather depressed when you saw me--What it comes to is this: you say "I do think you lead a dull respectable absurd life--lots of money, no children, everything so settled: and conventional. Look at me now--only sixpence a year--lovers--Paris--life--love--art--excitement--God! I must be off." This leaves me in tears.
In a short paragraph, Woolf transforms her distress, no less painful for knowing that it's in some sense poorly founded, into a joke on her own absurdity--yet it's a joke that manages nonetheless to convey to her sister that the pain is real.

I'm rolling along happily with the biography, interrupted only by piano practice and work. Yet as good as it is, I'm having to fight the temptation that strikes any reader of a compelling biography of a writer: to take a break and re-read that writer's own work. There's a copy of Jacob's Room on the side table, calling to me . . .

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