Thursday, February 03, 2005

Leslie Stephen

Father’s birthday. He would have been…96, yes today; & could have been 96, like other people one has known; but mercifully was not. His life would have entirely ended mine. What would have happened? No writing, no books;--inconceivable. I used to think of him & mother daily; but writing The Lighthouse, laid them in my mind. Virginia Woolf, November 28, 1928, VWDiary, 3.208.

This seems so human and rich to me—this admission of the ways in which someone we love and respect can also inhibit us. The calculus, too, is familiar: my mom still does this on her mother’s birthday every year. In Grammy’s case, it’s the mark of the depth of our loss (not that she was so young when she died, but she was so full of life, it seems unfair and strange that it ended; life was better with her around). For Woolf, though, a Victorian patriarch was a good thing to have moved beyond.

I had always thought that “laid them in my mind” meant “laid them to rest” but I see now, too, that it’s like laying down track: the novel fixed them. She need not obsess about them anymore; in a way, she has entombed them; but they are fully and completely with her, too. Certainly, in reading To the Lighthouse one does not feel that the Ramsays are anything less than vivid and completely present.

Chekhov’s Mistress has an amazing (to a non-technie technophile like me) feature: their headlines page offers the fifty most recent postings, automatically updated, on the literary blogs tracked there. Very cool and a major timesuck.

No comments: