Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Gerald Brenan & Woolf, Septimus & Clarissa

An incredibly humane letter from Woolf to Gerald Brenan, a WWI veteran:
“You said you were very wretched, didn’t you?....and compared this state of yours with mine, which you imagine to be secure, rooted, benevolent, industrious—you did not say dull—but somehow unattainable, and I daresay, unreal. But you must reflect that I am 40: further every 10 years, at 10, again at 30, such agony of different sorts possessed me that not content with rambling and reading I did most emphatically attempt to end it all; and should have been often thankful, if by stepping on one flagstone rather than another I could have been annihilated where I stood.” (L 2.598; 25 December 1922; to Gerald Brenan)
Here, we see so much of Woolf's sympathy for the suffering veteran that we cannot help but see how Woolf drew on her own experiences to make Clarissa into more of a person, less of a satire.


Sarang said...

Should phrase this more carefully I guess, but I'm just not seeing the "humanity" here... to my not-presently-Woolf-infused mind this passage comes off as slightly but decidedly on the wrong side of the line between empathy and solipsism. This might have something to do with not having some crucial piece of context at hand...

Anne Fernald said...

Let me see if I can show you what I hear: Brenan seems to have written a letter expressing both his depression and his sense that she cannot understand what it feels like to be unestablished, single, depressed. Woolf's response is to emphasize their age difference as a way of saying, I think, that he underestimates the pain she lived through to get to a comfortable (ish) 40.

It's a very unsentimental way of saying "I, too, have been suicidal. It gets better, it changes with age, and the change you perceive in me is not smugness, but simply age."

Does that make sense?