Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Cecil Woolf and Memory

Post-BEA life has been a whirlwind. I flew into Dayton on Thursday for the 17th annual Virginia Woolf Conference. As I’ve written here before, I’ve attended most of these--12 of the 17 (although two of those I only attended briefly).

One of the highlights this year was a pre-banquet speech by Cecil Woolf, the 80 year-old nephew of Leonard. He would have been 13 or 14 when Virginia Woolf died, so most of his talk was not so much about her as about his uncle. It was moving and charming and very long. Slated to talk for twenty minutes before dinner, he charmed us for nearly an hour. We were hungry and a little soused by the time the little paillettes of banquet chicken emerged. And those undergraduates at the Miami U. pour a generous glass…

I had heard a version of this talk three years ago in London but it was still a treat. He remembered Woolf as always being in hat and gloves (!); the Woolves as the only aunt and uncle whom he was allowed to call simply Leonard and Virginia, no uncle or aunt. (That made me, Auntie Anne to three boys, feel a little stiff.) He remembered showing Virginia Woolf an ancient ruin near his Lincolnshire home, holding her hand down to the spot, and demonstrating the echo with her by calling out each others’ names.

His resemblance to Leonard Woolf is so uncanny and that makes the experience of listening all the more riveting. I referred to him as Leonard throughout the weekend.

He told me, when I spoke to him one on one, that he was particularly delighted at this invitation because, though he’d been to the States many times, he’d never been to the country and he was “a countryman.”

But he didn’t tell my favorite story from London. Hearing him, and hearing him talk about his uncle’s “overdeveloped sense of economy” (Leonard discovered a London shop that sold pajama bottoms and tops separately so that if one wore out, you could simply replace it.) reminded me.

When Cecil was in the army, he went to visit his Uncle Lenny (Little Uncle Lenny was the family name, apparently) on a leave. Leonard had a housekeeper who, at the end of the day, left dinner for him to warm. When Cecil arrived, Leonard generously divided his very small, old-man’s dinner in two. Starving, Cecil crept to the pub in Rodmell for sustenance afterwards. He asked the publican if the kitchen was still open.

“Staying with Mr. Woolf, are you?”

1 comment:

Unknown said...

So the portions were not great enough to keep the Woolf from the door then?

I'm sorry, that's dreadful.