Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Good quotation for one of my books

Woolf copied these lovely lines from Wordsworth into her notebook while she was writing Mrs. Dalloway:
The matter that detains us now may seem,  
To many, neither dignified enough 
Nor arduous, yet will not be scorned by them, 
Who, looking inward, have observed the ties 
That bind the perishable hours of life 
Each to the other, & curious props 
By which the World of memory & thought 
Exists and is sustained. 
--Wordsworth, The Prelude, 7:458-65
Under the quotation, she simply wrote “Good quotation for one of my books.”

I find everything about this deeply moving.

Throughout Mrs. Dalloway, Clarissa thinks about the justification of life, of her life. Is her party too ordinary to merit attention—her own, Lady Bruton’s, Woolf’s, ours as readers? Or are “the perishable hours of life” precisely where we should attend, instead of only focusing on dignity and challenge? Of course, Woolf comes down on the side of Clarissa’s worth, but so strongly feminist has been the critical echo of Woolf’s point since 1925 that I find myself surprised—and delighted—to remember that such a respect for ordinariness is not only a feminist concern. Furthermore, Woolf herself recognized in Wordsworth the impulse to honor inward looking and the perishable.

Finally, I am charmed by the inartfulness of her note to herself. There is no “Perhaps, one day I shall use this as an epigraph,” just a straightforward (and to my ear, weirdly American sounding) note to self “Good quotation for one of my books.” She read the lines, recognized her project in them, and thought “yep, that’s me.” 

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