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Posts Tagged ‘diary’

In August of 1923 Virginia Woolf was in the middle of writing the novel that would eventually be published in 1925 under the title Mrs. Dalloway. After writing in her diary that she was “battling for ever so long” with the novel — tentatively titled The Hours — on the following day, she spelled out the stream of consciousness technique she planned to use in her groundbreaking work.

In this oft-quoted passage written on Aug. 30, 1923, she describes the process as digging out “beautiful caves” behind her characters. This is what she wrote:

You see, I’m thinking furiously about Reading & Writing. I have no time to describe my plans. I should say a good deal about The Hours, & my discovery; how I dig out beautiful caves behind my characters; I think that gives exactly what I want; humanity, humour, depth. The idea is that the caves shall connect, & each comes to daylight at the present moment — Dinner! –Diary 2, 263.

Later in the year, on Oct. 15, she describes the process a bit differently:

It took me a year’s groping to discover what I call my tunnelling process, by which I tell the past by installments, as I have need of it. – A Writer’s Diary, 60.

 

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It’s Easter. And I read Virginia Woolf. So this morning a question occurred to me, “What did Virginia Woolf think about Easter?” I turned to Jane de Gay to find out.

Revd Professor Jane de Gay is professor of English literature at Leeds Trinity University and an Anglican priest serving a predominantly Caribbean congregation at St. Martin’s Potternewton, Leeds.

The Woolf scholar and author of the book, Virginia Woolf and Christian Culture (Edinburgh UP, June 2018), wrote a series of posts about Woolf and Holy Week in 2019, the year after her book came out.

Her final one, titled “Easter Sunday,” included this quote from Woolf on Easter Sunday in 1937:

Again I take my tiny little flutter, with the accursed Xtian bells ringing – however, dulled as they are with 500 years or more at Rodmell I cant seriously dislike them. (Diary 5, 72)

You can read Jane’s entire post on the Edinburgh University Press blog.

The spire of St. Peter’s Church, located behind the garden at the Woolfs’ Monk’s House in Rodmell, peaks above the greenery.

 

 

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Virginia Woolf didn’t get old—not what we call old—but she brooded about aging,VW Diary Vol. 5 increasingly so in middle age.

Shortly before her 50th birthday, she wrote in her diary:

Can we count on another 20 years? I shall be fifty on 25th and sometimes feel that I have lived 250 years already and sometimes that I am still the youngest person on the omnibus” – Diary 4, 1/13/32)

Her ambivalence was predicated on her writing. When it was going well, she was contented and high—“divinely happy & pressed with ideas” (D4, 1/16/34). If it wasn’t, she was “so old, so ugly, & can’t write” (D5, 3/11/39).

The clock ticks for us all

Woolf’s experience isn’t unique. After 40 or 50, we hear the clock ticking, feel age creeping up on us. We fend it off, stay active and engaged, but we can’t deny the inevitable. We get old, and as we do, our creativity and productivity become increasingly challenged. We face and fear disability, dementia, decline, death. We’re subjected to increasing ageism from without and self-doubt from within. How can we sustain a positive mindset?

In the recently published Dancing with the Muse in Old Age (Coffeetown Press, 2022), Priscilla Long proposes looking at creativity in old age “as a potentially dynamic and productive time full of connections to others and deeply satisfying work.”

Our advantage is experience, the skills we’ve learned and exercised over time, not just technical and craft skills but also the attitudes and ways of working that Long calls meta-skills.

In her own case, she says, “I have learned how to learn. I have learned how to focus, how to break a problem down into its component parts, how to encourage myself, how to take my time when venturing into new territory.”

Continuing to create

Dancing With the Muse reinforces extensive research and scientific findings with examples of women and men, most in the arts, who continued to be creative and productive well into old age. Long cites more than 100 artists and musicians, scientists and athletes, and writers, including Margaret Atwood, Maya Angelou, Iris Murdoch, and Doris Grumbach (a Woolf enthusiast who died last year at 104). And Leonard Woolf!

Among those whose creative output in their later years included “looking back, remembering, and articulating one’s life and its meanings,” Leonard Woolf wrote his five-volume autobiography in his last decade. Had she lived to old age, I believe Virginia Woolf would have expanded her self-writing, extending the autobiographical work in Moments of Being.

This is Priscilla Long’s sixth book, including two volumes of poetry, an essay collection, and a writing manual. At 79, she has several works in progress, her goal to publish ten more books while making sure to clock her 10,000 steps every day. Virginia Woolf didn’t have a Fitbit, but her miles over the Downs and around London were conducive to her physical and mental health and stimulated her creativity.

Poised to shoot forth arrows

The painter Robert Motherwell said at age 71 that “to retire from painting would be to retire from life.” I’m certain that “old Virginia,” as she liked to refer to her future self in her early diaries, would have concurred and would have continued to write. At 50, she declared herself “poised to shoot forth quite free straight and undeflected my bolts whatever they are. I don’t believe in ageing. I believe in forever altering one’s aspect to the sun” (D4, 10/2/32).

When an acquaintance worried that his creative well would run dry, she observed that her concern was quite the opposite; she wondered if she would have enough time to write everything that was in her head.

Days before her death at 59, she reminded herself to “Observe perpetually. Observe the oncome of age. I insist upon spending this time to the best advantage. Suppose I selected one dominant figure in every age and wrote round and about. Occupation is essential” (D5, 3/8/41).

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On Saturday, Dec. 31, 1932, Virginia Woolf wrote a relatively long entry in her diary. I include a portion of that entry here:

This is in fact the last day of 1932, but I am so tired of polishing off Flush–such a pressure on the brain is caused by doing ten pages daily — that I am taking a morning off, & shall use it here, in my lazy way, to sum up the whole of life. By that phrase, one of my colloquialities, I only mean, I wish I could deliver myself of a picture of all my friends, thoughts, doings, projects at this moment . . .

For example, with Julian & Lettice Ramsay last night — why not simply become fluid in their lives, if my own is dim? And to use ones hands & eyes; to talk to people; to be a straw on the river, now & then — passive, not striving to say this is this. If one does not lie back & sum up & say to the moment, this very moment, stay you are so fair, what will be one’s gain, dying? No: stay, this moment. No one ever says that enough. — Diary 4, pp. 134-5.

Read on for Woolf’s New Year’s resolutions for 1931 and 1936.

 

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