Monday 3 March 2014

I reread Virginia Woolf every few years to reassure myself that life is this diffuse yet precise, a series of lulls and shocks underscored by pain, healed by beauty; for someone other than me. At least half my reading is rereading; I like the density of it, the thickness of the fabric.

This time I began with ‘Sketch of the Past’ (in Moments of Being, Panther Books, 1978). Some pages I read again and again, especially the ones about her obsession with her dead mother. After she wrote To the Lighthouse the obsession disappeared. ‘She obsessed me… until I was forty-four. I could hear her voice, see her, imagine what she would do or say as I went about my day’s doings.’ Then she ceased to see her mother, ceased to hear her voice. ‘It is only by putting it into words that I make it whole’, she wrote.

I reread To the Lighthouse with a new sense of preparedness, with VW’s childhood and youth in my mind. When the mother is there on the front step with her son, knitting stockings for the son of the lighthouse keeper, I too am anchored and relieved.

‘Certainly there she was, in the very centre of that great Cathedral space which was childhood; there she was from the very first.’ In the ghostly third section Mrs Ramsay dies again and again. Thus does VW disburden herself of the feeling of her mother; as two years later she disburdened herself, in the River Ouse, with stones in her pockets, of the feeling of herself.