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Friday, June 1, 2007

Random Thoughts and Virginia Woolf

"Man can respect nature and advance. We know this because a man can have a wife and a hobby."

Tolkien Boy shared this quote with me from one of the many writings he was grading. I thought it was beautifully fatuous, yet regrettably compelling. Kind of like staring at a horribly ugly painting while a museum guide tells you all the reasons one should love it, although perhaps fine art, no matter how hideous, is too sophisticated to be used in comparison with my choice of quote.

Which reminds me, I have a favorite artist. The surrealistic paintings of Rene Magritte have always fascinated me. This one makes me laugh:

I have always held that one should never identify too closely with another person. As I become older, however, I find myself drawn to Virginia Woolf. We have interesting similarities, some speculative, others factual. Virginia was sexually molested by her half-brothers, and suffered emotional breakdowns throughout life. She was sexually more interested in women than men, but married her husband and remained with him until she died. She had no children, so many speculate that the marriage was never consummated. I have often been fascinated by her words to and about her husband. In her diary, she once wrote:

"Love-making — after 25 years can’t bear to be separate ... you see it is enormous pleasure being wanted: a wife. And our marriage so complete."

There's no question that she deeply loved her husband, and he returned that love. He watched for emotional and mental breakdowns and cared for Virginia throughout each episode. In her suicide note to him, Virginia wrote:

"I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can't go through another of those terrible times. And I shan't recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can't concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don't think two people could have been happier till this terrible disease came. I can't fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can't even write this properly. I can't read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that — everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can't go on spoiling your life any longer. I don't think two people could have been happier than we have been."

The interesting thing, to me, is that Virginia Woolf considered suicide selfish and pointless. And yet, she was able to devalue her life, based on qualifying the effect her life had on one she deeply loved. I understand that. More than understanding, I identify with that. There are so many times, when I remember how Darrin has taken care of me emotionally, physically, and spiritually. I wonder about the quality of his life. I worry that my needs have overshadowed his to the point that he rarely has his needs met. I wonder about "spoiling" his life. I feel helpless, knowing that there is so much I lack, and I completely understand Virginia.

Following his wife's death, Leonard Woolf fell in love with a married woman, Trekkie Parsons, who juggled her relationships with her husband and Leonard, dividing her time each week between the two men. She was 39, Leonard was 61. Their love letters are now a published book.

Why do I wonder about this. My story is my own. But Virginia haunts me.

"I understand Nature's game -- her prompting to take action as a way of ending any thought that threatens to excite or to pain."

"What is chastity then? I mean is it good, or is it bad, or is it nothing at all?...In my opinion, chastity is nothing but ignorance--a most discreditable state of mind...It is as unfair to brand women with chastity as with unchastity...Some of us haven't the opportunity of either..."

"It is the object of life to produce good people and good books."

"The beauty of the world, which is so soon to perish, has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart assunder."

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end."


  1. My gay uncle changed his last name to "Woolf" in honor of her.

    Maybe you should, too. And if you do, I promise I will, as well. :)

    I love you, Sam.