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"I don’t like what I write now"

 

I am reading Virginia Woolf's diary (I don't think she'll mind) and found this, which was pretty much how I was feeling yesterday, except about being in Richmond and Nessa's children, whom I would be happy to have to tea.  

"Monday, October 25th 1920 (First day of winter time)

 

Why is life so tragic; so like a little strip of pavement over an abyss. I look down; I feel giddy; I wonder how I am ever to walk to the end. But why do I feel this: Now that I say it I don’t feel it. The fire burns; we are going to hear the Beggar’s Opera. Only it lies about me; I can’t keep my eyes shut. It’s a feeling of impotence; of cutting no ice. Here I sit at Richmond, and like a lantern stood in the middle of a field my light goes up in darkness. Melancholy diminishes as I write. Why then don’t I write it down oftener? Well, one’s vanity forbids. I want to appear a success even to myself. Yet I don’t get to the bottom of it. It’s having no children, living away from friends, failing to write well, spending too much on food, growing old. I think too much of whys and wherefores; too much of myself. I don’t like time to flap round me. Well then, work. Yes, but I so soon tire of work—can’t read more than a little, an hour’s writing is enough for me. Out here no one comes in to waste time pleasantly. If they do, I’m cross. The labour of going to London is too great. Nessa’s children grow up, and I can’t have them in to tea, or go to the Zoo. Pocket money doesn’t allow of much. Yet I’m persuaded that these are trivial things; it’s life itself, I think sometimes, for us in our generation so tragic—no newspaper placard without its shriek of agony from someone. McSwiney this afternoon and violence in Ireland; or it’ll be the strike. Unhappiness is everywhere; just beyond the door; or stupidity, which is worse. Still I don’t pluck the nettle out of me. To write Jacob’s Room again will revive my fibres, I feel. Evelyn is due; but I don’t like what I write now. And with it all how happy I am—if it weren’t for my feeling that it’s a strip of pavement over an abyss."

 

Photo: See page for author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

Comments 11

 
Rosy Cole on Saturday, 28 October 2023 22:42

[i]"Melancholy diminishes as I write. Why then don’t I write it down oftener?"

Writing for some is lifeblood. Creativity in one form or another is, for many, lifeblood. The luxury of vanity doesn't come into it. These pursuits put the rest of existence in proper focus and, with perseverance during the wilderness times, can't fail to open up new horizons.

Virginia Woolf's imagistic writing certainly changed my view of the world in that it reveals what compels us. There are truer depths of human nature, good and less so, than can be found in the united front we have no choice but to present to others in common reality. There's nothing 'fake' about that, nothing to do with the modern concept of 'image'.Nothing hypocritical. It's just shorthand and a courtesy. But I suspect many readers, perhaps even the majority, can resonate with 'the strip of pavement over the abyss', only they aren't quite so articulate or feel free enough to impose on those around them.. They drive themselves over it daily. Here, Virginia is, of course, seeking clarity for herself through journaling. More than melancholy, boredom strikes as the prevailing mood. And who can strive with another's boredom?

Introspection can be a fruitful exercise, but sometimes it can seem like self-indulgence.

Thanks for sharing!

[i][i]"Melancholy diminishes as I write. Why then don’t I write it down oftener?"[/i] Writing for some is lifeblood. Creativity in one form or another is, for many, lifeblood. The luxury of vanity doesn't come into it. These pursuits put the rest of existence in proper focus and, with perseverance during the wilderness times, can't fail to open up new horizons. Virginia Woolf's imagistic writing certainly changed my view of the world in that it reveals what compels us. There are truer depths of human nature, good and less so, than can be found in the united front we have no choice but to present to others in common reality. There's nothing 'fake' about that, nothing to do with the modern concept of 'image'.Nothing hypocritical. It's just shorthand and a courtesy. But I suspect many readers, perhaps even the majority, can resonate with 'the strip of pavement over the abyss', only they aren't quite so articulate or feel free enough to impose on those around them.. They drive themselves over it daily. Here, Virginia is, of course, seeking clarity for herself through journaling. More than melancholy, boredom strikes as the prevailing mood. And who can strive with another's boredom? Introspection can be a fruitful exercise, but sometimes it can seem like self-indulgence. Thanks for sharing!
Stephen Evans on Sunday, 29 October 2023 15:54

In her next couple of journal entries, she identifies her melancholy as part of her 'illness". It seems that she, like many of us, write not just because we have something to say, or because we are writers, but because it keeps us from thinking about other darker aspects of life.

I agree, the journal seems to be for her a technique to explore of her feelings, a tool to keep her going, and with that a self-consciousness. I think it would be hard for her to write what she felt without the knowledge (for her at least) that whatever she wrote would be read by someone at some point, Leonard if no one else.

Interesting point about her work revealing the about the dichotomy of facade versus the person - perhaps I take that too much for granted now, because she (and Freud) have paved the the "strip over the abyss' so long ago.

In her next couple of journal entries, she identifies her melancholy as part of her 'illness". It seems that she, like many of us, write not just because we have something to say, or because we are writers, but because it keeps us from thinking about other darker aspects of life. I agree, the journal seems to be for her a technique to explore of her feelings, a tool to keep her going, and with that a self-consciousness. I think it would be hard for her to write what she felt without the knowledge (for her at least) that whatever she wrote would be read by someone at some point, Leonard if no one else. Interesting point about her work revealing the about the dichotomy of facade versus the person - perhaps I take that too much for granted now, because she (and Freud) have paved the the "strip over the abyss' so long ago.
Rosy Cole on Wednesday, 01 November 2023 19:05

'Melancholy' is a mood word frequently employed in former times. I'm not sure it corresponds to clinical depression and altered states of perception. The German word sehnsucht and the Welsh word hiraeth touches on something the whole of humanity experiences in one form or another, the longing for home provoked by a deeper, instinctive longing for that country beyond where we all truly belong.

'Melancholy' is a mood word frequently employed in former times. I'm not sure it corresponds to clinical depression and altered states of perception. The German word[i] sehnsuch[/i]t and the Welsh word [i]hiraeth[/i] touches on something the whole of humanity experiences in one form or another, the longing for home provoked by a deeper, instinctive longing for that country beyond where we all truly belong.
Stephen Evans on Wednesday, 01 November 2023 23:13

I have never read Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy. I really should some day. Have to put that on my list. Hiraeth I have heard of - probably in the Cadfael books.

I have never read Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy. I really should some day. Have to put that on my list. Hiraeth I have heard of - probably in the Cadfael books.
Stephen Evans on Sunday, 29 October 2023 15:58

What fascinates me from the journal also is how anxious she was about her critical reception - the mental scorecards she created for each work, Leonard thinks this, Lytton thinks that, the Times says this, someone else doesn't mention it. Not that I don't understand it, I just don't think of great writers as being so dependent on what others think.

What fascinates me from the journal also is how anxious she was about her critical reception - the mental scorecards she created for each work, Leonard thinks this, Lytton thinks that, the Times says this, someone else doesn't mention it. Not that I don't understand it, I just don't think of great writers as being so dependent on what others think.
Rosy Cole on Wednesday, 01 November 2023 18:56

I'd guess her anxiety about critical reception wasn't just vanity. She was breaking new ground in the method and construction of the novel. She was forging a clearing for other empirical writers. The novel changed character in the earlier part of the twentieth century. It no longer had to conform to the expected architecture of 'story' with characters clearly rendered in a way that guaranteed reader enjoyment and identification. The tension was wrought on a penetrating psychological level, influenced by interactions with people and landscape. She created a 'stream-of-consciousness' version of story with vaguer kinds of resolution.

Also, her mental illness was likely to have made her question how sane her approach appeared when exposed to a public readership. In those days, her critics were deemed to have influential opinions.

I think you would find further enlightenment in the volume of her letters entitled The Flight Of The Mind and in Vols 1 & 2 of Quentin Bell's biography of her, all published by the Hogarth Press. They are sitting on my shelves and, yes, I have read them all, though it was decades ago! :-)

I'd guess her anxiety about critical reception wasn't just vanity. She was breaking new ground in the method and construction of the novel. She was forging a clearing for other empirical writers. The novel changed character in the earlier part of the twentieth century. It no longer had to conform to the expected architecture of 'story' with characters clearly rendered in a way that guaranteed reader enjoyment and identification. The tension was wrought on a penetrating psychological level, influenced by interactions with people and landscape. She created a 'stream-of-consciousness' version of story with vaguer kinds of resolution. Also, her mental illness was likely to have made her question how sane her approach appeared when exposed to a public readership. In those days, her critics were deemed to have influential opinions. I think you would find further enlightenment in the volume of her letters entitled [i]The Flight Of The Mind[/i] and in Vols 1 & 2 of Quentin Bell's biography of her, all published by the Hogarth Press. They are sitting on my shelves and, yes, I have read them all, though it was decades ago! :-)
Stephen Evans on Wednesday, 01 November 2023 23:14

More books for the list :) and I need to read some of her criticism too.

More books for the list :) and I need to read some of her criticism too.
Rosy Cole on Monday, 13 November 2023 16:15

Your observation that VW must have guessed that her journal would be read by others, especially Leonard, is pointed. She would have been very well aware that at some stage this was inevitable. Yet she worried deeply about the effect of her dark episodes upon him. The day she waded into the river with her pockets full of stones, she had written him such a tender goodbye and said that she didn't think two people could have been happier. She was someone who valued honesty above consideration for the the feelings of others and, perhaps, was casting about to communicate her pain so that she wasn't so stranded with it. In this respect, she reminds me of Jane Austen, though modern readers who have imposed a romantic theme upon her work would deplore the idea. Her purpose in writing the books has been widely misinterpreted. (Emerson didn't get it! )

I could not sit seriously down to write a serious Romance under any other motive than to save my life, & if it were indispensable for me to keep it up & never relax into laughing at myself or other people.

Even more than exposing the redundancy of the social mores and manners of her milieu by means of her mordant wit, her works are a slating commentary on the frustration-fuelled lot of middle-class women who could barely leave their hearths without permission. For the vast majority, the only option was marriage or some species of sexual commerce. That's soul-destroying and very scary.

Since Edward Albee's play, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? has become a stock phrase. But no one asks Who's Afraid of Jane Austen? She could be quite formidable and was known for her stern and taciturn aspect when she didn't approve of what was going on.

Your observation that VW must have guessed that her journal would be read by others, especially Leonard, is pointed. She would have been very well aware that at some stage this was inevitable. Yet she worried deeply about the effect of her dark episodes upon him. The day she waded into the river with her pockets full of stones, she had written him such a tender goodbye and said that she didn't think two people could have been happier. She was someone who valued honesty above consideration for the the feelings of others and, perhaps, was casting about to communicate her pain so that she wasn't so stranded with it. In this respect, she reminds me of Jane Austen, though modern readers who have imposed a romantic theme upon her work would deplore the idea. Her purpose in writing the books has been widely misinterpreted. (Emerson didn't get it! ) [i]I could not sit seriously down to write a serious Romance under any other motive than to save my life, & if it were indispensable for me to keep it up & never relax into laughing at myself or other people.[/i] Even more than exposing the redundancy of the social mores and manners of her milieu by means of her mordant wit, her works are a slating commentary on the frustration-fuelled lot of middle-class women who could barely leave their hearths without permission. For the vast majority, the only option was marriage or some species of sexual commerce. That's soul-destroying and very scary. Since Edward Albee's play, [i]Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?[/i] has become a stock phrase. But no one asks [i]Who's Afraid of Jane Austen?[/i] She could be quite formidable and was known for her stern and taciturn aspect when she didn't approve of what was going on.
Stephen Evans on Monday, 13 November 2023 19:41

I don't think Emerson cared much for fiction in general, except perhaps his neighbor Hawthorne's. He was more the Madame De Stael/Margaret Fuller type. I prefer Austen to Woolf, though I think the former could have exposed social mores in many fewer words. :)

I don't think Emerson cared much for fiction in general, except perhaps his neighbor Hawthorne's. He was more the Madame De Stael/Margaret Fuller type. I prefer Austen to Woolf, though I think the former could have exposed social mores in many fewer words. :)
Rosy Cole on Thursday, 16 November 2023 19:14

Would agree, but you have to admire those unflagging rhythms which carry the reader. That kind of drive stems from real purpose. The other day, I saw where an academic expressed how much he admired Jane Austen's work and said of one of the novels - I forget which - "Not a single word wasted." However, I doubt she'd have made it into the 21st century beyond the halls of learning without Georgette Heyer carrying the torch. In Heyer's popular romances set in Austen's era, she faultlessly mimics Austen's style, while declaring that she ought to be shot for writing such rubbish! She was no lightweight, though. An Infamous Army, her tome of a novel revolving around the Battle of Waterloo is worthy of Thackeray and meticulously researched!

Would agree, but you have to admire those unflagging rhythms which carry the reader. That kind of drive stems from real purpose. The other day, I saw where an academic expressed how much he admired Jane Austen's work and said of one of the novels - I forget which - "Not a single word wasted." However, I doubt she'd have made it into the 21st century beyond the halls of learning without Georgette Heyer carrying the torch. In Heyer's popular romances set in Austen's era, she faultlessly mimics Austen's style, while declaring that she ought to be shot for writing such rubbish! She was no lightweight, though. [i]An Infamous Army[/i], her tome of a novel revolving around the Battle of Waterloo is worthy of Thackeray and meticulously researched!
Stephen Evans on Thursday, 16 November 2023 22:28

Have not read Heyer - will put her on the must read list. Have read Thackeray (though only Vanity Fair) and enjoyed it though I was continually annoyed by the device of addressing the reader directly, which I also found annoying in Henry James. Just a style I am not used to I suppose.

I do think Austen could write a proper sentence and think the opening line of P&P one of the best, up there with Anna Karenina, The Stranger, and of course, this one:

"Local barrister Nicholas Ward was arrested yesterday for releasing more than 100 live lobsters into the indoor pool at the mayor’s mansion in Minneapolis."

Have not read Heyer - will put her on the must read list. Have read Thackeray (though only Vanity Fair) and enjoyed it though I was continually annoyed by the device of addressing the reader directly, which I also found annoying in Henry James. Just a style I am not used to I suppose. I do think Austen could write a proper sentence and think the opening line of P&P one of the best, up there with Anna Karenina, The Stranger, and of course, this one: "Local barrister Nicholas Ward was arrested yesterday for releasing more than 100 live lobsters into the indoor pool at the mayor’s mansion in Minneapolis."
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