May 23, 2022 8:49 am

Virginia Woolf. How to be an eccentric in life and in literature

Aristocratic and intellectual, sagacious and defiant, pacifist and liberal, “apocalyptic aesthete” (Harold Bloom) and “one of the most delicate intelligences and imaginations” (Jorge Luis Borges), Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) is one of the icons of 20th century Western culture. Author of one of the great “symphonic” novels (Waves), from the biography of a person whose life spans three centuries and changes sex, loves and interests (Orlando), creator of characters such as Clarissa Dalloway, Lily Briscoe and Flush (the jealous cocker spaniel of the writers Elizabeth and Robert Browning), of feminist and political essays, was one of the innovators of the modern novel, a pioneer in reflection on the condition of women in society, art and literature, and a lover of reading. Today marks the 140th anniversary of his birth in the London neighborhood of Kensington, in a large family with liberal parents (although the girls had to be educated at home). For decades, Woolf’s life and work have generated new views and readings.

Virginia Woolf, from the end of the 19th century to eternity archive

Since the mid-1930s, thanks to the writer Victoria Ocampo and the magazine On (where it was published in four installments a room of your own, with a translation by Borges), his work is highly appreciated in Argentina. “Virginia Woolf used to say that the words in the dictionary live in people, circulate on the street and keep echoes of the past – the writer and translator Esther Cross tells LA NACION. This idea of ​​language as something alive, available and changing runs through all of his work. Starting from that premise, which today sounds obvious and simple, he changed the way of writing and reading. He reread the entire tradition in essays written in an informal tone, searching for that thread of life of the language, and in that rereading writers and especially women writers who had been left out of the encyclopedias emerged. She was a visionary for many reasons and this is one: she proposed a new version of the canon. His question about how words live in our minds is at the base of all his books. And not only from the books he published in life: in his diaries he tries to translate the experience into words”.

From end of trip a between acts, published shortly after his suicide, and the common reader a Tres guineas, Woolf consolidated an experimental and non-conformist work in novels, short stories and essays. “I was exploring the relationships between books,” adds Cross. He said that books descend from books and that unclassifiable specimens are generated at crossroads. He also stopped at the common reader’s relationship with the book and proposed a way of reading trusting in one’s own critical capacity. He believed that each writer invents a different order for the words to say something new. She was convinced that in the spaces of any public or home library ‘one breathes an air of freedom’, and that we must learn to understand literature so that no one decides which book is good or bad instead of us. His way of writing and his way of reading are similar. Each of his novels is a bet. When I started reading it and now, after many years, what continues to amaze me is that”.

María Teresa Andruetto, Esther Cross and Márgara Averbach, perceptive readers of Virginia Woolf's work
María Teresa Andruetto, Esther Cross and Márgara Averbach, perceptive readers of Virginia Woolf’s workArchive

“For Anglophone literature, the 20th century began in the 1920s with a portentous revolution on both sides of the Atlantic, England and the United States,” says the writer and translator Márgara Averbach, who simultaneously read the works of Woolf and James Joyce, after being captivated by William Faulkner. “She writes with enormous courage (she builds something terrifyingly novel) and a great interest in delicacy, a desire to avoid overflowing – the author of last quarter-. Her characters are extreme, she was in her personal suffering, and her writing too, but she says it all without raising her voice.” In her life, Woolf suffered from paranoia, nightmares and insomnia, instability and hallucinations (she recorded that she heard the birds singing in Greek). “It talks about the women who inhabit it with cruelty but with a beauty that makes me think of ballet,” adds Averbach. Maybe that’s why I stayed with Faulkner’s debauchery. She has it too, but her wildness is more difficult to discover. In literature, Woolf opened the door she wanted to open: that of the upper-class female universe. But when he had it open, he blew it up with a novel like Orlando, in which it destroys the binary feminine/masculine division. It is evident that his work, like that of Faulkner, Joyce, Beckett, Eliot, Langston Hughes, made the twentieth century dawn. After that explosion, anything was possible. And it still is.”

Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf, in "The hours", film by Stephen Daldry based on the novel by Michael Cunningham
Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf, in “The Hours”, a film by Stephen Daldry based on the novel by Michael CunninghamArchive

The writer María Teresa Andruetto began reading Woolf in the 1980s. “I got closer to her work when I began to be interested in women’s writing and also in my own writing,” she says. All this is linked to the democratic recovery in the country, to the nascent maternity in which I was and the desire for writing, I would almost say that it is the moment in which I begin to write in a different way. She is an unavoidable reference and maybe I don’t have to say anything new that so many friends and writers can say. She in writing and Simone de Beauvoir in thought became references. His essays, his position on the war, his relationship with male writers; the question of that ‘room of one’s own’, which we had never seen in that way before, later became more complex because when one begins to see one’s social condition and compare it with the social condition of others, or with one’s own, the possibilities become much nuanced . She is immense, of course, she is a door, a window, a crack of light that opened for all of us, and that is there as a horizon”.

The author of strange trade highlights the ethereal aspect of the English writer, who captivated artists, designers and filmmakers throughout time. “His appearance, that face that the Pre-Raphaelites loved,” observes Andruetto. This Tuesday, in the United Kingdom launches The Fendi Set (Rizzoli) by photographer Nikolai von Bismarck, Fendi Creative Director Kim Jones, and Professor Mark Hussey. It is a photographic exploration of the environments and outfits of the Bloomsbury group that the author of Night and day along with her husband, Leonard Woolf; his sister, the painter Vanessa Bell, and the painter Duncan Grant, and the writers EM Forster and Lytton Strachey, among others. The volume includes photographs of Von Bismarck with Christy Turlington, Demi Moore, Gwendoline Christie, Kate Moss, and Naomi Campbell, among other celebrities, as models for Jones’s couture designs, and letters, journal entries, and text excerpts from the members of Bloomsbury selected and contextualized by Hussey.

Preview of a “treatise on eccentricology” by Virginia Woolf

In April the Godot label will publish two new compilations of Woolf’s writings: artists and politics, with translation, prologue and notes by Ana María Álvarez, and the eccentrics, with selection, prologue, translation and notes by Matías Battistón. “The mark of every true eccentric is that it never for a moment crosses his mind to be an eccentric,” writes Woolf in 1919. They are convinced (and who is going to tell them they are wrong?) that the others are the twisted, the weird, the spiritually decrepit, while they are the only ones who live according to nature’s dictates”. She herself was attentive to her own eccentricity, not only in the canon of English literature.

cover of "the eccentrics", by Virginia Woolf, which will hit bookstores in April
Cover of “The eccentrics”, by Virginia Woolf, which will hit bookstores in AprilGodot Editions

Battistón’s exhaustive work recovers profiles, annotations and articles about a cast of eccentrics that the writer had planned to include in a book that, finally, she did not finish. “These are texts that are sometimes separated by entire decades, but that are united by the thread of an intense fascination, and by a style that always moderates the apologetic with a certain ironic distance, even the occasional dose of perversity”, observes the compiler and translator. Here are four excerpts from the eccentrics.

Margaret Cavendish. “Margaret had a wild streak, a passion for luxury, extravagance and fame, which continually upset the natural order of things. When she heard that the queen, since the beginning of the civil war, had fewer ladies-in-waiting than usual, she felt ‘a great desire’ to become one of them. Her mother let her go, acting against the opinion of the other members of the family, who, aware that she had never left home and had hardly ever been out of their sight, rightly believed that she might behave in a different way. an unfortunate manner at court. ‘And indeed it was,’ confesses Margaret, ‘because I was so shy when I was not around my mother, my brothers and my sisters that I hardly dared to look up, or speak, or be in the least sociable, to such an extent. that I was thought to be stupid by nature’. The courtiers laughed at her; and she fought back in the obvious way. People criticized her; men were jealous that a woman had a brain; women viewed with suspicion that someone of their own sex displayed his intellect; And what other lady, she might well ask, reflected in her walks on the nature of matter, or wondered if snails had teeth?

Julia Margaret Cameron. “Mrs. Cameron was extremely outspoken. She could be very despotic. ‘If you were ever to be tempted,’ a relative said, ‘I want you to get down on your knees and think of Aunt Julia.’ She was acid and candid when she spoke. He chased Tennyson to his tower, yelling: ‘Coward! Coward!’, and thus forced him to be vaccinated. He had his hates as well as his loves, and alternated in humor ‘between heaven and hell’. There were guests who were unnerved by her presence, because of her strange and cheeky manner of conversation, while the variety and excellence of the people she collected around her led a certain ‘poor Miss Stephen’ to lament: ‘ Is there no ordinary one?’, as he watched the four Jowett boys drink brandy and water, Tennyson recited ‘Maud’, and Mr. Cameron strolled about the garden in a cone-shaped hat, veil and several coats, an outfit that his wife, in a fit of enthusiasm, had created the night before.”

Ethel Smyth. “Ethel yesterday, in a state of amazement at her own genius. ‘I can’t imagine where I came from,’ he says, putting on my hat, and asking me to notice how small he looks, like a walnut shell, on top of his gigantic forehead.

Edith Sitwell. “Edith is an old spinster. It had never crossed my mind. I thought she was stern and unforgiving and tremendous, that she saw herself as rigid. Not at all. She is, I suppose, a bit fussy, very kind, impeccable manners, and reminds me a bit of Emphie Case! She’s old too, almost my age, and shy, and appreciative and simple and poor, and more than admiring her or being intimidated, I felt I liked her. In any case, I do admire his work and I don’t say that about almost anyone: he has an ear, not a broom in his ear; a certain satirical vein, and a certain beauty as well. How we exaggerate public figures! How can we imagine someone immune to our own pleasures and defects!

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