22.6.08

Virginia Woolf: four thoughts and one tattoo

Angelina Jolie allegedly has this remark from Virginia Woolf tattooed on her body: "As a woman I have no country. As a woman I want no country." This leads Scott Esposito to ruminate about "how American authors have dealt with the concept of national guilt."

It led me back to the Woolf tributes in PEN America 1: Classics, by James Wood, Mary Gordon, Elaine Showalter, and Michael Cunningham, which themselves contain some interesting ideas:

James Wood: "Woolf turns female absent-mindedness into the most searching philosophy of the self, and we suffer with her heroines, who are suspended between forgetfulness and remembrance, between their fulfillment and their irrelevance."

Mary Gordon: Woolf's "ideal is a fiction in which the stuff of realistic fiction—money, class, social placement, the details of family connection—is notable for its absence, and attention is paid only to that which reveals the inner life."

Elaine Showalter: "As an American, I’m always struck by how much importance Woolf placed on the story of Shakespeare’s sister, and on the coming of the great female literary messiah. Americans have not been so reverent, at least not American men."

Michael Cunningham (who says he read Woolf to impress a girl, and that "Mrs. Dalloway was the first great novel I ever read"): "If you look with sufficient penetration, and sufficient art, at any hour in the life of anybody, you can crack it open. And get everything."

Also included in that issue is a long piece from Woolf's own Common Reader: Second Series, called "How Should One Read a Book?"

PS. That's Woolf on the left, circa 1912 (when she was Virginia Stephen).

PPS. The most striking fictional exploration of guilt and recent American crimes that I've read is this book (which also happens to have the best website I have maybe ever seen for a novel).

1 comment:

wanda1234 said...

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