In the works of Virginia Woolf, puddles often represent a metaphorical chasm between significance and anonymity, solidity and vagueness, reality and illusion. Frequently her protagonists, upon confronting a puddle, find themselves unable to cross, thereby remaining – like Woolf – locked in the debilitating delusions of their mind.
On this day in 1941, the tormented Woolf succumbed to her manic depression, filled the pockets of her overcoat with stones, and walked into the River Ouse and drowned. As a tribute, some of Woolf’s literary puddles are presented here.
Some cleavage of the dark there must have been, some channel in the depths of obscurity through which light enough issued […]. The mystic, the visionary, walking the beach on a fine night, stirring a puddle, looking at a stone, asking themselves “What am I,” “What is this?” […].
~ To the Lighthouse (1927)
“There is the puddle,” said Rhoda, “and I cannot cross it. I hear the rush of the great grindstone within an inch of my head. Its wind roars in my face. All palpable forms of life have failed me. Unless I can stretch and touch something hard, I shall be blown down the eternal corridors for ever.”
~ The Waves (1931)
There was the moment of the puddle in the path; when for no reason I could discover, everything suddenly became unreal; I was suspended; I could not step across the puddle; I tried to touch something . . . the whole world became unreal.
~ “A Sketch of the Past” (1939)
I wished to add some remarks to this, on the mystical side of this solitude; how it is not oneself but something in the universe that one’s left with. It is this that is frightening [and] exciting in the midst of my profound gloom, depression, boredom, whatever it is…. Life is, soberly [and] accurately, the oddest affair; has in it the essence of reality. I used to feel this as a child – couldn’t step across a puddle once I remember, for thinking, how strange – what am I?
~ Diary 3, as quoted in The Flight of the Mind: Virginia Woolf’s Art and Manic-Depressive Illness by Thomas C. Caramagno
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