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Archive for the ‘Favorite Passages’ Category

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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A Few Moments

Herself, a day, an hour ago; and herself now.  For we have every one of us felt how a very few minutes of the months and years called life, will sometimes suffice to place all time past and future in an entirely new light; will make us see the vanity or the criminality of the by-gone, and so change the aspect of the coming time that we look with loathing on the very thing we have most desired.  A few moments may change our character for life, by giving a totally different direction to our aims and energies.

~ From Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell, 1848

 

“The Seamstress” by Joseph DeCamp, 1916

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There were days when she was very happy without knowing why. She was happy to be alive and breathing, when her whole being seemed to be one with the sunlight, the color, the odors, the luxuriant warmth of some perfect Southern day.  She liked then to wander alone into strange and unfamiliar places.  She discovered many a sunny, sleepy corner, fashioned to dream in.  And she found it good to dream and to be alone and unmolested. 

There were days when she was unhappy, she did not know why,—when it did not seem worth while to be glad or sorry, to be alive or dead; when life appeared to her like a grotesque pandemonium and humanity like worms struggling blindly toward inevitable annihilation. She could not work on such a day, nor weave fancies to stir her pulses and warm her blood.

 

~ From The Awakening by Kate Chopin, born on this day in 1850

 

"A Willing Captive" by Frederick Stuart Church, 1888

“A Willing Captive” by Frederick Stuart Church, 1888

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Art, especially the stage, is an area where it is impossible to walk without stumbling.  There are in store for you many unsuccessful days and whole unsuccessful seasons: there will be great misunderstandings and deep disappointments…you must be prepared for all this, expect it and nevertheless, stubbornly, fanatically follow your own way.

 

~ Anton Chekhov, born on this day in 1860

 

Osip Braz, 1898

Portrait of Anton Chekhov by Osip Braz, 1898

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reading

With about fourteen unread books on my bedside table currently and countless others on my shelves and must-read lists, I know just how she feels…

 

there were so many books.  she had to separate them to avoid being overwhelmed by the excessive implications of their words.  she kept hundreds in a series of boxes inside a wire cage in a warehouse.  and hundreds more on the shelves of her various rooms.  when she changed houses she would pack some of the books into the boxes and exchange them for others that had been hibernating.  these resurrected books were precious to her for a while.  they had assumed the patinas of dusty chthonic wisdoms.  and thus she would let them sit on the shelves admiring them from a distance.  gathering time and air.  she did not want to be intimate with their insides.  the atmospherics suggested by the titles were enough.  sometimes she would increase the psychic proximities between herself and the books and place a pile of them on the floor next to her bed.  and quite possibly she absorbed their intentions while she slept.

 

~ from “reading” by Joanne Burns

 

Federico Maldarelli, 1862

Federico Maldarelli, 1862

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Welcome, old aspirations, glittering creatures of an ardent fancy, to your shelter underneath the holly!  We know you, and have not outlived you yet.  Welcome, old projects and old loves, however fleeting, to your nooks among the steadier lights that burn around us.  Welcome, all that was ever real to our hearts; and for the earnestness that made you real […].  Welcome, everything!  Welcome, alike what has been, and what never was, and what we hope may be, to your shelter underneath the holly, to your places round the Christmas fire, where what is sits openhearted!

 

~ Charles Dickens, “What Christmas Is As We Grow Older”

 

Marcel Rieder, 1898

Marcel Rieder, 1898

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For Love

She was bored. She loved, had capacity to love, for love, to give and accept love.  Only she tried twice and failed twice to find somebody not just strong enough to deserve it, earn it, match it, but even brave enough to accept it.

 

~ From The Town by William Faulkner, born on this day in 1897

 

"Solitude" by Frederic Leighton, 1890

“Solitude” by Frederic Leighton, 1890

 

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