A Chat with Virginia Woolf

I celebrated a birthday in November and our son, who lives and studies in Japan, sent me five books, one of which is A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf.

This book did not come out of the blue, unless you count the digital wave that traveled from Japan to amazon.com to some delivery service to our door. Included in our son’s studies is women’s literature, as well as his own art of writing. And so my five birthday books revolve around women authors writing about issues related to women.

A Room of One’s Own, which our son labeled “First Wave”, is my first encounter with Virginia Woolf. Olivia, a close friend and neighbor who is British, has told me that when she was growing up as a student in England, Virginia Woolf was required reading. Olivia recalls, perhaps because Woolf was required, or perhaps because Olivia was much younger then, that she did not much like reading Virginia Woolf, finding her at times difficult and uninteresting.

In my case, perhaps because my introduction to Virginia Woolf was a gift, and I am that much older than Olivia was when she first read Woolf, reading this book was a thoughtful delight. I marveled at her word usage, which so belies the era in which she wrote. I respected her lack of anger and her attempts to provide rational and careful analysis in addressing her topic of woman and fiction. And I grinned upon discovering that there she was in 1929 asking one of the same questions that has peppered some of my blog posts, that of creativity and how it is fostered.

But what is the state of mind that is most propitious to the act of creation, I asked. Can one come by any notion of the state that furthers and makes possible that strange activity? Here I opened the volume containing the Tragedies of Shakespeare. What was Shakespeare’s state of mind, for instance, when he wrote Lear and Antony and Cleopatra? It was certainly the state of mind most favourable to poetry that there has ever existed.

You can listen to Virginia Woolf in a seven and a half minute BBC sound byte, A Eulogy to Words.

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