On this day in 1882, the great writer Virginia Woolf was born. Last year, I read her most famous novel, To the Lighthouse. I wrote at the time, “The language is quite beautiful — much of it as exact as poetry.” That’s about the highest praise that I can give to a writer. Of course, I also wrote, “It’s like beneath the words, Woolf is whispering to the reader, ‘Soon you will die and all you will have to show for it is the fun you had along the way. And you aren’t having much fun, are you?'”
It’s surprising that Woolf isn’t more of an icon of literature. There seem to have only been three writers of the 20th century who were especially brilliant when it came to the raw technique of writing: Woolf, Stein, and Joyce. I know a lot of people love Woolf and Stein, but it is only Joyce who is truly a star. The contrast of Woolf and Stein is a good one. They are so different, their marginalization cannot be a coincidence. It’s sexism.
Woolf, of course, struggled with depression her whole life. And her eventual suicide would be romantic if it weren’t so tragic, and if I didn’t have a pretty good idea of just how violent it probably eventually was. As Stevie Smith noted, having suicide as an option is a great blessing because we know that we can end whatever pain we are in. So it isn’t surprising that some people choose the option, and I am not going to second guess them. But it is always sad.
Happy birthday Virginia Woolf!