Category Archives: Woolf

Illuminations

We cycle up the coast towards Holme, chain our bikes to a tree and walk on a sandy path through the wood. S. stops here and there to open her wildlife book and identify some plant or insect. We chat without paying attention to our surroundings, emerge from the wood, and suddenly we find ourselves before a wide-open view: on one side the sea and sky a vast sheet of whites and blues, on the other scrapes and grassy dunes stretching inland.
It’s moments like that I want to write about. Not a story from beginning to end but a story of continual returns to the open instant.
Like those moment when you stop and see things with new eyes, as when you work on a problem until it seems insoluble and the answer comes to you all of a sudden: it was obvious all along, why couldn’t I see it.
Or those thoughts that lie in wait to show you how you’ve been shielding yourself from them, as in a psychoanalytic breakthrough: so that’s why I’ve always acted like that, why didn’t I see it.
Or, in novels, those passages in which moments of clarity cut through the plot and free up the story. I daydream of a book containing only such passages, something like Stephen Hero’s book of epiphanies, or a collection of Woolf’s ‘little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark’.

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The idea has come to me that what I want now to do is to saturate every atom. I mean to eliminate all waste, deadness, superfluity: to give the moment whole; whatever it includes… Waste, deadness, come from the inclusion of things that do not belong to the moment; this appalling narrative business of the realist: getting on from lunch to dinner: it is false, unreal, merely conventional. Why admit anything to literature that is not poetry — by which I mean saturated?

— Woolf, diary (via here)

So she stood thinking. Without making any thought precise – for she was one of those reticent people whose minds hold their thoughts enmeshed in clouds of silence – she was filled with thoughts. Her mind was like her room, in which lights advanced and retreated, came pirouetting and stepping delicately, spread their tails, pecked their way; and then her whole being was suffused, like the room again, with a cloud of some profound knowledge, some unspoken regret, and then she was full of locked drawers, stuffed with letters, like her cabinets.

— Woolf, ‘The Lady in the Looking-Glass: A Reflection’