20 February 2009

Weekend Reading List

(Painting: Interior with Table, 1921, Vanessa Bell)

I've a thick stash of March glossies to plow through but somehow it doesn't excite me the way it would have ages ago. The magazines already seem old, even as I paid for them, and the mild high dissipated in the cab ride home. It really seems like work now, reading these magazines, and a queer kind of loyalty to my past pleasure in them. I think Twitter is the final nail in the coffin for old media, and old media types. I'm having a Virginia Woolf moment this week, so I'm going back to To The Lighthouse and the uneasy, suffocating Mrs Dalloway. On top of everything else, Woolf is a style icon for me, the very definition of elegance. Not chic, mind you, but elegance.

From A Room of One's Own:
"In the first place, to have a room of her own, let alone a quiet room or a sound–proof room, was out of the question, unless her parents were exceptionally rich or very noble, even up to the beginning of the nineteenth century. Since her pin money, which depended on the goodwill of her father, was only enough to keep her clothed, she was debarred from such alleviations as came even to Keats or Tennyson or Carlyle, all poor men, from a walking tour, a little journey to France, from the separate lodging which, even if it were miserable enough, sheltered them from the claims and tyrannies of their families. Such material difficulties were formidable; but much worse were the immaterial. The indifference of the world which Keats and Flaubert and other men of genius have found so hard to bear was in her case not indifference but hostility. The world did not say to her as it said to them, Write if you choose; it makes no difference to me. The world said with a guffaw, Write? What’s the good of your writing?... Jane Austen wrote like that to the end of her days. ‘How she was able to effect all this’, her nephew writes in his Memoir, ‘is surprising, for she had no separate study to repair to, and most of the work must have been done in the general sitting–room, subject to all kinds of casual interruptions. She was careful that her occupation should not be suspected by servants or visitors or any persons beyond her own family party. Jane Austen hid her manuscripts or covered them with a piece of blotting–paper. Then, again, all the literary training that a woman had in the early nineteenth century was training in the observation of character, in the analysis of emotion. Her sensibility had been educated for centuries by the influences of the common sitting–room. People’s feelings were impressed on her; personal relations were always before her eyes.”

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