Waiting for inspiration...from my inspiration
In one of several installments of his autobiography, Beginning Again: 1911-1918, Leonard Woolf recalls the way in which his wife Virginia's mind often worked: for days, weeks, even months, she would sit starting out the window, at the fire, at her paper, contemplating "the problem," until, in a sudden flash, she would solve it, her pen dashing across the page so that she could hardly keep up with her own voice - she finished The Waves with "such intensity and intoxication," she recorded.
Perhaps because I know this about her, my own writing about her fluctuates between contemplation and fulguration. True, I experience those "flashes" of inspiration (who doesn't, regardless of vocation/purpose/hobby?) in my other writing (fiction, epistolary, even email, even here [today not being an example of this]), and in my critical writing about other subjects (most notably Joyce, with whom I have a love-hate relationship; trapped in a dead-lock with the man/author/myth for weeks, until suddenly, either he or I give, and the words landslide down page after type-written, single-spaced page) - but with Virginia, the struggle is more exhausting; the inspiration, purer. Perhaps all Woolf scholars like to imagine this sort of intimacy with their subject, but I like to think that after years of reading and reading about Virginia, writing informally and more recently, formally, about her; after listening to her voice in the only existing recording of her at the library; after deciphering (rather unsuccessfully) her hand in the Monks House Papers; after visiting most of her homes (and her sister's) and haunting her neighborhoods and favorite walks (Regent's Park, St. George's Gardens, the downs, etc) - I like to think that after this, I have absorbed something of the essence of this presence who still permeates London, Sussex, and that this will in turn inform my writing of her.
Unfortunately for me, however, I have not the luxury of months to contemplate - nor even weeks. 3 September, work schedules, health concerns & autumn living plans inform my writing now. I become impatient with my research; and worse, with my writing. I push unprepared into unexplored territory, and naturally, lose myself in the brambling complexities of Virginia which are otherwise part of what I love best about her. And I finally find my way only to be heartbreakingly interrupted, never to lose sight of her in the thick, but rather, to lose my way to her. Only a few weeks ago: working steadily, writing well - then, a vague email from my doctor that my blood results have come back "abnormal"; he thinks kidney problems, but isn't sure what it means. A week of nearly daily doctors' appointments combined with at-home observation throws me. Then: the weekend. Relief: doctors don't call or email on weekends; there is no post on Sundays. I work again. Monday: a provisional "diagnosis" ("in all probability," they say - thank God it's not my kidneys; rather, it's miscommunication between my pituitary gland and my kidneys, it seems) which I continue to work under, unconfirmed and untreated as it is, waiting for the doctors. I work. Then: a week-long visit from my mother. We slog through a week of rain in London and Brighton (at least she got the "authentic" British experience! Jane Eyre: "There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.") which leaves me sick for days after she's gone. My writing still has not recovered, exactly a week after she's departed. The ideas are all there; I write and rewrite; I cannot organize, which is why I have come here, in the hopes of, as if I were casually batting ideas around with you, as if you were here in this room with me (a time when a woman wants anything but a room of her own!!), the form will organize itself in my mind:
In this chapter in my diss, I am looking at Night and Day as one of Woolf's most important war novels - a novel which is often overlooked in the Woolf canon, and even charged with "deliberately looking away" (Briggs) from WWI, during which it was written. At this moment, I mean to be discussing the structure of repression (and the equally dual nature of that repression: both of the war experience & civilian "madness") practiced by the novel - at once contextual (the architecture within) & textual (the "architecture" of) which Woolf parallels from the opening pages (we enter the novel as Denham enters Cheyne Walk). Further, it is temporal repression on several levels: Mrs. Hilbery & Mr. Fortescue in the novel look even further backwards, thus highlighting the novel's own self-conscious awareness of its location in the past, which at moments threatens to erupt in masked references to the present. ... Sounds easy, right? I think I need a pen & paper for this one. And a moment of inspiration, as I've been staring at this for a week now...