Blog #198: Of Seals and Walruses in To the Lighthouse

I read a great deal, I say: all the big books I have read I have read in the country. Besides this I write—with greater ease, at times, than ever in London. But the books are the things that I enjoy—on the whole—most. I feel sometimes for hours together as though the physical stuff of my brain were expanding, larger & larger, throbbing quicker & quicker with new blood—& there is no more delicious sensation than this. I read some history: it is suddenly all alive, branching forwards & backwards & connected with every kind of thing that seemed entirely remote before. I seem to feel Napoleons influence on our quiet evening in the garden for instance—I think I see for a moment how our minds are all threaded together—how any live mind today is of the very same stuff as Plato’s & Euripides. It is only a continuation & development of the same thing. It is this common mind that binds the whole world together; & all the world is mind. Then I read a poem say—& the same thing is repeated. I feel as though I had grasped the central meaning of the world, & all these poets & historians & philosophers were only following out paths branching from that centre in which I stand. And then—some speck of dust gets into my machine I suppose, & the whole thing goes wrong again. I open my Greek book next morning, & feel worlds away from it all—worse than that—the writing is entirely indifferent to me. Then I go out into the country—plodding along as fast as I can go—not much thinking of what I see, or of anything, but the movement in the free air soothes & makes me sensitive at once. As long as one can feel anything—life may lead one where it likes. In London undoubtedly there are too many people—all different—all claiming something or losing something—& they must all be reconciled to the scheme of the universe before you can let yourself think what that scheme is. Of course, people too, if one read them rightly, might illuminate as much as if not more than books. It is probably best therefore in the long run to live in the midst of men & women—to get the light strong in your eyes as it were—not reflected through cool green leaves as it is in books.

A Passionate Apprentice: The Early Journals 1897-1909
July 1st, 1903

Briefly, I want to crawl out of individual tunnels. I want to take a deep breath and look around me. Even though I still have work to do on, I want to write down a few thoughts about Virginia’s broader enterprise. The impetus, oddly enough, comes from looking forward to Henry James. While chipping away at Meredith and probing and charting a couple more unexplored crevices, I started to think about who to map next. I’ve now reached a point where I almost feel that To the Lighthouse encompasses all literature written before 1927, and all I need to do in order to find a major writer is to look. Among others, I’ve already charted the presence of Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Scott, Proust, Forster, Wharton, Conrad, Shelley, Peacock, Joyce, Dickens, and Meredith, so why should I not find signs of writers such as Austen, Hardy, and Mansfield.

Given his literary stature, his friendship with the Stephen family, and his visits to St. Ives, Henry James came to mind as a strong candidate and, sure enough, with the help of Mark Hussey’s Virginia Woolf A to Z, I quickly found traces of James in To the Lighthouse. Hussey notes Daniel Vogel and Harvena Richter as two critics who have explored Jamesian elements in To the Lighthouse, and a quick skim of Covert Relationships: James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Henry James (1990)and Virginia Woolf: The Inward Voyage (1970) suggests that I will have little mapping of my own to do. In charting the presence of Henry James, all I will have to do is to record the explorations of Richter and Vogel.

Before doing that, and also before finishing with Meredith, I want to note a few thoughts about what Virginia is doing with all these authors. Why all those voices? Why did she work so many writers so deeply into the fabric of her novel? Is To the Lighthouse a literary version of the DNB? Is it a literary acrostic puzzle? Is it an attempt to create a grand unified literary theory? What makes To the Lighthouse so sane when it could easily disintegrate into a schizophrenic cacophony of ancestral voices run amok?

Vogel, fresh in my mind, prompts possibilities. Vis a vis Henry James, Vogel reads Virginia through a Bloomian filter. “Anxiety of influence” is at work, and Virginia is “engaged in conscious and unconscious deception, in covering [her] own tracks, and in repression.” So often, though, Virginia is not covering her tracks. On the contrary. She deliberately sets out tracks for us to follow. Minta leads to Aminta, leads to Meredith. Mrs. Bast leads to Leonard Bast, leads to Forster. Marlow leads to Heart of Darkness, leads to Conrad. Again and again, Virginia playfully drops clues for us to follow–allusive clues which, instead of concealing, call attention to influence.

For Virginia, influence was guide, goad and glory. Yes, of course, there was anxiety, anxiety which she openly noted and acknowledged. For instance, of Proust she wrote, “And he will I suppose both influence me and make me out of temper with every sentence of my own.” When trying to ascertain and record her thoughts and feelings, no matter how faint, she was always unflinchingly honest. She did not hide from fear of influence and the anxiety attendant on that fear. Rather, she embraced the fear, and in so doing made the most of the influence. “Books,” as she noted in A Room of One’s Own, “have a way of influencing each other,” and she was quick to welcome and celebrate the influence.

As guide, influence exposed Virginia both to techniques and to ideas. She was always dissecting other writers to see how they achieved their effects. She was always measuring and testing her ideas against theirs. As goad, influence challenged her to excel. Techniques were to be mastered and improved upon. Ideas were to be challenged and expanded or overturned. And all the while, as glory, influence was to be embraced. It was to be savoured and celebrated. To be influenced is to be connected, is to become, however slightly, part of the web of culture and civilization. To acknowledge influence is to pay tribute to tradition and to help keep the light burning. Books are what one brings to the lighthouse.

I opened this meditation with a lengthy quotation from one of Virginia’s early journals. I’ll close with an even earlier one:

I must now expound another simile that has been rolling itself round in my mind for many days past. This is that I am a Norseman bound on some long voyage. The ship now is frozen in the drift ice; slowly we are drifting towards home. I have taken with me after anxious thought all the provisions for my mind that are necessary during the voyage. The seals & walruses that I shoot during my excursions on the ice (rummaging in the hold) are the books that I discover here & read.

A Passionate Apprentice: The Early Journals 1897-1909
August 1899

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Blog #197: George Meredith and Virginia Woolf: The Lark Ascending To the Lighthouse

The Lark Ascending

He rises and begins to round,
He drops the silver chain of sound
Of many links without a break,
In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake,
All intervolv’d and spreading wide,
Like water-dimples down a tide
Where ripple ripple overcurls
And eddy into eddy whirls;
A press of hurried notes that run
So fleet they scarce are more than one,
Yet changingly the trills repeat
And linger ringing while they fleet,
Sweet to the quick o’ the ear, and dear
To her beyond the handmaid ear,
Who sits beside our inner springs,
Too often dry for this he brings,
Which seems the very jet of earth
At sight of sun, her music’s mirth,
As up he wings the spiral stair,
A song of light, and pierces air
With fountain ardor, fountain play,
To reach the shining tops of day,
And drink in everything discern’d
An ecstasy to music turn’d,
Impell’d by what his happy bill
Disperses; drinking, showering still,
Unthinking save that he may give
His voice the outlet, there to live
Renew’d in endless notes of glee,
So thirsty of his voice is he,
For all to hear and all to know
That he is joy, awake, aglow,
The tumult of the heart to hear
Through pureness filter’d crystal-clear,
And know the pleasure sprinkled bright
By simple singing of delight,
Shrill, irreflective, unrestrain’d,
Rapt, ringing, on the jet sustain’d
Without a break, without a fall,
Sweet-silvery, sheer lyrical,
Perennial, quavering up the chord
Like myriad dews of sunny sward
That trembling into fulness shine,
And sparkle dropping argentine;
Such wooing as the ear receives
From zephyr caught in choric leaves
Of aspens when their chattering net
Is flush’d to white with shivers wet;
And such the water-spirit’s chime
On mountain heights in morning’s prime,
Too freshly sweet to seem excess,
Too animate to need a stress;
But wider over many heads
The starry voice ascending spreads,
Awakening, as it waxes thin,
The best in us to him akin;
And every face to watch him rais’d,
Puts on the light of children prais’d,
So rich our human pleasure ripes
When sweetness on sincereness pipes,
Though nought be promis’d from the seas,
But only a soft-ruffling breeze
Sweep glittering on a still content,
Serenity in ravishment.

For singing till his heaven fills,
’T is love of earth that he instils,
And ever winging up and up,
Our valley is his golden cup,
And he the wine which overflows
To lift us with him as he goes:
The woods and brooks, the sheep and kine
He is, the hills, the human line,
The meadows green, the fallows brown,
The dreams of labor in the town;
He sings the sap, the quicken’d veins;
The wedding song of sun and rains
He is, the dance of children, thanks
Of sowers, shout of primrose-banks,
And eye of violets while they breathe;
All these the circling song will wreathe,
And you shall hear the herb and tree,
The better heart of men shall see,
Shall feel celestially, as long
As you crave nothing save the song.
Was never voice of ours could say
Our inmost in the sweetest way,
Like yonder voice aloft, and link
All hearers in the song they drink:
Our wisdom speaks from failing blood,
Our passion is too full in flood,
We want the key of his wild note
Of truthful in a tuneful throat,
The song seraphically free
Of taint of personality,
So pure that it salutes the suns
The voice of one for millions,
In whom the millions rejoice
For giving their one spirit voice.

Yet men have we, whom we revere,
Now names, and men still housing here,
Whose lives, by many a battle-dint
Defaced, and grinding wheels on flint,
Yield substance, though they sing not, sweet
For song our highest heaven to greet:
Whom heavenly singing gives us new,
Enspheres them brilliant in our blue,
From firmest base to farthest leap,
Because their love of Earth is deep,
And they are warriors in accord
With life to serve and pass reward,
So touching purest and so heard
In the brain’s reflex of yon bird;
Wherefore their soul in me, or mine,
Through self-forgetfulness divine,
In them, that song aloft maintains,
To fill the sky and thrill the plains
With showerings drawn from human stores,
As he to silence nearer soars,
Extends the world at wings and dome,
More spacious making more our home,
Till lost on his aërial rings
In light, and then the fancy sings.

George Meredith, 1881

Meredith again. In an earlier blog, I connected the opening of To the Lighthouse to Shelley’s “To a Skylark.” Now, with my latest discoveries, Mrs. Ramsay’s “You’ll have to be up with the lark” also gives of Meredith. All is changed–subtly, yet utterly changed, as my reading of the novel shifts to accommodate Meredith’s poem and the ripples it raises.

If anything, the novel becomes even more celebratory, more lyrical than previous internal versions. I feel it more as a triumphant ascent, a singing of the sap and of “the better hearts of men”; a ripening of “human pleasure” and an instilling of “love of earth.” The filter of the poem subtly corrects and counterbalances more sombre or ponderously philosophical readings of the novel. To the Lighthouse contains a lot of darkness, yet ultimately it, too, extends the world and helps the fancy sing. Polyphony. Meredith on top of Shelley reminds me of that.

Of course Meredith’s poem also sounds darker notes, and these too contribute to a revision of To the Lighthouse’s score. The lark links “all hearers in the song they drink,” including those whose lives are defaced “by many a battle-dint” and by “grinding wheels on flint.” Their lives yield substance for the lark’s song, just as countless scientists, poets, philosophers and novels provide the substance out of which Virginia composed To the Lighthouse. And also, as with Woolf’s novel, a major key to the accomplishment is “self-forgetfulness,” an abandonment and rejection of the solipsistic, egoistic “I,” and a steady soaring towards increased silence so as to leave the reader’s fancy free to sing. The Charles Tansley “taint of personality” is left behind. Like Meredith’s lark, Woolf’s lighthouse draws on collective “human stores” and, in so doing, shines as a beacon opposed to the primal darkness and savagery also to be found in man.

One of the attendant delights of tunneling To the Lighthouse is breaking into passages possibly unintended by or even unknown to Virginia. “The Lark Ascending” tunnel is a powerful example of this. Most people today, if they know of “The Lark Ascending,” know of it through Vaughan Williams’ symphonic piece with the same name. First produced in Shirehampton in 1920 , on June 14, 1921, it was premiered in London by the British Symphony Orchestra under a still young Adrian Boult, and over the years it won an ever larger audience, until, in the second half of the 20th century, it became what it is today, one of the most, if not the most, popular pieces of classical music in Britain.

The composition history of “The Lark Ascending” is most interesting. Supposedly, Vaughan Williams was working on the piece when World War 1 started and, though 41 at the time, he put it and much of his music aside to take on an active part in the war effort. After first enlisting in the Special Constabulary of the Metropolitan Police Service, he then became a Wagon Orderly with the Royal Army Medical Corps with whom he served as an ambulance driver in France and Greece. In 1917 he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Royal Artillery. At the end of the war, he became director of music for the British First Army, a position which he filled until he was demobilized early in 1919. It was only on his return to civilian life that Vaughan Williams completed his “Romance for Violin and Orchestra.” In 1926 the piece was published by Oxford University Press under the title of “The Lark Ascending,” and the score was prefaced with the following 12 lines from Meredith’s poem:

He rises and begins to round,
He drops the silver chain of sound,
Of many links without a break,
In cherrup, whistle, slur and shake. …..
For singing till his heaven fills,
‘Tis love of earth that he instils,
And ever winging up and up
Our valley is his golden cup,
And he the wine which overflows
To lift us with him as he goes. …..
‘Till lost on his aerial rings
In light, and then the fancy sings.

Intriguingly, Virginia was related to Vaughan Williams through her cousin Adeline Fisher, who became Vaughan Williams’ first wife. Hermione Lee records that Adeline was also the closest friend of Stella Duckworth, Virginia’s half-sister and, briefly, surrogate mother. On June 10th, 1897, the fifteen year old Virginia records the excitement attendant on the engagement of Adeline and Ralph, an engagement happening just two months after the marriage of Stella and Jack Hills; and then on June 17th, along with further details, she writes “Poor Ralph is a calf—according to her–& also, I am afraid, to us—-However they are very much in love, & there is a chance that he has genius.” Ralph and Adeline were married on October 9th, 1897, at all Saints Church in Hove, and, while Virginia did not attend, her only diary entry for the 4th of October to the 15th of October is dated October 10th, and consists of the words: “Adeline and Ralph are being married as I write.” Almost certainly, both the gap in Virginia’s diary and her failure to be at Adeline and Ralph’s marriage can be attributed to the tragedy of Stella’s death on July 19th. Also, just as Prue’s sudden death in To the Lighthouse recalls the death of Stella, possibly, just possibly, Ralph and Adeline’s courtship and marriage fused with Stella and Jack’s to plant seeds for Virginia’s treatment of Minta and Paul.

Virginia was also connected to Vaughan Williams through friends. Gwen Raverat, for example. As a Darwin, Gwen was a first cousin of Ralph. Not only that, in 1930 and 1931 Gwen and Ralph worked together to help produce the ballet “Job: A Masque for Dancing,” with Ralph writing the music and Gwen producing the set designs. While there is no mention of Vaughan Williams in the many letters between the Raverats and Virginia, very likely they would have spoken of him.

Whether or not Virginia ever talked or gossiped about Vaughan Williams with friends, she had a strong interest in Ralph’s music. On July 4th, 1897, she records hearing and enjoying a concert of Ralph’s music at St Barnabas Church , South Lambeth, where Ralph was organist. On March 9th 1905 Virginia went to the Aeolian Hall, “a beautiful new Music Hall on Bond Street” to hear Plunkett Greene singing Ralph’s songs. Again on March 13th, 1905, she mentions hearing Vaughan Williams’ music at the home of the Freshfield family. Though her letters and diaries do not specifically record attending other concerts featuring Vaughan Williams’ music, she and Leonard probably did attend such concerts, especially between 1926 and 1929, when Leonard was music critic for the Nation and the Athenaeum. Also in 1925 and 1926, Leonard and Virginia were active subscribing members of the National Gramophonic Society and, according to Emma Sutton (Virginia Woolf and Classical Music: Politics, Aesthetics, Form, 2013) this society did release recordings of works by Vaughan Williams.

Virginia did not attend the London premier of “The Lark Ascending” (after going to a concert on June 10th, 1921, she suffered a severe bout of ill health and spent 60 days enduring “all the horrors of the dark cupboard of illness”), but given her interest in Vaughan Williams, and her knowledge of his music, it is possible that if To the Lighthouse does indeed reference Meredith’s poem, the reference also encompasses Vaughan Williams’ piece. Whatever Virginia knew or intended, my To the Lighthouse–and yours, too–now includes Meredith’s “The Lark Ascending,” compounded with Vaughan Williams’ and, accordingly, it also brings with it thoughts of Vaughan Williams’ WW1 experience. Intended or unintended, I find such thoughts enriching, and I am also pleased to know a little bit more about WW1 and about Vaughan Williams.


Note to self: Oh, Time, Strength, Cash, Patience and access to more journals and archives…particularly the Nation and Athenaeum, National Gramophonic Society records, and Leonard Woolf’s diaries at the University of Sussex.

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Blog #196: Meredith’s “Modern Love” As Macbeth Source For To the Lighthouse

“And that, perhaps, is not the least merit of such a book as this. It shows us the wrong side of the carpet and, fascinating though the wrong side of things always is, it is also a little crude, and ultimately breeds a keener desire than we were conscious of before to look upon the right side. All these half-heard words and disconnected fragments, with their suggestion of Meredith talking somewhere behind a curtain, drive us to the true source of Meredith, which is his writing; for. like all great imaginative writers, he reveals himself there with a completeness and subtlety, for good and for bad, which transcend all the facts that we may be told about him.

“Small Talk About Meredith” (1919)

In two earlier blogs, I explored Virginia Woolf’s extensive use of Macbeth in To the Lighthouse. To my earlier findings on the subject, I now add the probability that Meredith is at least partly responsible for the To the Lighthouse Macbeth presence. Mr and Mrs. Ramsay looking “at each other down the long table sending these questions and answers across, each knowing exactly what the other felt,” are close kin to “Modern Love”‘s married couple whose warm-lighted looks “[s]hoot gaily o’er the dishes and the wine.”

There can be little doubt that Virginia was very familiar with “Modern Love,” and it is also likely that she associated some of the poem’s darker ironies with her parents. Leslie Stephen loved to recite poetry aloud, and in “Impressions of Leslie Stephen,” published in Maitland’s The Life and Letters of Leslie Stephen, Virginia wrote that “many of the great English poems now seem to me inseparable from my father; I hear in them not only his voice, but in some sort his teaching and belief.”

Among the poets Leslie Stephen recited was George Meredith. Virginia remembered that her father “loved, too, and knew by heart since he had first read it, George Meredith’s ” Love in the Valley,” and he made us remark and this was a rare instance of its kind the beauty of Mr. Meredith’s metres and his mastery over them.” “Modern Love” would also be among the poems recited by Leslie Stephen, and Virginia certainly revisited that poem later in life. Even if, not surprisingly, she does not refer to it in “The Novels of George Meredith” (1928), she does reference the poem in “On Re-reading Meredith” (1918), and again in “Small Talk About Meredith” (1919).

If reading Meredith and “Modern Love” did contribute to Virginia’s use of Macbeth in To the Lighthouse, then by the quantum laws of literary entanglement “Modern Love” is also a presence in To the Lighthouse, even if only “on the wrong side of the carpet.” To see Macbeth filtered through Meredith expands and reshapes Macbeth implications in To the Lighthouse. Beyond its tragic Shakespearean aspect, Macbeth now acquires an ironic charge and invites deeper thought about conceptions and perceptions of marriage. Far more attention must be paid to the skeletons a marriage hides, and to the ways in which a marriage knot can bind. Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay thoughts and actions, and the ways in which Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay form and deform each other as a couple, need to be scrutinized against the ironies of “Modern Love.” Those ironies must also be brought to bear on the marriage of Minta Doyle and Paul Rayley, all the more so because Minta’s name, by way of Lord Ormont and His Aminta, indirectly invokes Meredith.


At dinner, she is hostess, I am host.
Went the feast ever cheerfuller? She keeps
The Topic over intellectual deeps
In buoyancy afloat. They see no ghost.
With sparkling surface-eyes we ply the ball:
It is in truth a most contagious game:
Hiding the Skeleton, shall be its name.
Such play as this the devils might appal!
But here’s the greater wonder; in that we,
Enamoured of an acting nought can tire,
Each other, like true hypocrites, admire;
Warm-lighted looks, Love’s ephemerioe,
Shoot gaily o’er the dishes and the wine.
We waken envy of our happy lot.
Fast, sweet, and golden, shows the marriage-knot.
Dear guests, you now have seen Love’s corpse-light shine.

“Modern Love” (1862)

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Blog #195: More Meredith Anchor Points in To the Lighthouse

Fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners. Often the attachment is scarcely perceptible; Shakespeare’s plays, for instance, seem to hang there complete by themselves. But when the web is pulled askew, hooked up at the edge, torn in the middle, one remembers that these webs are not spun in midair by incorporeal creatures, but are the work of suffering human beings, and are attached to the grossly material things, like health and money and the houses we live in.

A Room of One’s Own

The beauty, strength and intricacy of Virginia’s web continues to surprise and astound me. Meredith connects to To the Lighthouse not just because Mr. Carmichael’s relationship with Andrew parallels his with Thoby Stephen. Mr. Carmichael’s marital situation also echoes Meredith’s unhappy first marriage. Moreover Mr. Carmichael has for first name the name of Meredith’s father (as well as the first name of Diana’s husband in Diana of the Crossways), and Minta Doyle’s first name is a shortened version of Meredith’s heroine in Lord Ormont and his Aminta. Further, Mr. Carmichael’s knowledge of Persian may be a nod to the Meredith’s The Shaving of Shagpat, a story with strong Arabic and Persian elements.

But these are relatively slight connection points. Much stronger is the way in which Mr. Carmichael’s dislike of Mrs. Ramsay relates to Meredith’s relationship with Mrs. Leslie Stephen. Not that Meredith disliked Julia Stephen. On the contrary, according to Maitland, he once told Leslie Stephen that he never “reverenced a woman more,” and in a letter to Vanessa he said Leslie Stephen was the “one man in my knowledge worthy of being mated with your mother.” His letters to her are warm and caring. All the same, he sometimes voices disagreement or disapproval. For instance, in a letter dated August 23, 1884, he gently but directly criticizes her educational methods. He imagines the family at St. Ives, and he disapproves of the way in which Julia is bringing up the young Vanessa and Virginia to be subservient to Thoby.

Dear Mrs. Leslie,

Your letter of inquiry gave the invalid great pleasure, as it is a woman, that leaps to be thought of. Nor has divine Philosophy yet raised even me to the Arctic stage of indifference, a point to which I steadily climb in spirit, dragged down now and again by some one remembering my name, who revives a personal throb or two. Eastbourne air was very serviceable. To-day we drove to Leith Hill. Generally my wife is regaining her strength, though slowly. She lives on fruit, and there is plenty in the present season. I live on hope; a condition resembling a midway station across the abyss, and depending on the winds as well as power of heart ; for now that she has failed, my sense of stability takes wing. However, in footing the tight-rope, one must not look ahead — nor under — nor up ; but steadily at the present support. Your philosopher will expound the state, and one that we started from, and are brought back to by the course of life, with just a little more knowledge of ourselves and half a yard around us. Tell him, I shall be glad when the tramps are gathered hither out of Europe and America. How much I should like to be with him, you and the children on your dazzling blue borders of sea, and observe Thoby’s first recreancy ! — before his father has taught him that he must act the superior, and you have schooled the little maids to accept the fact supposed : for it is largely (I expect you to dissent) a matter of training. Courage is proper to women, if it is trained, as with the infant man. My ‘Diana’ still holds me ; only by the last chapter ; but the coupling of such a woman and her man is a delicate business. She has no puppet-pliancy. The truth being, that she is a mother of Experience, and gives that dreadful baby suck to brains. I have therefore a feeble hold of her ; none of the novelist’s winding-up arts avail ; it is she who leads me. But my delay of the conclusion is owing to my inability to write of late. — I see that the Biographical Dictionary is advertised. I trust that the Master of the Cemetery for this Necrology is content with the Epitaphs on the tombstones ; meekly forethoughtful that his 19th century estimates will have no readers but the moons of the 20th, and the moonstruck. What was thought of their lights by contemporaries, should be good literary burlesque. I regret as much as he that he is bound to such work, and wish he would vary it with some Cornish sketches and the colouring he excels in “touches upon stuff that lives.” We were promised Lowell here at Burford. Morison I have not seen for long, but his girls are at Fellday, and we purpose to drive there. Adieu, dear Mrs. Leslie ; with my love to your lord and all the young ones.

George Meredith.

Meredith was even more plainspoken when, in 1889, Julia Stephen publicly supported Mrs. Humphrey Ward’s “An Appeal Against Female Sufferage.” He was clearly outraged by Julia’s decision to be one of the 104 eminent Victorian women who signed the Nineteenth Century‘s petition in support of Mrs. Ward’s appeal. His conceit of imagining a second Mrs. Leslie is meant to take some of the sting out of his words, but words such as “fatuousness” and “irrational opposition” show how strongly he disagreed with her action.

Even if the novel suggests other reasons for Mr. Carmichael’s dislike of Mrs. Ramsay, this letter provides a strong biographical attachment point for Virginia’s To the Lighthouse web. Pull on this corner of the web, and so much of the Stephen life comes into view. Behind Mrs. Ramsay’s pandering to her husband, for instance, is the tenderness which causes Mrs. Stephen to withhold “the stimulant of opposition” from Leslie Stephen.

To Mrs. Leslie Stephen.

Box Hill, June 13, 1889.

Dear Mrs. Leslie, — I hope I have done right — I can scarcely doubt it. Leslie has a double, and I have had it proclaimed that the Mrs. L. Stephen in agitation against the suffrage for women, is the wife of the False Leslie. For it would be to accuse you of the fatuousness of a Liberal Unionist, to charge the true Mrs. Leslie with this irrational obstructiveness.

The case with women resembles that of the Irish. We have played fast and loose with them, until now they are encouraged to demand what they know not how to use, but have a just right to claim. If the avenues of our professions had been thrown open to them, they might have learnt the business of the world, to be competent to help in governing. But these were closed, women were commanded to continue their reliance upon their poor attractions. Consequently, as with the Irish, they push to grasp the baguette which gives authority. And they will get it ; and it will be a horrible time. But better that than present sights.

Let me add, that if you are the true Mrs. Leslie of the signature, it is a compliment to your husband more touching than credibly sincere, after his behaviour in the bog of Irish politics. This I have likewise caused to be reported, ‘ Enough for me that my Leslie should vote, should think/ Beautiful pasture of the Britannic wife!’ But the world is a moving one that will pass her by.

I send this chiefly with the hope that you will be induced to forward Leslie (the true) to me for a rest of three of four days. Here he could lie on our lawn, stroll over the woods, and always have the stimulant of opposition so good for the Stephen race, — which your tenderness (if one has to trust what is rumoured) withholds from him. Put it to him seriously to come to me and hear political and social wisdom.

Your devoted,

George Meredith

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Blog #194: A Letter from George Meredith to Virginia Woolf

In addition to those contained in The Letters of George Meredith (1912), Virginia had one further letter at her disposal, one sent to her by Meredith on November 22, 1906, two days after the death of Thoby, but not made available to W. M. Meredith when he compiled The Letters. Published by Mohammad Shaheen in the Selected Letters of George Meredith (1997), it reads as follows:

Dearest Virginia,

You will know that among your friends I am one, with my whole heart close to you in your present great affliction. The loss of this bright young life is felt by me as if it had been a part of mine. I cannot pretend to offer consolation, for much sad experience tells me that it deals in this world to sufferer incapable of understanding it. Fortitude you will have inherited from father and mother. The sense that the hearts of your friends are about you may help: it will be warm with you later. Vanessa’s recovery is a flying gleam in our darkness. I cannot be near you personally in the last offices. My mind you will have then and always. Speak of me to Vanessa and Adrian.

George Meredith.

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Blog #193: Glimpses of the Stephen family in the Letters of George Meredith

The following excerpts provide vivid glimpses of Virginia’s early life. The full letters must have summoned up powerful feelings when she read them in April of 1913. She would have enjoyed catching sight of her parents in the early days of their marriage, and she would have appreciated the interest and support Meredith showed in the activities and education of the young Stephen children. She would also have relived the deaths of Thoby and her father.

George Meredith to Mrs. Leslie Stephen, August 23, 1884

How much I should like to be with him, you and the children on your dazzling blue borders of sea,’ and observe Thoby’s first recreancy ! — before his father has taught him that he must act the superior, and you have schooled the little maids to accept the fact supposed: — for it is largely (I expect you to dissent) a matter of training. Courage is proper to women, if it is trained, as with the infant man. — My ‘Diana’ still holds me; only by the last chapter; but the coupling of such a woman and her man is a delicate business. She has no puppet-truancy. The truth being, that she is a mother of Experience, and gives that dreadful baby suck to brains, I have therefore a feeble hold of her ; none of the novelist’s winding-up arts avail ; it is she who leads me. But my delay of the conclusion is owing to my inability to write of late.

George Meredith to Mrs. Leslie Stephen, Sept. 3rd, 1885

To-day is a procession in heaven of the whole army of clouds, from your quarter, and I have a vision of tyrant Thoby and protesting Nessa on the sands, with the remoter philosopher’s expression of his profoundest thoughts in pipe-smoke. Would I were near and unburdened!

George Meredith to Mrs. Leslie Stephen, Dec. 25th. 1892

My dear Mrs. Leslie, — You would rejoice us by coming. But I am concerned to think of the dulness here, and would propose February for you, when also poor Cole is prouder of his garden, and the journey by rail is not a probation. There must be no thought of subjecting Thoby to it. Let him send me a compliment now and come when we can amuse him a little. I have to confess that my heart is fast going to Virginia.

George Meredith to Mrs. Sturgis (Meredith’s newly married daughter), July 24, 1894

My own Dearie, — I write, with little to say, that you may have a word from your old home, after a week of marriage.’ — I forgot to tell you, Mrs. Leslie with Vanessa, Virginia and Stella called last week. They have been feasting ancient women on the hill. Stella had lost one, though the whole party wandered waking the echoes for her from 4 to 5 p.m. She passed into the wood, and there she remains. The Leslies have fled to St. Ives. Good news of Thoby — he has won a Scholarship, and with about as much effort as for a dive off a plank.

George Meredith to Leslie Stephen, August 18th, 1902

Give my love to the children. What is Thoby’s taste in reading?

George Meredith to Leslie Stephen, Feb 4th, 1898

If you can spare time one day to bring Thoby here, I shall be glad to converse with him, and get at his present tastes and objects. It would be a great pleasure to see the girls, who are often in my thoughts, and any having relationship with the beloved mother.

Leslie Stephen to George Meredith, likely early February 1904

22 Hyde Park Gate
My very dear Friend, — I must make the effort to write to you once more with my own hand. I cannot trust to anybody else to say how much I value your friendship, and I must send you a message, perhaps it may be my last, of my satisfaction and pride in thinking of your affection for me. Your last bunch of violets is deliciously scenting my prisonhouse. — Always your
L. Stephen.

George Meredith to Leslie Stephen, Feb 14th, 1904.

My dearest Leslie,
Your letter gave me one of the few remaining pleasures that I can have. I rejoice in your courage and energy. Of the latter I have nothing left. Since last September I have not held a pen, except perforce to sign my name. It seems that I was near the end — ‘within view,’ my London doctor said. A meddlesome fellow thought himself professionally bound to practise an injection on my arm, and the heart was roused to resume its labours. So here I am, of no use to any one — even unable to take the chance of seeing you. I have been at Givons with Mariette for four months and more, and return to Box Hill in March. Vanessa’s reports of you have kept me in touch with the house. We who have loved the motion of 1egs and the sweep of the winds, we come to this. But for myself, I will own that it is the Natural order. There is no irony in Nature. God bless and sustain you, my friend. George Meredith.

George Meredith to Vanessa Stephen, Feb. 24, 1904

My Dearest Vanessa, — Heaven has blest us by making the end painless. It was inevitable, I knew, and I had the shock of my grief when I was told of the malady. One of the most beloved of my friends has gone from sight, and though I feel that he remains with me and has his lasting place in our literature, this day’s news darkens my mind. Last Autumn I was near to going. The loss of my friend spurs the wish that I had preceded him. He was the one man in my knowledge worthy of being mated with your mother. I could not say more of any man’s nobility. If it were possible for me to move I would be among you to-morrow. May you be sustained. My prayers are with you all.

George Meredith to W. M. Meredith, Nov. 23, 1906

The death of Thoby Stephen has much clouded me. —

George Meredith to Edward Clodd, November 27th, 1906

I am distressed by the death of Thoby Stephen, Leslie’s eldest son, a bright young fellow — poisoned by something in Greece, hence enteric, then peritonitis.

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Blog #192: A Preliminary Report on a George Meredith Presence in To the Lighthouse

I’ve never met a writer who didn’t nurse an enormous vanity, which at last made him unapproachable like Meredith whose letters I am reading–who seems to me as hard as an old crab at the bottom of the sea.

April 11, 1913 letter to Violet Dickinson

This is a teaser post, a trailer for a meatier one which has yet to be fully researched and written. Because of Minta Doyle, and also Leslie Stephen’s role as the model for Vernon Whitfield in The Egoist, I’ve been speculatively poking around George Meredith and yesterday that led me to a 1913 Virginia letter in which she talks about reading George Meredith’s letters. Because of her comment, this morning I looked up an online copy of Meredith’s letters and I then skimmed them using control f “Stephen.” In the letters I found several letters to Leslie Stephen or to Mrs. Leslie Stephen, mention of visits and interactions with the Stephen family (including a month long visit to be with the Stephen family at Talland House in St, Ives), and two 1906 letters to other friends in which he mourns the death of Thoby Stephen. I have a vivid image of Virginia reading those letters and then, some thirteen years later, transmuting them into Augustus Carmichael’s grief after learning of Andrew’s sudden death. Exhilarating to tease out yet another strand of reality behind the fiction, especially as today happens to be Virginia’s birthday. The romantic in me is thrilled.

The death of Thoby Stephen has much clouded me.

George Meredith letter dated Nov. 23, 1906

I am distressed by the death of Thoby Stephen, Leslie’s eldest son, a bright young fellow — poisoned by something in Greece, hence enteric, then peritonitis.

George Meredith letter dated Nov. 27. 1906

There was a famous man now called Carmichael, she smiled, thinking how many shapes one person might wear, how he was that in the newspapers, but here the same as he had always been. He looked the same — greyer, rather. Yes, he looked the same, but somebody had said, she recalled, that when he had heard of Andrew Ramsay’s death (he was killed in a second by a shell; he should have been a great mathematician) Mr. Carmichael had “lost all interest in life.” What did it mean — that? she wondered. Had he marched through Trafalgar Square grasping a big stick?Had he turned pages over and over, without reading them, sitting in his room in St. John’s Wood alone? She did not know what he had done, when he heard that Andrew was killed, but she felt it in him all the same.

To the Lighthouse

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Blog #191: A Violet Lily: Virginia Woolf and Vernon Lee

“Fresca was baptised in a soapy sea / Of Symonds – Walter Pater – Vernon Lee”

T. S. Eliot,
from a cancelled draft version of ‘The Fire Sermon’ from “The Waste Land”

In a letter of warning to his brother, the philosopher William James, Henry James wrote the following about Violet Lee: “…she is as dangerous and uncanny as she is intelligent—which is saying a great deal. Her vigour and sweep of intellect are most rare and her talk superior altogether, but I don’t agree with you at all about her ‘style,’ which I find insupportable, and I also find that she breaks down in her books. There is a great second-rate element in her first-rateness. At any rate draw it mild with her on the question of friendship. She’s a tiger-cat” When writing this letter James was likely smarting at the way Violet Lee had skewered him in her short story “Lady Tal,”—skewered him, Vinetta Colby and Geraldine Murphy suggest, for the uses and misuses James himself had made of Lee’s life in both Princess Casamassima and The Aspern Papers. Justified or not, James’ assessment and warning was most astute and accurate. The woman William James met in February of 1892 was formidable indeed.

Violet Lee, born Violet Paget in 1856, was a major literary figure and intellectual who, before her death in 1935, published numerous essay collections on such subjects as music, art appreciation, aesthetics, and travel writing, as well as several collections of short stories, and the 1884 novel Miss Brown, a roman a clef which satirized many of the aesthetic pretensions of the time. Born in France and raised in Germany, Italy, England, Switzerland and France, Lee was completely fluent in four languages but wrote primarily in English. Her first book, Studies of the Eighteenth Century in Italy (1880), earned high praise in various cultural and literary journals such as the Athenaeum, The Spectator, The Westminster Review, and the St James Gazette. Lee was only twenty-four when the book was published, but several of the essays which it contained had already appeared previously in Fraser’s Magazine.

Though never a popular writer, Vernon Lee was a singularly influential one, partly because of the erudition of her first book, partly because of her ability in creating astute intellectual and social connections, and partly because her home in Florence, Villa Il Palmerino, became a kind of expatriate salon. Despite a sometimes unsettling frankness, at one time or another her friends, correspondents, and close social connections included Robert Browning, John Singer Sargent, Walter and Clara Pater, Leslie Stephen, Edmund Gosse, Henry James, Edith Wharton, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Elizabeth von Arnim, H G Wells, Aldous Huxley, Bernard Berenson, Mario Praz, Maurice Baring, Desmond MacCarthy, and Lady Brooke, the Ranee of Sarawak.

Pater, with whom Lee would stay on her visits to England, considered her a disciple, and when Edith Wharton published Italian Villas and their Gardens , she dedicated it: “To Vernon Lee, who better than anyone else, has understood and interpreted the Garden-Magic of Italy.” Lee, in turn, wrote “The Economic Parasitism of Women” as an introduction to the Italian edition of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Women and Economics. Later, when Lee published her unusual hybrid work Satan the Waster, George Bernard Shaw strongly endorsed its vehement pacifist views. Though he used his Nation review primarily as a platform for his own ideas, he did say that‘Vernon Lee is English of the English, and yet her intellectual own all through. I take off my hat to the old guard of Victorian cosmopolitan intellectualism and salute her as the noblest Briton of them all.”

Subsequently rejected and mocked by the modernists, for much of the 20th century Lee was neglected or forgotten. More recently, her reputation has undergone a major re-evaluation. Interest in Lee and her work has come from several directions. Modernist scholars trying to gain a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between the modernist enterprise and Victorianism are interested in the way she straddles and bridges both modernist and Victorian ideas and ideals. Her cross-gendered identity, her passionate female friendships, and the gender fluidity and sublimated sexual desire found in some of her short stories, as well as her defence of Oscar Wilde and what she called “the queer comradeship of outlawed thought,” have attracted the attention of queer theorists and scholars primarily interested in sexuality and sexual boundaries. As well, feminist scholars are interested in her ideas on women’s rights and her friendships with activist women such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Ethyl Smyth.

Further, as one of the first people to use and to popularize the word empathy in the English language, a word in use only since 1908, Lee’s ideas are attracting increasing interest in the field of cognitive cultural studies. In particular, scholars exploring ideas of literary empathy are strongly interested in her work. Finally, an increased understanding of her position and role as a public intellectual is revealing her to be a much more central historical figure than has been previously appreciated. Her courageous pacifism and the consequent vilification which she experienced also merits more attention, and with the recent publication of Selected Letters of Vernon Lee, 1856 – 1935: Volume I, 1865-1884, edited by Amanda Gagel (2016), and with several subsequent volumes to come, Lee’s reputation will only continue to grow.

Part of Lee’s correspondence with H. G. Wells, viewable at this site, gives a sense of the power and perspicacity of Lee’s reach and range. Of particular interest to this blog entry is a June 16, 1908, letter in which Vernon Lee, without ever knowing about Henry James’ letter to his brother, laments the lasting consequences of that letter written so many years before.

Vernon Lee was virtually unknown to me prior to starting this blog, and without the good luck of browsing through Angela Leighton’s stimulating On Form (2007), I would never have noticed or suspected a Vernon Lee tunnel in To the Lighthouse. Biographical details excepted, most of the Vernon Lee mapping in this blog is Angela’s work, and if it weren’t for copyright restrictions, I would simply post her Vernon Lee and Virginia Woolf chapters here. Mindful of copyright, I’ll limit myself to posting only two paragraphs. They give a taste of Leighton’s style and the quality of her mapping. These two paragraphs, it is helpful to know, are preceded by one in which Leighton considers the penultimate fragment in Virginia’s short story “Portraits,” putting particular weight on the lines: “I never spoke to her. But in a sense, the true sense, I who love beauty always feel, I knew Vernon Lee.”

During her life Woolf reviewed several of Lee’s books, though they caused her some bother. “I am sobbing with misery over Vernon Lee, who really turns all good writing to vapour, with her fluency and insipidity”, she laments in 1907. Although enraged by Lee, she nonetheless uses her as a yardstick for comparison: “My writing makes me tremble; it seems so likely that it will be d—d bad…after the manner of Vernon Lee.” She is infuriated by Strachey’s praise of Lee: he “jumps up and seizes withered virgins like Vernon Lee”. But her attitude in later life softened. She was intrigued, for instance, by Roger Fry’s praise for Lee’s book on Music and Its Lovers, and when Ethel Smyth condemned Lee’s pacifist views in 1933, Woolf rallied to her defence: “Why do you think Vernon Lees views on the war detestable? What would you say to mine?” Then, hearing of Lee’s death in 1935, she admitted a sense of missed opportunity: “I’m sorry old Vernon is dead. I had hoped rather to see her.” Woolf’s vehemence, antipathy, puzzlement, and then simple regret hint, somehow, at an unfinished story. “I who love beauty always feel, I knew Vernon Lee”, her inconclusive portrait concludes.

There is one comment, from a letter of 1922, which makes the possibility of knowing Vernon Lee resonant beyond mere biographical facts. “Oh yes,” Woolf writes, “I remember Vernon Lee, in the dining room at Talland House, in coat and skirt, much as she is now—but that was 30 years ago. She was a dashing authoress. She gave my father her books, which were in the dining room too.” The specifics of that location go beyond personal anecdote, suggesting, as they do, the novel which takes its main inspiration from them. “It was all dry: all withered”, Lily Briscoe laments of her art. In one place she describes herself as “a peevish, ill-tempered, dried-up old maid presumably”. At another, looking at her own painting, “She could have wept. It was bad, it was bad, it was infinitely bad!” Being “d—d bad…after the manner of Vernon Lee” hints at an anxiety of influence which is also, covertly, an anxiety of self-identification. “I who love beauty” is an I who might have learned more from Lee’s books about beauty than she cared to admit. The intoning repetition of the word throughout To the Lighthouse draws, by association, on the memory of a presence at Talland House which is not only Julia Stephen, the original for Mrs Ramsay, but also the writer who wrote numerous books about beauty, about the difficulty of defining it or assessing its relation to ethics and history. Both Lee herself and her books figure at some level, however subconsciously, in that novel’s “dining-room”.

In Form, pp. 131-2

Though Leighton does not mention it, several of Vernon Lee’s letters show her to also have been an occasional guest of the Stephens while in London. On June 24, 1887, for instance, she wrote to her mother that she had dined “more or less en famille with the Leslie Stephens.” Leighton does go on to suggest that Virginia, Vanessa and Clive Bell may have visited and even stayed with Vernon Lee during a 1908 trip to Italy. As evidence, Leighton again mentions the letter of 1922 ( the letter was written to Katherine Arnold-Foster) and a passage in which Virginia mentions visiting Vernon Lee in Italy: “I saw her ten years later, at Florence, when she fell in love with Nessa.” Leighton also quotes a comment made by Virginia in a 1926 letter to Violet Dickinson: “Do you remember taking us to see her at Florence?” While Leighton implies that both these letters refer to the 1908 Italian trip, and while Virginia, Vanessa and Clive may indeed have visited Lee on that trip, or during a stay in Florence the following year, Virginia’s remarks almost certainly refer to an earlier 1904 Italian journey, a journey which the Stephen family made shortly after the death of Leslie Stephen. Writing to Margery Snowden from Florence on April 25th of 1904, Vanessa had this to say about a visit she, Virginia and Violet Dickinson made to Vernon Lee:

We went one day to see Miss Paget who writes under the name of Vernon Lee—I expect you have heard of her. She’s very clever, but what interested me is that she has got a portrait of herself by Sargent, and several other sketches by him. The portrait is extraordinarily like, and it was interesting to see her beside it, as I hardly know any of the people he has painted. Certainly this was very like, though done when she was much younger, and she’s rather ugly but very clever looking.

There is no mention of this visit in Virginia’s letters or journals of the time. This is not surprising. Shortly after returning to England she experience a major and lengthy breakdown which led to her being put into nursing care for several months.

In her mapping of Vernon Lee’s connections to Virginia, and of possible Vernon traces in Lily, Leighton notes that the Hogarth Press published The Poet’s Eye, a short pamphlet by Lee, in 1926. Lee, though now seventy years old, was still writing and publishing regularly, and the previous year she had published two books, at least one of which, The Golden Keys And Other Essays on the Genius Loci, was acquired by Leonard and Virginia, and now forms part of the Library of Leonard and Virginia Woolf in Pullman, Washington. Consisting primarily of travel essays, The Golden Keys is strongly pacifist and elegiac in tone. Its dedication and concluding essay frame the volume as a plea for peace and good will. Significantly, the book is both a record of what has been lost, and a tentative step towards recovery from the devastation of war and towards rebuilding the moral and spiritual landscape. It may even be that The Golden Keys informs To the Lighthouse in a small way.

Although Virginia did not review The Golden Keys, she did, as Leighton points out, review two earlier works by Lee. Both of those reviews damn with a mixture of sharp criticism and faint praise. Reviewing the Sentimental Traveller for the TLS in January of 1908, she wrote, “Vernon Lee, with much of the curiosity, the candour, and the sensitiveness to trifles of the true essayist, lacks the exquisite taste and penetrating clearness of sight which make some essays concentrated epitomes of precious things.” In her 1909 TLS review of Laurus Nobilis: Chapters on Art and Life, she was, if anything, even more scathing: “But if Vernon Lee lacks the temper of the great aesthetic critic, she has many of the gifts of a first-rate disciple.” However, despite the reservations voiced in these reviews, and also in numerous letters and diary entries, Woolf admired Lee enough to eventually make her part of an illustrious female pantheon in A Room of One’s Own. “There are,” she writes, “Jane Harrison’s books on Greek archaeology; Vernon Lee’s books on aesthetics; Gertrude Bell’s books on Persia. There are books on all sorts of subjects which a generation ago no woman could have touched.”

Leighton does not mention The Golden Keys, but she does provide extensive and insightful comment on Woolf’s review of Laurus Nobilis. She convincingly argues that Woolf was strongly influenced by Lee’s ideas on beauty and supports her argument with quotations from Lee’s book, as well as from Virginia’s review. She then goes on to demonstrate how To the Lighthouse focuses on “the problem of beauty, both human physical beauty, and the beauty of artistic form which might be won from it.” As she says’ The tolling of that one word in Woolf’s work suggests the extent to which her experimental modernism is linked to an aesthetic creed. She cannot let go of ‘beauty.’” By carefully probing and examining some of the many ways which Woolf uses ‘beauty’ in To the Lighthouse (the word, or variants of it, is used 83 times), Leighton makes a strong and stimulating case that Virginia’s “idea of beauty, as rhythm, pattern, design, form,” owes much to the ingenuity of Vernon Lee

All I can add to Leighton’s insights is one small piece of speculation regarding Lily’s Chinese eyes. Although my evidence is rather anachronistic, it may be that Vernon Lee is, in part at least, responsible for those eyes. In her 1937 introduction to Vernon Lee’s Selected Letters Home, Irene Cooper Willis, Lee’s literary executor, made two references to the shape and appearance of Vernon Lee’s eyes. She first describes “‘Her unique personality, those intensely inquisitive (though not penetrating) eyes, almond-shaped and set slightly aslant in the small but long Hapsburg type of face,” and she later makes the comment that “She had a Chinese Eye and a Chinese power of drawing sustenance from what is beautiful.” Willis’s observations were, of course, recorded long after To the Lighthouse was written, yet it may be that the shape of Lee’s eyes was distinctive enough to readily draw the “Chinese eye” comparison. Lee’s eyes, indeed, do have an Oriental aspect in a pencil sketch by John Singer Sargent, even if they look considerably rounder and less almond shaped in an earlier oil painting of his. It is even possible that Lee, herself, sometimes used the term to describe her eyes, and that she may have used the expression when she showed the Singer portrait and sketches to Virginia and Vanessa in 1904.


Note: Enterprising graduate students looking for a thesis topic might consider doing research on Irene Cooper Willis. Organized published information about her is sketchy, but she shows up frequently on the fringes of Bloomsbury. Beyond being a good friend of Vernon Lee’s (and, like Lee, a determined pacifist), she was also a close friend of Edith Bagnold’s, and during World War 1 she was a research assistant to Bertrand Russell. She is known to have had a brief affair with Russell and also with Desmond MacCarthy. She published several books, chief among them The Brontes (1933), in Duckworth’s Great Lives series, and Britain’s Holy War; A Study of English Liberal Idealism During the Great War (1928). The latter book combined three earlier National Labour Press publications: How We Went Into the War (1919), How We Got On With the War (1920), and How We Came Out of the War (1921).

List of Matremoirs

List of Patremoirs

Children of Writers

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Blog #190: The Phoenix in the Lighthouse: Virginia Woolf and D. H. Lawrence

Only for a moment; but it was enough. It was a sudden revelation, a tinge like a blush which one tried to check and then, as it spread, one yielded to its expansion, and rushed to the farthest verge and there quivered and felt the world come closer, swollen with some astonishing significance, some pressure of rapture, which split its thin skin and gushed and poured with an extraordinary alleviation over the cracks and sores! Then, for that moment, she had seen an illumination; a match burning in a crocus; an inner meaning almost expressed. But the close withdrew; the hard softened. It was over–the moment.

Mrs. Dalloway

I’ve uncovered a new, entirely unexpected Lighthouse tunnel. Think about occasional passages of eroticized prose and the deep, dark unknowability of self and other. Think about James standing stiff between Mrs. Ramsay’s knees, Lily scorched by the heat, horror, cruelty and unscrupulosity of Paul and Minta’s love, and think about the silent struggle between Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay, with his mind shadowing her mind. Though dark and difficult to follow, such elements suggest the presence of a Lawrence tunnel, a tunnel which, when fully explored, might yield all manner of rich, suggestive material. Earl Ingersoll and Suzanne Henig have already worked a couple of Lawrencian seams, yet new drifts are possible. This blog is my attempt to open up a new Lawrence tunnel starting with excerpts from Virginia’s letters, diaries and essays. If nothing else, the excerpts show how aware and interested Virginia was in Lawrence.

While there is no record of Virginia Woolf and D H Lawrence ever meeting, on two occasions Virginia did glimpse Lawrence. The first time she saw him, he was “swinging a spirit lamp in a shop” atSt. Ives (L IV 166-67). The second glimpse came in a moment worthy of Thomas Hardy or Henry James, or, for that matter, of D. H. Lawrence or Virginia Woolf. In a letter to Vanessa from Palermo, on April 9th, 1927, less than a month before the publication of To the Lighthouse, and at a time when Lawrence was working on the final drafts of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Virginia wrote:

Looking out of the carriage window at Civita Vecchia, whom should we see, sitting side by side on a bench, but D.H. Lawrence and Norman Douglas—unmistakable: Lawrence pierced and penetrated; Douglas hog-like and brindled—They were swept off by train one way and we went on to Rome. [L III 361]

The glimpse was fleeting, yet Virginia was positive in her identification.

If Woolf recognized Lawrence, it was because she had a strong interest in him, an interest both literary and personal. On the personal side Virginia had several friends in common with Lawrence Most important among these were Katherine Mansfield, Ottoline Morrell and Samuel Koteliansky. Given the closeness of the friendships, it is indeed more than a little surprising that Lawrence and Woolf never met. Koteliansky, for one, brought them into close proximity on several occasions. He and Lawrence co-translated Bunin’s “Gentleman from San Francisco,” which Hogarth Press published in a volume titled The Gentleman From San Francisco and Other Stories (1922). Lawrence, however, did not meet the Woolfs in the process of publication, and owing to some confusion his name did not appear on the original title page; whereas Leonard, who had helped translate the other three stories, was credited.

Already in 1918, Koteliansky had tried to get the Woolf’s to meet Lawrence. In a letter to Vanessa, Virginia wrote: “We met Koteliansky in London, who wanted us to come and meet Lawrence. I’m in two minds–tempted, but alarmed. I sometimes wonder why the intelligent people are so made that one can’t see them without quarrelling—but it seems to be a law. I’m thinking of the Murry’s and Lawrence, not of you and me!” [L II 264]. The following year, again through Koteliansky, the Woolfs were briefly tempted to take Lawrence’s cottages in Zennor, and Leonard and Lawrence corresponded on the subject [L II 340n].

Whether Virginia ever came close to meeting Lawrence through Mansfield and Murry–close friends who even lived with Lawrence in Cornwall for a couple of months in 1918–is not known. Similarly, no evidence exists to suggest that Lawrence and Virginia ever came close to meeting through Ottoline Morrell, even if, on November 27, 1917, Virginia wrote to Vanessa to describe a visit to Garsington where Ottoline “quoted long passages from L.’s novel [The Rainbow], and was very discreet about Katherine” [L II 198].

On the literary side, Virginia started reading Lawrence at least as far back as September 1912. While honeymooning with Leonard in Spain, Virginia wrote to Ka Cox: “I have thrown aside Crime and Punishment to write to you, having already read the Antiquary, Trespassers, Yonder, the heir of Redcliffe, not all this afternoon, but since I lost my virginity” [L II 6]. Hard not to marvel at the breadth of Virginia’s reading, hard not to smile at the appropriate irony of her reading the as yet unknown Lawrence on her honeymoon, and hard not to laugh at the playful, if perhaps defensive, boldness of her virginity comment.

Though years later, in “Notes on D. H. Lawrence,” Virginia would refer to The Trespasser (1912) as “a hot, scented, overwrought piece of work” it is likely that even at this relatively early stage in their respective careers she learned something from Lawrence. For instance, a major stylistic feature of The Trespasser is Lawrence’s antiphonal use of Wagner and The Ring Cycle. In Night and Day (1919), Woolf, as Jane Marcus has pointed out, does something similar with Mozart and the Magic Flute, using Mozart’s comic opera as a template against which to write her own feminist celebration of love and marriage. Night and Day can even be read as an early rebuttal to Lawrence’s ideas. Where Lawrence embraces the romantic 19th century tragic view of love and marriage, Woolf’s vision, even if critical of much in society, is life affirming. Her novel is day to the night of Lawrence’s. Where The Trespasser is a dark and troubled Wagnerian response to the crumbling structures of the patriarchy and the emergence of the “new woman,” Night and Day uses Mozart to joyfully help celebrate emerging possibilities for women.

Elements of The Trespasser also shimmer behind scenes in Mrs. Dalloway. Writing about London in 1928, Lawrence commented that “Twenty years ago, London was to me thrilling, thrilling, thrilling, the vast and throbbing heart of all adventure,” and certainly his 1912 Trespasser description of London crackles with a thrilling, lyric intensity. The electricity and excitement of his description is vivid and memorable, and there is no doubt in my mind that it influenced and aided Virginia in her presentation of Dalloway London . The kinetic exhilaration which Siegmund experiences on his return to London throbs repeatedly through Virginia’s descriptions of the bustling thoroughfares of Westminster and its environs. Where Lawrence has “The taxi-cabs, the wild cats of the town, ” Virginia has the omnibus “reckless, unscrupulous, bearing down ruthlessly, circumventing dangerously”; where Lawrence has the motor-buses with “their hearts, as it seemed, beating with trepidation,” Woolf has the throb of the motor engines “like a pulse irregularly drumming through an entire body”; and where Lawrence has “the scampering of the traffic” and “the fluttering flame-warmth of soldiers and the quick brightness of women, Woolf has “the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging.” In Woolf, Lawrence’s soldiers morph into Peter’s “boys in uniform, carrying guns,” and Peter stalking the young woman with the red carnation is close kin to Siegfried walking the busy streets and feeling the women glance at him with approval. The erotic charge of Mrs. Dalloway’s London likely owes part of its pulse to the London of The Trespasser, to the “soft swaying and lapping of a poised candle-flame,” along with “the fluttering flame-warmth of soldiers and the quick brightness of women, like lights that clip sharply in a draught.” More soberly, Septimus, feeling the wonder of the world on his slow slide towards sudden suicide, reincarnates Siegmund and relives the London induced euphoria which the latter feels on the way to his own, more measured suicide.

A grave thort strike me: time to abandon scholarly caution and to trade on my amateur status; but, as a pre-emptive defence against a possible act of apophenia (how I love that word), I want to stress that even mistakes can be enlightening. So here I go…whether or not The Trespasser helped Virginia shape Night and Day, there may be glints of Lawrence’s novel in To the Lighthouse. The Isle of Wight setting of The Trespasser may have played a part, even if unconscious, in Virginia’s situating her novel on the Isle of Skye. Wight was an island well known to Virginia, an island to which, through Dimbola and Freshwater Bay, she had strong biographical connections, and so Lawrence’s use of it may have subtly influenced her to move other biographical material to a similar island setting, a setting which, even if more remote, would still quite naturally feature tidal pools and dangerous cliffs—as would The Antiquary, which Woolf definitely worked into To the Lighthouse and which, it should be remembered, she was also reading when she read The Trespasser. Anyhow, whatever the literary or literal source of the pools and cliffs, The Isle of Wight, so closely associated with Tennyson, may have provided another reason for Virginia to make use of Tennyson on Skye. Certainly, her treatment of Tennyson is every bit as ironic as Lawrence’s use of “Tennyson’s white marble.”

Lily’s relationship with Mrs. Ramsay might be another Trespasser trace. Lily with “her arms round Mrs. Ramsay’s knees, Lily “leaning her head on Mrs. Ramsay’s knees,” may owe something to a memory of Louisa and Helena, with Louisa, at the feet of Helena, laying “her arm and her head languishingly on the knee of her friend.” Wondering whether Desmond MacCarthy saw Lawrence behind Mr. A in A Room of One’s Own, Virginia wrote that “He was not in my upper mind; but no doubt was in the lower” [L IV 130]. If Lawrence and The Trespasser was in Virginia’s lower mind while writing the Lily and Mrs. Ramsay passage, then it makes sense that that passage also includes vivid bee and hive imagery and that Mrs. Ramsay is seen as “a purple shape,” “a purple shadow.” Whether a product of the upper or the lower mind, Virginia’s language here echoes that of The Trespasser. Late in Lawrence’s novel, a novel full of bee imagery, the evening sky is described as an empty hive, “a hollow dome of purple,” and the hive image is then sustained and expanded by Siegmund thinking of himself as a dying bee. The description is fevered and self-indulgent, expressive of Siegmund’s morbid solipsism as the train brings Helena and him, together yet apart, closer to London and to death. In To the Lighthouse, the language is simpler and the bee and hive imagery is more concise. The emphasis is on trying to connect with others, trying to access their knowledge and wisdom. Where Siegmund can be seen as a blighted, sterile drone, Mrs. Ramsay as seen by Lily, purple and dome shaped, is a nurturing, inspiring object of veneration.

There is also Siegmund’s violin to consider. In a footnote to her 1988 PhD. thesis, “The Influence of Congregationalism on the First Four Novels of D. H. Lawrence,” Jane Margaret Jane Masson observed that the “marvelous ‘Time Passes’ section in To the Lighthouse is strikingly similar—though much more developed—to Lawrence’s idea and technique” of using the slowly decaying violin to evoke Siegmund’s ghostly presence after his death. Masson’s observation is warranted by the similarity in the descriptions. Both writers mark the passage of time by the slow decay of personal objects. Both writers evoke the gradual fading of ghostly presences. In both descriptions, too, the passage of slow time is marked by two, small dramatic events: in The Trespasser you have the snapping of the violin strings—the first heard, the second unheard—and in To the Lighthouse there is first the board springing on the landing, and then there is the fold of the shawl loosening and swinging.

Juxtaposing Lawrence’s violin passage with Woolf’s “Time Passes” chapter also leads me to thoughts about structure. Even if Lawrence’s does not use section demarcations, both novels have a three part structure. In The Trespasser, the lengthy island portion is framed between two brief London segments, segments haunted by Siegmund’s ghost. In To the Lighthouse, as many critics have noted and commented upon, a three part structure is also used, though here you have a short section bracketed by two longer ones. In the one novel, two brief suffocating passages surround a lengthy, passionate interlude; in the other, a brief interlude of death and decay bridges two lengthy sections filled with life and vitality. While both Lawrence and Woolf use poetic language to render deep emotional states and to blur the boundaries between subjective and objective reality, To the Lighthouse opposes a transforming, celebratory vision to Lawrence’s dark study of death and social paralysis. In The Trespasser, changing gender relationships lead to suffocation and tragedy; in To the Lighthouse, changing gender relationships offer the possibility of a new way of being. In Lawrence, there is no escaping the shadow cast on Helena by Siegmund’s ghost, no escaping Siegmund’s life-denying grip. In To the Lighthouse, Lily overcomes Mrs. Ramsay’s ghost and through her painting makes Mrs. Ramsay part of a life-affirming vision.

One further passage may have left traces. After Louisa leaves, Byrne cries out to Helena, “You stretch your hands blindly to the dead; you look backwards. No, you never touch the living.” Byrne’s cry could be reverberating in “[Mr. Ramsay, stumbling along a passage one dark morning, stretched his arms out, but Mrs. Ramsay having died rather suddenly the night before, his arms, though stretched out, remained empty.]” Helena and Siegmund may stand behind Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay, with Helena shadowing Mr. Ramsay, Siegmund Mrs Ramsay If so, my Mrs. Ramsay suicide speculations deepen [Blog #182]. After all, the dead man Helena stretches toward is Siegmund, the suicide. Extend possible parallels between the two novels and Mr. Ramsay, too, may be stretching his arms out to a suicide.

More suicide speculations are possible. This time revisit Mrs. Ramsay not as a shadow of Siegmund but as a shadow of Helena. Justification for this may be found in the book inscription which refers to Mrs. Ramsay as “the happier Helen of our days.” Beyond introducing strong Helen of Troy elements into her novel, for Virginia the allusion may also have connected to Lawrence’s Helena. Such a connection, whether in the upper or the lower mind, might partially explain why, in this most biographical of novels, Virginia deviates so oddly from her mother’s life. Where Julia Stephen grieved for Herbert Duckworth, dead of a ruptured brain abscess, Mrs. Ramsay, her fictional avatar, seemingly grieves for a suicide:

Never did anybody look so sad.

But was it nothing but looks, people said? What was there behind it—her beauty and splendour? Had he blown his brains out, they asked, had he died the week before they were married–some other, earlier lover, of whom rumours reached one?

Like Lawrence’s Helena, Mrs. Ramsay is haunted by the suicide of a man she loved, a man whose suicide she may even have provoked. Like Helena, she is dangerous to men. Like Helena, too, and this is where she and Helena differ from Helen of Troy, by persisting in her grief and by not letting go of the past she threatens and damages the future.

But enough. Continue like this and conspiracy theorists will be seeking to recruit me. They might well be justified. If I keep seeing and using supposed Trespasser traces to make sense of To the Lighthouse details, then I might well become a good proponent of Bacon or de Vere as Shakespeare, Roswell alien theories or 9/11 government conspiracies. Already, I’m in danger of seriously entertaining the possibility that the To the Lighthouse phrase “For she had triumphed again” is an extension of The Rainbow‘s “She had triumphed: he was not anymore.” Time to leave the bogs of speculation for the more solid, even if still treacherous, meadow of facts.

After The Trespasser, the next reference to Lawrence in Woolf’s writings comes—again mingled with humour—in a December 1915, Asheham letter to Roger Fry: “Leonard has just read aloud a passionate poem by Lawrence, which perhaps made Max sick, but I expect you would have enlightened it somehow” [L II 73]. Earlier in the letter, Virginia had mentioned how Max, their dog, had just been sick, “having voided a large worm earlier in the day.” The criticism is meant for the eyes of a friend, and it is embroidered for effect, yet it probably contains some truth. Writing about Lawrence’s poetry years later, again in “Notes on D. H. Lawrence,” Woolf says of it that his poems “read like the sayings that small boys scribble upon stiles to make housemaids jump and titter.”

Virginia’s The Lost Girl review of 1920 is evidence of her continued interest in Lawrence. In it she talks about him as possibly an original and as a writer “with an extraordinary sense of the physical world, of the colour and texture and shape of things, for whom the body was alive and the problem of the body insistent and important.” She regrets that The Lost Girl does not achieve the high standards she envisioned for his work. Damning with tainted praise, she credits him with “something of Mr Bennett’s power of displaying by means of immense industry and great ability a section of the hive beneath glass.” Lawrence “occasionally and momentarily achieves that concentration which Tolstoy preserves sometimes for a chapter or more,” but in The Lost Girl his heroine cannot come fully to life and “disappears beneath the heap of facts recorded about her.” The novel, even if probably better than any that will appear for the next six months, is a disappointment to Woolf, but she ends her review with the hope that “the proper way to look at The Lost Girl is as a stepping stone in a writer’s progress. It is either a postscript or a prelude.”

Women in Love was even more interesting to Woolf than The Lost Girl, partly because of its roman a clef elements. Virginia enjoyed spotting aspects of Ottoline Morrell in Hermione Roddice, and she may well have identified traces of Mansfield and Murry in Gudrun and Gerald Crich. Though she did not write a review of this novel, in a letter to Molly MacCarthy she wrote,

“I am reading the Bride of Lammermoor—by that great man Scott: and Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence, lured on by the portrait of Ottoline which appears from time to time. She has just smashed Lawrence’s head open with a ball of lapis lazuli—but then balls are smashed on every other page—cats—cattle—even the fish and the water lilies are at it all day long. There is no suspense or mystery: water is all semen: I get a little bored and make out the riddles too easily. Only this puzzles me what does it mean when a woman does eurythmics in front of a herd of Highland cattle? But I must stop.” [L II 474]

Once again she was reading Lawrence and Scott together. Four days later, writing to Koteliansky, Woolf was much less snarky and much more positive about Lawrence’s novel:

I am reading Women in Love. It is much better than The Lost Girl I think, and I wish I had reviewed it in the Times instead of the man who did—for I thought him stupid and unfair. I can’t help thinking that there’s something wrong with Lawrence, which makes him brood over sex, but he is trying to say something, and he is honest, and therefore he is 100 times better than most of us. [L II 476]

The more positive views expressed in the Koteliansky letter may reflect a change in Virginia’s mood at the time of writing or they may owe something to Virginia’s sense of the state of the respective relationships between Lawrence and her family and friends. While Vanessa knew Ottoline well, she almost certainly did not know Lawrence, and therefore in writing to her Virginia was free to exaggerate and to allow her mischievous side free reign. Koteliansky, on the other hand, as Virginia Woolf well knew, was a passionate admirer and supporter of Lawrence, having first got to know him on a Lake District walking tour in late July of 1914, just as WW1 was breaking out.

Woolf’s most considered assessment of Lawrence is her 1931 essay, “Notes on D. H. Lawrence.” Professing to be less familiar with Lawrence than she actually was, making no reference, for instance, to The Rainbow or to having read Women in Love, she sets out to read and to evaluate Sons and Lovers “in order to see whether, as so often happens, the master is not altogether different from the travesty presented by his disciples.” Acknowledging the hardness, clarity, economy and sharpness of Lawrence’s writing, Virginia reserves her real praise for Lawrence’s “penetration and force,” for the way that his writing seems “more exciting, more moving, in some ways fuller of life than one had thought real life could be.” She draws attention to Lawrence’s physicality, to the immanence of the physical world, the way in which “bodies become incandescent, glowing, significant.” Lawrence is not, like her beloved Proust, “a member of a settled and satisfied society,” but he has a remarkable strength of his own, one proved by the ways in which Sons and Lovers “excites, irritates, moves, changes, seems full of stir and unrest and desire for something withheld.”

The review, even if heavily qualified, is strongly favourable. More than that, in praising Sons and Lovers Virginia vividly invokes To the Lighthouse. Sons and Lovers becomes the lighthouse as seen by James. Compare this passage from To the Lighthouse,

The Lighthouse was then a silvery, misty-looking tower with a yellow eye, that opened suddenly, and softly in the evening. Now —
James looked at the Lighthouse. He could see the white-washed rocks; the tower, stark and straight; he could see that it was barred with black and white; he could see windows in it; he could even see washing spread on the rocks to dry. So that was the Lighthouse, was it?

No, the other was also the Lighthouse. For nothing was simply one thing. The other Lighthouse was true too

to this one from the essay,

This then was the angle of approach, and it will be seen that it is an angle that shuts off many views and distorts others. But read from this angle, Sons and Lovers emerged with astonishing vividness, like an island from off which the mist has suddenly lifted. Here it lay, clean cut, decisive, masterly, hard as rock, shaped, proportioned by a man who, whatever else he might be—prophet or villain, was undoubtedly the son of a miner who had been born and bred in Nottingham.

Whether or not Lawrence was shimmering in the recesses of Virginia’s mind when writing To the Lighthouse, To the Lighthouse was most certainly casting a bright beam when she wrote her review of Sons and Lovers.

Postscript. Virginia began her first published essay (“Haworth, November, 1904,”) with the words “I do not know whether pilgrimages to the shrines of famous men ought not to be condemned as sentimental journeys.” It is a mark of Virginia’s interest in and respect for Lawrence that three years after his death she made just such a sentimental journey. Returning from a holiday in Italy, she and Leonard made a detour to Vence where Lawrence had died and was buried. In her diary she noted: “We saw Lawrence’s Phoenix picked out in coloured pebbles at Vence today, among all the fretted lace tombs” [D IV 159]. “Lawrence’s Phoenix” referred to the decoration on the grave’s headstone, a pebble mosaic commissioned by Frieda Lawrence, and designed by Dominique Matteucci. In a letter to Dorothy Brett, Woolf acidly, if accurately, described the mosaic as follows, “We saw his grave at Vence—what a fate for a man who loved beauty—a kind of plum pudding it seemed to me, raised by the local mason” [L V 202].

Less than two years after Virginia and Leonard visited the grave, Lawrence was disinterred and cremated. His ashes were either scattered in Marseille, left on a train in New Mexico, or mixed into the cement of the altar of his Taos mausoleum. The headstone with the pebble phoenix eventually found its way to the D H Lawrence Heritage Centre on Mansfield Road in Eastwood. The modern day pilgrim who now makes a sentimental journey to look for a Lawrence shrine in the Vence cemetery has to be content with a small marble plaque which reads: “Ici reposa David Herbert Lawrence De Mars 1930 A Mars 1935.”

To Bee or Not to Bee

How, then, she had asked herself, did one know one thing or another thing about people, sealed as they were? Only like a bee, drawn by some sweetness or sharpness in the air intangible to touch or taste, one haunted the dome-shaped hive, ranged the wastes of the air over the countries of the world alone, and then haunted the hives with their murmurs and their stirrings; the hives, which were people. Mrs. Ramsay rose. Lily rose. Mrs. Ramsay went. For days there hung about her, as after a dream some subtle change is felt in the person one has dreamt of, more vividly than anything she said, the sound of murmuring and, as she sat in the wicker arm-chair in the drawing-room window she wore, to Lily’s eyes, an august shape; the shape of a dome.

To the Lighthouse

The sun had gone down. Over the west was a gush of brightness as the fountain of light bubbled lower. The stars, like specks of froth from the foaming of the day, clung to the blue ceiling. Like spiders they hung overhead, while the hosts of the gold atmosphere poured out of the hive by the western low door. Soon the hive was empty, a hollow dome of purple, with here and there on the floor a bright brushing of wings—a village; then, overhead, the luminous star-spider began to run.

‘Ah, well!’ thought Siegmund—he was tired—’if one bee dies in a swarm, what is it, so long as the hive is all right? Apart from the gold light, and the hum and the colour of day, what was I? Nothing! Apart from these rushings out of the hive, along with swarm, into the dark meadows of night, gathering God knows what, I was a pebble. Well, the day will swarm in golden again, with colour on the wings of every bee, and humming in each activity. The gold and the colour and sweet smell and the sound of life, they exist, even if there is no bee; it only happens we see the iridescence on the wings of a bee. It exists whether or not, bee or no bee. Since the iridescence and the humming of life are always, and since it was they who made me, then I am not lost. At least, I do not care. If the spark goes out, the essence of the fire is there in the darkness. What does it matter? Besides, I have burned bright; I have laid up a fine cell of honey somewhere—I wonder where? We can never point to it; but it is so—what does it matter, then!’

The Trespasser

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Blog #189: Anna Karenina and To the Lighthouse (Blog 7 of 7)

They went to Hampton Court and he always left her, like the perfect gentleman he was, plenty of time to wash her hands, while he strolled by the river.

To the Lighthouse

Enough of Edward Hilton Young. Virginia’s interest in frustrated courtship had deep literary roots, as well as personal ones. I’ve already looked at many of the ways in which Virginia used Anna Karenina to deepen and enrich To the Lighthouse themes. Now, finally, here is the long promised comparison of the Varenka Sergey courtship with the Lily William one.

The parallels are numerous. Both courtships involve older men and younger women. Sergey is forty to Varenka’s twenty or so, and William Bankes is sixty to Lily’s thirty-three. Both courtships are non-verbal, with no articulated proposal or rejection between Sergey and Varenka or between William and Lily. Both courtships are subject to considerable pressure from women in the surrounding circle of family and friends. In Anna Karenina, Kitty does everything she can to push the surmised courtship to a crisis, and in To the Lighthouse, Lily, remembering her narrow escape from marriage to William, thinks “Mrs. Ramsay had planned it. Perhaps, had she lived, she would have compelled it.” Interestingly, too, both courtships are enriched and enlivened by vividly sketched interactions between the male suitors and boisterous, little girls aged six or seven. Where Tolstoy has Tanya boldly run up to Sergey to hand him his hat, Woolf has Cam fiercely rebuff William by refusing to “give a flower to the gentleman.” Finally, both suitors catalogue the qualities of the woman they are cautiously considering, and along with taste in shoes, neatness, good sense, maturity, social grace, religious principles, poverty is seen as an attraction. Both men, presumably want a servant wife, one who “would owe everything to her husband.”

While it would be easy to read too much into the similarity between the courtships, in having her lukewarm lovers shadow Tolstoy’s Virginia was doing more than just playfully reworking yet another Anna Karenina element or hinting at might-have-beens along paths not taken. She was, I think, building on Tolstoy’s suggestion that marriage no longer need be seen as a woman’s only way to self-realization, that a woman did not have to marry in order to fulfill herself. Tolstoy gives us the crisis of the courtship, gives us, as Amy Mandelker describes it In Framing Anna Karenina, a vision of Varenka’s “exalted status as a single woman resisting a loveless marriage.” Virginia is not so much interested in the crisis as in the consequences.

In To the Lighthouse there is no crystalline moment of potential proposal or rejection. We see the courtship indirectly, diffusely and, even, retrospectively. With the exception of Cam slighting Mr. Bankes, there is no drama or emotional tension in the brief, immediate glimpses we get of the William and Lily courtship. Even non-verbal communication, so central to Tolstoy’s non-proposal scene, and so vitally important to Virginia elsewhere in her novel, is skirted and scanted in the Lily William sketch. Non-verbal communication is explored intensely through Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay, through Lily and Mr. Carmichael, but hardly at all through Lily and William.

What matters to Virginia is the aftermath. Whereas Tolstoy drops Varenka completely after the non-proposal, Virginia makes Lily the new center of her novel. Indeed, much of the courtship and its consequences is presented retrospectively and through her eyes. She looks back on her “escape” with calm satisfaction. For her, the results of resisting marriage are, indeed, much more positive than those which Tolstoy shows for Sergey. Measured against Sergey’s involvement in local politics and the failure of intellectual pursuits such as his “Sketch of a Survey of the Principles and Forms of Government in Europe and Russia,” her life is quiet, yet seemingly rich and rewarding. Not only does she still have her art and her relationship with the Ramsay’s, but she has also managed to retain her friendship with William.

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