The quiet I tend to attribute to [Virginia] Woolf's prose whenever I've been away from it for any length of time really isn't there at all: her work is characteristically brimming, agitated by the busy interestedness of minds (those of her characters) given to incessant noticing, lapsing and gathering momentum like the waves that are one of her favorite images. Quietness lay not in her style, but in my response to it, since with Woolf there was none of the tension arising when my own private voices, the ways I explain reality to myself, dissented from the voice(s) of whatever I was reading. I do not mean that my mind is anything like Woolf's, only that while reading her I could not manage to sustain any awareness of how our minds were different. I was lost, and this was a relief, because I had not been alive enough. As if an old wrong had been set right, I was relieved to possess, by way of a stolen paperback, life so beautifully seen. It had been waiting for me to see it thus -- life -- just as Woolf had always been there waiting for me to read her. I did not know then that in trying to find out who she was I would discover not one VW but hundreds belonging to other people, all jealously defending their status as her only real reader. To fall for Woolf is like ducking from a storm into a godsend taxi, only to find you're shut in with lovers who are at each other's throats, so tense, so intertwined, that anything can trigger a resumption of hostilities, even something as small as a phrase, a word.
17 March 2006
Her Only Real Reader
From "Every Secret of a Writer's Soul" by Elizabeth Talent, Threepenny Review #105: