Sunday, March 26, 2006

Biography

Start writing letters, just to give your biographer more to work with.

While on the subject, I have been reading Hemione Lee's brilliant brilliant biography of - who else? - Virginia Woolf. There is so much to say and quote. I am nodding vigorously, underlining things, scribbling names in margins, or running off to a housemate to read something every three minutes. I'll give you only the best:

On an encounter with the man who 'explains why people say the things they do - which is always a mystery even to the speaker...HJ puts in too much':

Henry James fixed me with his staring blank eye - it is like a childs marble - and said 'My dear Virginia, they tell me - they tell me - they tell me - that you - as indeed being your fathers daughter nay your grandfathers grandchild - the descendent I may say of a century - of a century - of quill pens and ink - ink - ink pots, yes, yes, yes, they tell me - ahm m m - that you, that you, that you write in short.' This went on in the public street, while we all waited, as farmers wait for the hen to lay an egg - do they? - nervous, polite, and now on this foot now on that. I felt like a condemned person, who sees the knife drop and stick and drop again. Never did any woman hate 'writing' as much as I do. But when I am old and famous I shall discourse like Henry James (217).

And then, this in a taxi:

'Missing trains is awful' I said. 'Yes. But humiliation is the worst thing in life' he replied. 'Are you as full of vices as I am?' I demanded. 'Full. Riddled with them.' 'We're not as good as Keats' I said. 'Yes we are' he replied. 'No; we dont write classics straight off as magnanimous people do.' 'We're trying something harder' he said. 'Anyhow out work is streaked with badness' I said. 'Compared with theirs, mine is futile. Negligible. One goes on because of an illusion.' He told me that I talked like that without meaning it. Yet I do mean it (442).

The 'he' is Tom, that is to say T.S. Eliot.

But my favourite quote from the book has got to be this one, soon after the Woolfs bought a car:

I have driven from the Embankment to Marble Arch and only knocked one boy very gently off his bicycle (509).

Is this blog turning into the literary equivalent of Hello!?

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