Virginia Woolf (1882 – 1941) is regarded as one of the most exceptional figures of modern literature in the 20th century. She was a novelist, journalist and essayist, who wrote primarily about feminism, homosexuality and mental illness.
Woolf experimented with and developed unusual literary tools including interior monologues, dream-states, free association prose and she abandoned linear narrative. She believed her peers needed to look below the surface and beyond the confines of the restricted representations of men and women.
There is a heavy emphasis on poetic symbols and the role of women in the world of academia. I know a lot of readers, reviewers or critics disparage this particular short story, as the mindless meanderings of a scribe.
Not so quick say I, because what may seem like a drifting of thoughts or a jumble of notes thrown together, is much more than that.
Have you ever been lost in thought? Perhaps caught up in a moment of time and spent unexpected seconds travelling through the winding streets of your own mind. That is the premise of this short tale. It actually gives an interesting insight into the creative mind of Woolf .
Perhaps it was the middle of January in the present that I first looked up and saw the mark on the wall
The mark was a small round mark, black upon the white wall, about six or seven inches above the mantelpiece.
A train of thoughts set in motion by a mere speck on the wall. Much like the patterns on wallpaper, which seem to dance, twist and change to our own personal tunes. As she stares her focus turns inwards.
How readily our thoughts swarm upon a new object, lifting it a little way, as ants carry a blade of straw so feverishly, and then leave it. I might get up, but if I got up and looked at it, ten to one I shouldn’t be able to say for certain; because once a thing’s done, no one ever knows how it happened.
Her mind wanders to the meaning of life. Questioning existence and the lack of control we have over our lives and those of others, despite thinking and believing the complete opposite.
The inaccuracy of thought! The ignorance of humanity! To show how very little control of our possessions we have—what an accidental affair this living is after all our civilization
Why, if one wants to compare life to anything, one must liken it to being blown through the Tube at fifty miles an hour.Yes, that seems to express the rapidity of life, the perpetual waste and repair; all so casual, all so haphazard
Her thoughts lead to the inevitable question of ‘What about after life?’ The following sentence is one, which I believe is indicative of Woolf and her immense literary talent. Her sentences role over the tongue and the mind like the sweetest of sugar.
Why, after all, should one not be born there as one is born here, helpless, speechless, unable to focus one’s eyesight, groping at the roots of the grass, at the toes of the Giants?
To begin at the end, as at the beginning. (There ya go I’m being prolific, take note) She then takes a close hard look at herself and lets us take a glance inside.
Suppose the looking glass smashes, the image disappears, and the romantic figure with the green of forest depths all about it is there no longer, but only that shell of a person which is seen by other people
for of course there is not one reflection but an almost infinite number
She refers to her own image and the discrepancy between what people perceive, what we want people to see and then the actual reality. The real person hiding inside the shell society expects to be exhibited to them. We are like dispersive prisms and our various reflections are the dispersed lights.
The ending is both ironic and amusing. I will leave that to you to find out. Unexpected and yet just right.
Virginia suffered from frequent bouts of mental illness throughout her life, there are many who believe she may have been bi-polar. It would explain the descent into times of deep depression and manic episodes.
This piece, for instance is a good example of how her creativity swirls with an intense yet rudderless passion.
One can compare it to a ball in a pinball machine, shooting from top to bottom and side to side. Each contact point represents a single thought, which spirals into a tornado then moves along to the next point of contact and becomes a new direction and thought.
All that energy combined with an intelligent mind, an abundance of literary talent and an astute view of society and the world. No wonder Virginia and her work are so highly regarded.
Free downloads of the above story and more by Virginia Woolf
Download to read To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf at Feedbooks here.
Download to read The Mark on the Wall by Virginia Woolf at Feedbooks here.
Download to read Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf at the Internet Archive here.
Download to listen to The Mark on the Wall by Virginia Woolf (short story collection nr. 5) at Librivox here.