Moments of Being (Virginia Woolf)

Mere memories. Moments of Being is a collection of unpublished autobiographical writings of Virginia Woolf, centred on A Sketch of the Past, in which Woolf saws her memories into slices. As always with Woolf, there are surprises within a work that is by turn shocking, saddening and witty. It also serves as a contemplative study of the telescoping effect of memory recollection.

Bergson wrote that until a memory arrives in the present it is cold, lifeless. Woolf’s memory of her beloved mother’s death “unveiled and intensified . . . perceptions, as if a burning glass has been laid over what was shaded and dormant . . . as if something were becoming visible”, unshades memories of people visitable only in memory. It brought to mind afresh a long forgotten memory of a man who delivered groceries to my childhood home in Brunei, an effervescent, laughing man, harrowed with grief after losing his son, my five-year old friend, to appendicitis.

Woolf also writes about how her fiction and memory served each other:

Further, just as I rubbed out a good deal of the force of my mother’s memory by writing about her in To the Lighthouse, so I rubbed out much of [my father’s] memory there too. Yet he obsessed me for years. Until I wrote it out, I would find my lips moving; I would be arguing with him; raging against him; saying to myself all that I never said to him; how deep they drove themselves into me, the things it was impossible to say aloud. They are still some of them sayable; when Nessa for instance revives the memory of Wednesday and its weekly books, I still feel come over me that old frustrated fury.

But in me, though not in her, rage alternated with love. . . . ‘You must think me,’ he said to me after one of these rages—I think the word he used was ‘foolish’. I was silent. I did not think him foolish. I thought him brutal. . . .

How this text may have evolved and changed had it ever come to publication is worthy of contemplation. It is raw Woolf, naked and revealing, but deeply insightful.

Published by


Time's Flow Stemmed is a notebook of my wild readings.

Post a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s