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 Moments of Being is a collection of unpublished autobiographical writings of Virginia Woolf, centred on A Sketch of the Past, in which Woolf saws her memories into slices.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.

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