Not Small After All

“Then there could be no doubt that as a novelist [Mary Carmichael] enjoyed some natural advantages of a high order. She had a sensibility that was very wide, eager and free. It responded to an almost imperceptible touch on it. It feasted like a plant newly stood in the air on every sight and sound that came its way. It ranged, too, very subtly and curiously, among almost unknown or unrecorded things; it lighted on small things and showed that perhaps they were not small after all. It brought buried things to light and made one wonder what need there had been to bury them. Awkward though she was and with the unconscious bearing of long descent which makes the least turn of the pen of a Thackeray or a Lamb delightful to the ear, she had – I began to think – mastered the first great lesson; she wrote as a woman, so that her pages were full of that curious sexual quality which comes only when sex is unconscious of itself.”

A passage from Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, which I reread as preparation for a first reading of Three Guineas. (The picture above, incidentally, is, sadly, not of my edition. If you have a spare £20,000 a complete set of Virginia Woolf first editions could be yours, which seems a far better use of such a sum than a reasonably smart car, or desert island holiday.)

It doesn’t need me to point out how incisive is Woolf’s dissection of women’s inequity, but in the twenty years since I last read A Room of One’s Own, I had forgotten how elegant and witty her exposition. The passage above sums up so many of the qualities I enjoy in a writer, Dorothy Richardson comes closest to mind. Reading this essay again makes me wish to reread Woolf, and to read, like Three Guineas, some of the work I’ve missed.

7 thoughts on “Not Small After All

  1. Her prose is peerless, as far as I’m concerned. If I had more discipline I would like to spend a year just reading Woolf and nothing else. And if money ever comes my way, it would go on the first edition set (I’m hyperventilating again now….)

  2. I’m so happy that I finally started reading Woolf. I think my reading for the rest of this year will be consumed with her. I am finishing Christa Wolf’s The Quest for Christa T. (have you read that one?) and then I will be turning back to the British Woolf! I’m so glad you are contemplating reading more Woolf as well, would love to hear more of your thoughts about here.

    And 20K sounds like a great investment. Much better than buying a car or any number of fancy electronic devices. Wanna split it ;).

    • I’ve not yet read that Wolf, but have it awaiting my attention.

      My plan, such as these things endure, is to read the essays next, working backwards. But with the intention of rereading the novels next year.

      That full set of first editions, I would add, are signed and in very good or better condition.

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