Virginia Woolf

by Hannah Morgan

The New York Times recently published an article by Joshua Rothman entitled “Virginia Woolf’s Idea of Privacy,” and if you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it. In the piece, Rothman analyzes excerpts from Mrs. Dalloway and comes to the conclusion that Woolf conceives of life as “a gift that you’ve been given, which you must hold onto and treasure but never open. Opening it would dispel the atmosphere, ruin the radiance—and the radiance of life is what makes it worth living.” He goes on to suggest that “an artist’s sense of privacy” involves “shield[ing] yourself not just from others’ prying eyes, but from your own.” Rothman then brings to light the idea that there is “a kernel of selfhood that we can’t share with others,” which adds texture to the previous notion that the artist is active in shielding the self from others.

Rotham’s article left me with more questions than answers. In particular, two questions were loud in my head.

One: If the beauty of life disappears when we examine it too closely, is it the artist’s duty to protect that sacred inner-space wherein we experience beauty, to leave it unexposed?

Two: If our deepest inner-selves are inaccessible to others, is it then the artist’s duty to get as close to sharing the inner-self as one can?

As is my habit, I also read the comment section under the NYT article. One commenter likened the idea that examining something too closely dispels one’s awe of that thing to his own experience with music; HasseneAkkeri writes,

“When I was sixteen, I had a strong passion for music, especially the neo classic songs. I was tasting each piece as a whole context, an unsplittable mosaic of sounds. Then one day, I started being more sensitive to the background parts: violins, cellos, pianos, etc. It was extremely frustrating. I started desperately trying to freeze this sudden consciousness. The music was more authentic and enjoyable when details were immersed in a whole wonderful sound.”

Another commenter brings up a poem by Rilke that seems to involve the notion that our inner-selves are inaccessible to others; francoise3 writes,

“Years ago I came across the quote from Rilke about (paraphrasing) understanding that there is an infinite space which exists between two people, even in the closest relationship, that enables ‘each to see the other whole against the sky’.  I loved the feeling the words gave me so much that for years I used it to make wedding cards for friends when they got married.”

What are your thoughts, readers?