Saturday, August 20, 2011

Reading Hermione Lee's "Virginia Woolf"

It is a big book, 761 pages, and I am only at page 490 after working at it for two weeks. The mastery of detail is dazzling, the letters, the diaries, the writings, the biographies, the gossip, not just of Virginia, but also of her family and friends. Lee has a particular feeling for houses, just as Virginia had, and she describes them with much atmosphere. A tally of the houses:

Talland House, the Stephens' beloved childhood summer house at St. Ives; 22 Hyde Park Gate, the family's Victorian home in London;  the convivial house shared by Thoby, Vanessa, Virginia and Adrian, after their parents' death, at Gordon Square in Bloomsbury; the unhappy house shared with Adrian at Fitzroy Square after Thoby's death and Vanessa's marriage to Clive Bell; No. 38 Brunswick Square, where Virginia rented rooms to Maynard Keynes and his lover Duncan Grant, and, later, Leonard Woolf; Asheham, where Virginia and Leonard spent the first night of their marriage; Monk's House in the village of Rodmell, Sussex, above the Ouse valley. Houses, and the room they afford, are a vital motif in Virginia's writing. Besides the obvious Jacob's Room and A Room of One's Own, one think of the house from which Clarissa plunges into London, and to which she returns to host her party.

My own thoughts are full of home and rooms too. GH and I moved into this apartment on the Upper West Side at the end of February. We have lived here for six months, the months of early spring and summer, half of our one-year lease. It felt like a vacation home at the beginning, but after returning from hotels and friends' houses, it feels like home home. Two days ago, someone stuck a notice on the inner vestibule glass door: "An apartment was broken into. Please don't buzz anyone in you are not expecting." Just before reading the notice, on my way in after a run, I was jingling my keys, and thinking, the small key for the big door, the big key for the small.

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