Category Archives: Getting Sidetracked

A Short Story

I am posting something a bit different today.  Yesterday’s post about The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman has received some interest from one of my sisters. My sister, like me, is a book lover and a Literature graduate. She is also a Women’s Studies graduate with a  keen interest in women’s lives and writing.  After reading my post about The Yellow Wallpaper, she reminded me of a story that she wrote quite a while ago which, like Gilman’s story, illustrates a man’s attitude to a woman’s mental health. 

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The End of the Rainbow

I knew immediately that I had been diluted. I had expected it for a while and I had worried about how humiliatingly public it might be, but it had finally happened peacefully in my sleep.

The human body is normally 70% water. I think in general, women become more dilute over time but my estimate, as I lay there, was that I was now about 97% H2O. I couldn’t tell what the rest of me was, or which part of me had been displaced, but the outline of my body was wavy now, unstable and blurred where it merged with the delicate daisy print of my sheets. As I gingerly felt the bed with my hands, arms stretching out slowly as if fearing that the crocodile under my bed might bite them off suddenly, I was relieved to find it was dry. I had not spilled over. You heard such stories. I quickly pulled my arms back and folded them across my chest. I needed to think, so I lay quite still, as still as I could in the circumstances. But, water finds its own level, and any movement sent a tidal wave from my feet to my frown that made me feel quite funny. I recalled the impossibility of stepping in the bath without sound or splash, despite my best efforts as a child. Also, I remembered trying to make the bath water look like I had never washed in it. I had wanted to show him how clean I was in the hope that it might make him realise how dirty he was without my having to spell it out. It hadn’t worked.

So….what now? No one is ever prepared for dilution. We know it will happen, like the menopause, but no one talks about it. Like starting your periods. Or how awful motherhood can be. Of course, I knew intuitively that a woman who had not had children, unless of course she had been unable but desperate, could expect to suffer more. In that case, I guess I was in for a pretty rough ride.

I could never see the point. Never felt that thing you are meant to feel. Women like me are unnatural, sick, and God will punish me with a painful dilution. But a painful dilution is no reason to bring a child into this world. I still stick by that. Ouch; the pain has started quickly, in my feet; it’s the water trying to escape I suppose. The extremities.

Most who looked at me would say I looked fine. They obviously haven’t had their dilution, or else are men. My husband. A mathematician. Cambridge. Now Professor of something. Comes home late. Works at home all weekend. Fathered a son (not mine) and a daughter (not mine). I have learned to be so proud. He could have been a doctor or a psychiatrist, but he preferred numbers, rationality, black and white; not people and feelings and endless shades of grey.

As well as wet, I now felt grey. I had actually lost my colour long ago, but until now, I had always felt a colour. I had once been orange and red and yellow and I had fizzed like champagne. I went to Paris, to The Louvre. I had darkened first, to black, which had its comforts, I don’t mind black, but then I faded. Over time, you know. It just happened. Crept up on me really. The dilution left me Pale Platinum. Pale like the sky, just visible to me now. I would wait until the next cloud had passed.

There it went. ‘Don it’s time to get up,’ I nudged my husband, asleep at my side. He sat up without preamble, thin legs hanging over the side of the bed. He strode purposefully out of the room. He hadn’t noticed. I should get up now and make coffee. I heard him in the bathroom, water running in the basin. He came into the bedroom for clothes and socks. I mumbled that I had a headache. He grabbed his jacket, shoes. He said see you later have a nice day.

Bloomsbury and Bloomsberry

The Bloomsburys and the Bloomsberries

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Photo: courtesy of Pixabay (CCO Public Domain)

This post is for Brenda who has asked about my practice of referring to the Bloomsbury Group as the ‘Bloomsberries’, and for anyone else who is curious. I have had members of my family asking the same question. Strictly speaking they were the Bloomsbury Group and informally, I reckon, the Bloomsburys. However, that just doesn’t look right as a plural so I thought Bloomsberries looked better. I also thought, naively, that it was my invention.

Well it isn’t my invention and I do see it used on Virginia Woolf sites like this one here: Bloomsberries, which states that:

the ‘Bloomsberries’ as they were called, were mostly privileged and well-educated members of the upper middle class.

I also like the word a great deal; it sounds very different to ‘Bloomsbury’… more rounded, with a change of syllable emphasis from the bloom to the berry. Visually it conjures up images of  ….. blooms and berries no less.

Like Brenda, I love words and I think this is a delicious word.

An update on my progress

All photos above are my own, taken at Monk’s House

As you know, my aim in writing this blog was to learn about, and share ‘all things Virginia’. Here is an update on my progress to mark the end of 2015 and the start of 2016.

Well, over the last four months, I have learned a lot about Virginia and where she lived, and with whom. I have learned about what she wrote, where she wrote, how she felt, and about the uncertainties she had about her writing. I have learned about her bereavements, her illness and her relationships. I know that she was highly educated, widely travelled, wealthy and abused.

I have learned about her friends, the Bloomsberries, and what they did. I know a bit about abstract art, famous novels and the Dictionary of National Biography. My learning has got me well and truly side-tracked until I now know snippets about Tennyson and the Freshwater Circle, and about the photographer Julia Margaret Cameron. My blog has also led me to consider Ophelia and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. I can also say that I even know about her car and about the food that she ate and the servants that she had.

But, I have a long way to go. There are many many unread novels and non fiction; essays and diaries. I need to consider Modernism and Feminism, Victorian etiquette, the Omega workshops, events of the time and more places of interest and who knows where else my learning will take me.

Thank you very much for reading.

 

Getting Sorted

My Virginia mini-library

I have been feeling a little disorganised, book wise. I have close to fifty books in my Virginia mini-library and they were getting out of hand. A big pile of fiction, short fiction, non-fiction, biographies, autobiographical writings, general reference and Woolf specific reference. Needless to say I didn’t know exactly what was hiding in the pile and I didn’t know what to read next. So, I have spent the last hour making a proper library for them … see my sticky labels below? Biography, non-fiction etc?

You would be surprised but this was not quite as easy as it sounds. For example I have a book Virginia Woolf, Memoirs of a Novelist and at first glance I assumed it was autobiographical. Wrong. It is actually a collection of short stories.

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I feel much better now and much more organised. I am also aware that I have been spending a lot of time on other aspects of my blog and not on the books. I will put that right very soon – there are just too many interesting tangents!

Alfred, Lord Tennyson 1809 to 1892

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Photo by Julia Margaret Cameron [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Well I am really getting side-tracked now.

Learning about  Virginia has led me, via Virginia’s Great Aunt, Julia Margaret Cameron (the famous photographer), to Tennyson who was a friend of Julia’s and a fellow member of the ‘Freshwater Circle’.

The only things I knew about Tennyson before my research, was that he wrote ‘The Lady of Shalott’ and ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’.

I now know that he was Poet Laureate after Wordsworth and accepted his peerage in 1884. So, he was only Lord Tennyson after the age of 75! He died at age 83.

A real surprising thing that I have learned (and please forgive my ignorance) is that he wrote the following:

‘Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all’

In Memoriam A.H.H.

I would  (almost) have bet my life that it was Shakespeare. Well well well. Every day is a school day, so they say.

In Memoriam A.H.H. is considered to be a masterpiece;  written after the very early death of his friend Arthur Henry Hallam, it is an account of the poet’s thoughts and feelings as he mourns and grieves for his friend.

I hold it true, whate’er befall;

I feel it when I sorrow most;

‘Tis better to have loved and lost

Than never to have loved at all.

It is an epic poem  written in four line stanzas with an ABBA rhyming scheme. It is written in iambic tetrameter (da DUM, da DUM, da DUM, da DUM). Maybe the ‘heartbeat’ rhythm speaks louder than the words.

This is where he lived, on the Isle of Wight.

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Farringford House [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Julia Margaret Cameron, photographer

The greatest portrait photographer of the Victorian Age

Born 1815, died 1879.

Julia Margaret Pattle was born in Calcutta and became an innovative British photographer, famous for photographing Victorian celebrities. She is credited with pioneering photography as an art form and with taking some of the first close up portraits. These portraits were usually cropped closely round the face and taken in soft focus. Her famous ‘sitters’ included Charles Darwin and Alfred Lord Tennyson and of course, Virginia’s mother, Julia.

As well as being a famous photographer, Julia Margaret was also Virginia Woolf’s Great Aunt. As we know, Virginia’s mother was Julia Stephen. Julia’s mother was Maria Pattle who had a sister, Julia Margaret. This well known Victorian photographer was therefore Virginia’s grandmother’s sister – Virginia’s Great Aunt.

In 1838 Julia Margaret married Charles Hay Cameron who was twenty years her senior. As we speak, my resident genealogist is trying the find a link between him and the Prime Minister today, David Cameron.

Q. Was Virginia related to David Cameron?

A. Yes

Well, my genealogist has been on the case and yes, there is a relationship. Get ready. David Cameron’s Great Great Great Great Great Grandad (William Hay, the 17th Earl of Erroll, 1772 to 1819), was uncle to Charles Hay, the gentleman who was married to Virginia’s Great Aunt.

…..    mmmm that’s what I thought.

Julia Margaret has been described as generous, talented, intelligent, eccentric and enthusiastic. She was ambitious and, with adjectives like this, she was unlike the stereotypical passive Victorian woman. Julia came to photography when her daughter gave her a camera as a gift. She was forty eight at the time so she found this passion in later life.

When Charles retired  in 1848 they moved from India to England.

The Cameron’s house , Dimbola Lodge, Fresh Water Bay,  Isle of Wight.

In 1860 Julia and Charles bought two adjacent cottages that served as her home and studio. She converted the coal shed into a dark room and the hen house into a studio. She named this home ‘Dimbola Lodge’ after her husband’s coffee and tea plantations in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Julia certainly moved in the circles of some of the  highest in society in Victorian England.

Alfred Lord Tennyson lived nearby and attracted artists and visitors to the area. These people came to be known as the Freshwater Circle – I imagine a bit like the Bloomsberries – a group of artists, writers and thinkers. Dimbola Lodge sounds like it was an earlier version of Charleston Farmhouse; a meeting place for bohemian artists, writers and poets; people like Tennyson and Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland.

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Dimbola Lodge around 1871
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Dimbola Lodge nearer present day

Photograph 1: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/57/Dimbola_Lodge.JPG By Editor5807 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Both photographs in the public domain.

In 1875 Julia and Charles moved back to his estate in Ceylon where Julia took fewer photographs. Chemicals were not as easy to obtain and neither was pure water for developing and printing and indeed, there was a smaller market for her work.

Julia died in 1879, in Ceylon, after catching a chill.

 

Marjorie (Trekkie) Parsons

An English artist, painter and illustrator. Trekkie wrote and illustrated ‘Bells across the sand’ a book of rhymes with pictures.

Trekkie was born Marjorie Tulip Ritchie. Tulip was her mother’s maiden name, so it formed a double barrelled surname and not a pretty ‘middle’ name as you may think. Trekkie was a nickname that she preferred to use instead of Marjorie.  Trekkie’s family came to England from South Africa in 1917 when she was fifteen and she went on to study at the Slade School of Fine Art in London.

Trekkie had a passion for poetry and a love of flowers. She painted still life, portraits and scenes. I have found a lovely painting, ‘Sunflowers’ that I want you to see. I can’t show you it here as I am a bit unsure as to the copyright status. Have a look via this link instead:

Sunflowers by Trekki Parsons

Trekkie first met Leonard when they were neighbours in London. She was twenty two years younger than Leonard and they had quite an unconventional life together. Trekkie remained happily married to her husband, Ian Parsons, until he died. However, she would spend the week with Leonard and the weekends with Ian. She would have separate holidays with each of them, would act as hostess for each of them, have fabulous parties with Ian and travel to France, Greece and Israel with Leonard.

It seems that Trekkie was very likeable, she was attractive, kind and amusing and made Leonard very happy after Virginia’s death. Apparently it was quite a chaste relationship, as she was essentially loyal to her husband but she and Leonard were very close despite this. Trekkie never wanted to have children though her husband quite liked the idea of a traditional family life. It seems that she ‘spent her whole life trying not to have children.’

Being loyal to Virginia, I feel quite sad that Virginia’s writing room in the garden at Monk’s House eventually became Trekkie’s studio instead but, seeing as I really like Leonard, I can overlook this as Trekkie did make him very happy.

 

An ‘Ophelia-like Suicide’?

I am now reading Living in Squares, Loving in Triangles by Amy Licence and I have not reached the end of the first page before I have been intrigued. Amy Licence describes Virginia as:

a writer of impenetrable text, an exacting diarist, the member of a social elite, and an Ophelia-like suicide (sic).

So, I wondered, just how did Ophelia die? Well it seems that after her boyfriend (Hamlet) killed her father (Polonius), she suffered from insanity; singing nonsense and behaving irrationally. She jumped/fell from a tree and drowned in the water below. Her death has resulted in much debate and critics have discussed,

Was it suicide or was it an accident?

According to Gertrude, the Queen of Denmark, Ophelia climbed a tree to hang garlands of flowers, a branch broke, she fell into the water and drowned due to her heavy clothes. But the viewer never sees the scene directly so we only have Gertrude’s interpretation. A different view is that after her father’s death (her boyfriend having murdered him), she became suicidal. Indeed, she was denied a full Christian funeral as it was believed that she had killed herself.

There is an ambiguity and the reader has to make his or her mind up. Whichever way it is interpreted though, I can see why Amy Licence refers to Virginia’s suicide as ‘Ophelia-like’ as there are similarities between them;  no mother, their fathers’ deaths, their madness and the deaths by water.

The difference though is that Virginia’s fate was a real life tragedy and not a Shakespearean one.

Joseph Lancaster (1778 to 1838)

Joseph Lancaster founded the use of the monitorial system of education which was that as one pupil learned a subject then he or she passed the knowledge on to a younger pupil. These Lancasterian schools were criticized for poor standards and harsh discipline.

I was immediately reminded of Lowood School in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre so I just checked Bronte’s birth and death dates (1816 to 1855) and she would have been writing during this period. At the time of Lancaster’s death there were around 1500 schools still using his methods.

Then I noticed that Charlotte’s husband was Arthur Bell Nicholls and I really hoped that I could link him to Clive Bell, one of the Bloomsberries!

However, no luck as yet. Chris and I have gone back four generations and haven’t found a link so far. Shame.

 

 

My Reading List

I have a few Virginia related texts of my own; novels and biographies and such, so I thought I had plenty of reading to get through. But, just in conversation, I asked one of my sisters if she had any Woolf related books amongst her bookshelves (I knew she would have a few). So she said, yes, and did I want to call and collect them? Her pile is on the right.

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Well, thank you Claire. Linda – do you have any?? Only kidding. This lot will keep me busy long enough.

By the way, if Virginia can have a reading place at the bottom of her garden then so can I. My garden bench in the photo serves me very well.