It’s been a long time since I read anything by Virginia Woolf, so listening to her book To The Lighthouse this week, (read by one of my favorite narrators, Virginia Leishman) has been a real pleasure. After so long away, I was once again captured by the intelligence and beauty of her writing, and by her sensitivity and intensity. This book is like a beautiful, softly impressionistic painting done with words.
I can tell you the very day I discovered Virginia Woolf, she made that profound an impression on me. My son was a newborn, and our first outing with him was to the library (where else?). We wandered through the stacks of our little local branch, and I came across a book that caught my eye. The photograph on the cover was lovely, and the book looked interesting to me because it was a compilation of memories of people who had known this person. The book was Recollections of Virginia Woolf By Her Contemporaries, edited by Joan Russell Noble. I was enthralled with the view of her from those other people, so when I finished the book I began to read all her works. I was particularly drawn to her letters and diaries, because it was the person and her life that fascinated me. Her fiction followed, and then her essays.
In looking back at the impact this author has had on my life, I can track one particular idea that really struck home with me so many years ago and which became a very important part of me. She talked about her “self education,” (her extensive reading in her father’s library), and how traditionally women have educated themselves by reading. I took that idea to heart at that young age and realized that my reading was and would be the most important part of my own education. With that new awareness and attitude, I became more mindful of what I was reading and learning, and over the years I’ve enjoyed how it all fit together. Learning is about making connections, and when you look at the reading you do over a long period of time, for entertainment, escape, and “education,” you realize how ideas connect and lead to other ideas and discoveries, and how it all becomes part of who you are. I’ve had some great teachers throughout my life, but I think that Virginia Woolf was one of the most influential–someone that greatly enhanced my life.
Virginia had this way of magnifying one’s simple words and experiences. One would hand her a bit of information as dull as a lump of lead. She would hand it back glittering like diamonds. I always felt on leaving her that I had drunk two glasses of an excellent champagne. She was a life-enhancer. That was one of her own favorite phrases. She always said that the world was divided into two categories: those who enhanced life and those who diminished it.
from Recollections of Virginia Woolf By Her Contemporaries