Thursday, December 2, 2010

Moments of Being

Virginia Woolf's Moments of Being is one of the great artifacts of literary modernism -- and it also possesses the virtue of being superbly written; few writers are of the caliber of Woolf when it comes to documenting the subtle nuances of human emotion and thought. Her voice is unwavering and clear; it is analytic and critical without every sacrificing its self-effacing quality and humility - and the clarity of its emotional tone. She handles the pain and loss in her life with a kind of imaginative double barreled shotgun: she destroys those that have inflicted pain on her, while exalting those that loved her. But as she hacks away at one and beatifies the other she always places both in very real, very human terms. There are also sparks of real humor here that cannot be overlooked, like the moment in the essay "Old Bloomsbury" when Lytton Strachey walks into the room and seeing a stain on Vanessa's white dressed pronounces "Semen?" and with one word ushers in the 20th centuries fixation with discussing sexual matters. We are to believe that one word carelessly said becomes the hallmark of an entire century.

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