Monday, 24 June 2013

Virginia Woolf - Professor G. Kellman, University of Texas

I am deeply indebted to Professor Steven G. Kellman of the University of Texas who sent me this fantastic and detailed reply to my e-mail asking if he knew whether Virginia Woolf wrote poetry:

"What an exciting project, and what a tantalizing question.

One would think that, especially since her fiction is often described as “poetic” and the Hogarth Press was instrumental in advancing the reputations of T. S. Eliot, John Masefield, and other poets, Virginia Woolf would have tried her hand at the form.  And I imagine that there must be some poems among the juvenilia in the Woolf papers at Sussex and Cambridge. However (and please note that I am not a Woolf specialist), Woolf’s innovative prose was in direct rebellion against a Victorian literary tradition in which poetry was prissy and “feminine.” I do not know of any poems from Woolf’s mature period, except perhaps for two very short pieces, “Blue” and “Green,” that she wrote around 1920. Biographer Panthea Reid describes them as each a single paragraph “offering diverse associations produced by the colors, but not by an identifiable scene” (p. 232). Perhaps they qualify as prose poems.

In a letter of October  16, 1930, Woolf wrote to Ethel Smyth that: “After being ill and suffering every form and variety of nightmare and extravagant intensity of perception – for I used to make up poems, stories, profound and to me inspired phrases all day long as I lay in bed, I think, all that I now, by the light of reason,  try to put into prose (I thought of the Lighthouse then, and Kew and others, not in substance but in idea) – after all this, when I came to, I was so tremblingly afraid of my own insanity that I wrote Night and Day mainly to prove to my own satisfaction that I could keep entirely off that dangerous ground.”

I take that to mean Woolf was so apprehensive about the bits of verse that flitted through her mind that she made sure to translate them into prose. Perhaps poetry represented to her the derangement that she struggled against throughout her life.

In any case, I wish you much success in organizing the exhibition. I am sorry that I will not be able to see it.

Best wishes,

Steven G. Kellman
Professor of Comparative Literature
University of Texas at San Antonio

Thank you so much Professor Kellman - there is so much material for thought and discussion there.

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