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Virginia Woolf (1882 - 1941)

Older than Evelyn Waugh by a couple of decades, Virginia Woolf’s treatment of a similar social milieu to that of Waugh is markedly different. He wrote of a world in a state of constant transition, whereas her work is an elegy as it seems to lifestyles that seemed to slip away almost by accident.

Her principle theme is time, its relentless passing, and the changes it brings in people and in relationships, while attitudes and emotions continue to endure. I have a memory of a book in which she writes how ‘Tuesday follows Monday; Wednesday, Tuesday’, a memory that stuck in my mind for more than forty years until I thought to check it before writing this, and found that in fact she had written ‘After Monday comes Tuesday, and Wednesday follows’. The cycle is relentless, our position in it akin to the not quite still but nevertheless constant centre of a moving world.

Those lines came from ‘The Waves’, to my mind a far more effective use of personal narration that Molly Bloom’s soliloquy in ‘Ulysses’. Virginia Woolf deals with six friends, moving from childhood to age, some dropping away, speaking initially in sentences that capture the wonder of new experience – ‘When the smoke rises, sleep curls off the roof like a mist.,’ said Louis, supposedly based on T S Eliot. The book ends in a long meditation by the survivor, Bernard, about life constantly renewing itself, despite the constant presence of death – ‘A redness gathers on the roses, even on the pale rose that hangs by the bedroom window. A bird chirps. Cottagers light their early candles. Yes, this is the eternal renewal, the incessant rise and fall and fall and rise again.’

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Rajiva Wijesinha

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