Alphabe Thursday … W is for Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf, daughter of the great alpinist Leslie Stephen revealed to a friend that she didn’t take to mountains and climbing; why should she, she adds ‘Wasn’t I brought up with alpenstocks in my nursery, and a raised map of the Alps, showing every peak my father climbed? Of course, London and the marshes are the places I like the best’.
Her London, had more than doubled in size since Dickens had walked the streets. Woolf wrote of the confining oppression of ones identity, of the way the objects in one’s home ‘enforce the memories of our own experience’. So when she set out to buy a pencil in the city one winter’s evening, she did so it seems without fear and her account became one of the great essays on urban walking.
‘As we step out of the house on a fine evening between four and six, we shed the self our friend’s know us by and become part of that vast republican army of anonymous trampers, whose society is so agreeable after the solitude of one’s room’. She went on to say ‘ Into each of these lives one could penetrate a little way, far enough to give one the illusion that one is not tethered to one single mind, but can put on briefly for a few minutes the bodies and mind of others. One could become a washerwoman, a publican, a street singer’. She walked down the same Oxford Street as Thomas de Quincey, now the shop windows are full of luxury items with which she filled an imaginary house and life only tobe removed again as she returned to her walk and the reason for her activity that evening.