"I feel no more than a rock."

Virginia Stephen and Leonard Woolf married on this day in 1912, against all odds. The biographers, and Leonard Woolf himself, point to a number of major hurdles that had to be overcome. Though in Virginia’s circle of friends, Leonard did not belong to the same level of society, and felt himself to be “only recently struggled up … from the stratum of Jewish shopkeepers.” Secondly, they each had to come to terms with the other’s health problems. Leonard’s less serious or ominous infirmity was a nervous tremor that sometimes set his hands shaking so much that he could not sign his name. Virginia’s most recent bout of mental illness had been early in 1912, and serious enough to put her into a nursing home — from where she wrote Leonard this note:

I shall tell you wonderful stories of the lunatics. By the bye, they've elected me King. There can be no doubt about it. I summoned a conclave, & made a proclamation about Christianity. I had other adventures, & some disasters, the fruit of a too passionate & enquiring disposition. I avoided both love & hatred. I now feel very clear, calm, and move slowly, like one of the great big animals at the zoo.



Whether Leonard found this sort of note jocular or madcap, he was not put off by the prospect of more breakdowns and a lifetime of care-giving. Perhaps more surprisingly, he was not put off by another letter from Virginia, one written on May 1, 1912 in direct response to his marriage proposal. It gives no clear answer, but in attempting to convey to Leonard her present frame of mind, Virginia includes observations that might cause all but the most determined or unusual lovers to quit the field. After listing several other reasons for her hesitation — she is looking for more than companionship, he is too passionate, too Jewish — she comes to what seems almost a clincher:

…I sometimes feel that no one ever has or ever can share something—Its the thing that makes you call me like a hill, or a rock. Again, I want everything—love, children, adventure, intimacy, work…. I sometimes think that if I married you, I could have everything—and then—is it the sexual side of it that comes between us? As I told you brutally the other day, I feel no physical attraction in you. There are moments—when you kissed me the other day was one—when I feel no more than a rock.

 

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

advertisement
Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.