Friday, July 25, 2003

I've now not only read "To the Lighthouse", but re-read it twice. I've chosen my top 12 quotes - a lighthouse dozen. The first is from the Hermione Lee introduction to my cheap Penguin 1992 edition, a quote from a letter VW wrote to Vita Sackville-West:

Now this is very profound, what rhythm is, and goes far deeper than words. A sight, an emotion, creates this wave in the mind, long before it makes words to fit it; and in writing (such is my present belief) one has to recapture this, and set this working (which has nothing apparently to do with words) and then, as it breaks and tumbles in the mind, it makes words to fit it. (p xxvii.)

Then, a few fragments I adored:

“She saw the colour burning on a framework of steel; the light of a butterfly’s wing lying upon the arches of a cathedral.” (p 54.)

“Anyhow they all went up again, and the air was shoved aside by their black wings and cut into exquisite scimitar shapes.” (p 88.)

“At the far end was her husband, sitting down, all in a heap, frowning.” (p 90.)

“The words (she was looking at the window) sounded as if they were floating like flowers on water out there, cut off from them all, as if no one had said them, but they had come into existence of themselves.” (p 120.)

“she could feel his mind like a raised hand shadowing her mind” (p 133.)

Lastly, some longer quotes, also adored:

“He felt extremely, even physically uncomfortable. He wanted somebody to give him a chance of asserting himself. He wanted it so urgently that he fidgeted in his chair, looked at this person, then at that person, tried to break into their talk, opened his mouth and shut it again. They were talking about the fishing industry. Why did no one ask him his opinion? What did they know about the fishing industry?
Lily Briscoe knew all that. Sitting opposite him could she not see, as in an X-ray photograph, the ribs and thigh bones of the young man’s desire to impress himself lying dark in the mist of his flesh – that thin mist which convention had laid over his burning desire to break into the conversation?” (p 99.)

“It could not last she knew, but at the moment her eyes were so clear that they seemed to go round the table unveiling each of these people, and their thoughts and their feelings, without effort like a light stealing under water so that its ripples and the reeds in it and the minnows balancing themselves, and the sudden silent trout are all lit up hanging, trembling.” (p 116.)

“She must get that right and that right, she thought, insensibly approving of the dignity of the trees’ stillness, and now again of the superb upward rise (like the beak of a ship up a wave) of the elm branches as the wind raised them. For it was windy (she stood a moment to look out). It was windy, so that the leaves now and then brushed open a star, and the stars themselves seemed to be shaking and darting light and trying to flash out between the edges of the leaves.” (p 123.)

“And she opened the book and began reading here and there at random, and as she did so she felt that she was climbing backwards, upwards, shoving her way up under petals that curved over her, so that she only knew this is white, or this is red.” (p 129.)

“For how could one express in words these emotions of the body? express that emptiness there? […] It had seemed so safe, thinking of her. Ghost, air, nothingness, a thing you could play with easily and safely at any time of day or night, she had been that, and then suddenly she put her hand out and wrung the heart thus. Suddenly, the empty drawing-room steps, the frill of the chair inside, the puppy tumbling on the terrace, the whole wave and whisper of the garden became like curves and arabesques flourishing round a center of complete emptiness.” (p 194.)

“But he was absorbed in it, so that when he looked up, as he did now for an instant, it was not to see anything; it was to pin down some thought more exactly. That done, his mind flew back again and he plunged into his reading.” (p 206.)

I think I'm in love with Virginia Woolf's writing.

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