Friday, January 25 will be the anniversary of the birth in 1882 of Virginia Woolf, the English writer whose stream-of-consciousness technique was an important contribution to the modern novel. And yet, she wrote “I sometimes think only autobiography is literature… If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people.”
Adeline Virginia Stephen was born into the well to do, British upper class during the Victorian Age, which meant that she was not allowed the university education that her brothers received. She was thirteen years old when her mother died, and she was expected to keep house for her siblings and father. After her father’s death, they moved to London, where the household became a salon for writers and artists. She was also greatly influenced by the carnage of World War I. Her perspective of working-class characters was limited.
If she were leading a “Strong Women” group or class of senior citizens today, Virginia Woolf might say:
I am an Aquarius. My spouse and I founded Hogarth Press in 1917. My themes of society’s differing attitudes toward women and men play a strong role in both my essays and fiction. My Orlando; A Biography is historical fiction tracing the reincarnation of its main character throughout English history and literature. Not until its publication did I begin to receive real monetary reward from my writings—I was 47 and had been writing for 27 years. After my death at age 60, I acquired a following among women everywhere who find my depictions of sexual politics enlightening, albeit sometimes “difficult.”
In nine novels, stories, criticism, reviews and essays, Woolf probed sex roles and relationships. Although appreciated by many readers, some complain that it is difficult to relate to her “idle” women (like Mrs. Dalloway perhaps), that her style is too “sensitive” and “over-refined.” Some people pan her work because of what they have heard about her -- allegations of frigidity, suicide, homosexuality, and feminism are turn-offs for some people. And some, intimidated, have resisted reading her at all.
She was asked to provide a series of university lectures on the subject of women novelists, delivered before two women’s colleges and dealing with the socio-economic factors that prevent women from writing and getting published. In 1929 it became her nonfiction book, A Room of One’s Own, a feminist classic. She argued that women have no history, that they could become writers if they had adequate incomes and a place in which to write:
For all the dinners are cooked; the plates and cups washed; the children set to school and gone out into the world. Nothing remains of it all. All has vanished. No biography or history has a word to say about it. And the novels, without meaning to, inevitably lie.
When...one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even of a very remarkable man who had a mother, then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet, of some mute and inglorious Jane Austen, some Emily Bronte who dashed her brains out on the moor or mopped and mowed about the highways crazed with the torture that her gift had put her to. Indeed, I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.
At about the same time, she was working on a modernist novel titled Mrs. Dalloway, which depicts a single day in Mrs. D’s life.
In The Years (1937) Woolf followed a generation of Pargiters from their childhood on. (No, not Judy Dench’s As Time Goes By, Jean Pargiter.) With the approach of World War II, the large once-wealthy, British family faced an impoverished old age.
In 1938 Virginia Woolf moved beyond feminist education and employment goals to link gender hierarchy in the home to tyranny within the state. Her Three Guineas essay took the form of responses to letters from three organizations requesting financial contributions: one to prevent war, one to promote women’s education, one to support women in the professions. (A guinea was a gold coin issued in England 1663-1813 worth one pound and one shilling; it was and is a colloquial term for a coin.)
Her diaries and letters are fascinating reading. The five volumes of The Diary of Virginia Woolf range from 1915 until her death in 1941. She considered diaries “diamonds of the dust heap” and advised “Leave the letters till we’re dead.”
Virginia Stephen Woolf was fifty-four years old when, on Sunday, January 19 in 1936, she wrote: “I went up to an elderly stout woman reading the paper at The Times Book Club [a circulating library] the other day. It was Margery Strachey. What are you doing? I said. Nothing! She replied. ‘I’ve got nowhere to go & nothing to do.’ ” Marjorie Strachey (1881-1962) is known as the sister of Lytton Strachey; in real life, she aspired to be a writer. There are several Virginia Woolf and Bloomsbury videos on YouTube.
On Saturday, March 8, 1941, Virginia Woolf was “Just back from L’s [husband Leonard] speech at Brighton. Like a foreign town: the first spring day, Women sitting on seats. A pretty hat in a teashop—how fashion revives the eye! And the shell encrusted old women, roughed, decked cadaverous at the tea shop. The waitress in checked cotton. No: I intend no introspection. I mark Henry James’s sentences; Observe perpetually. Observe the oncome of age…”
She died twenty days later, on March 28. She was fifty-nine years old.
In 2011, California’s Senior Legislature called for a Silver Alert-type program. Starting in 2013, California has implemented one. Designed to help find people age 65+, it is similar to the Amber Alert system that locates missing children. Silver Alerts accelerate searches by using public broadcast systems and freeway signs to get the word out. On January 2, 2013, Robert Grappi, an eighty-two year old Sacramento-area man was found when police in Nevada County conducted a vehicle stop. The CHP decides whether to issue an alert. Unlike Amber Alerts, the CHP issues alerts based on several criteria, including health risks, inclement weather, suspicious circumstances or other perilous conditions. Elk Grove police learned that Grappi was missing, and after working the case overnight, they informed the CHP they had a Silver Alert candidate. A police department may issue news releases in such cases, but those do not have as broad a reach as the new Silver Alerts.
In December 2012, Palm Beach County, Florida had had it with the paratransit system that is paid to provide bus service for the elderly and disabled. The county may be forced to come up with a contingency plan if the contractor responsible for running its door-to-door bus service for the elderly and disabled does not start consistently delivering passengers on time. The county’s most vulnerable bus riders are left waiting hours for their rides. In August 2012, complaints spiked to 400 a week. (Good for those courageous complainers!) Contractor Metro Mobility has a 5-year, $90 million contract with the county to run Palm Tran Connection buses. Metro is the sole contractor hired to transport elderly and disabled; it provides as many as 3,500 rides a day. Of 250 applicants for drivers’ positions, 100 were said to be qualified. As a result of the performance problems, the county has billed the company more than $200,000. in damages, which Metro is disputing.