Sunday, September 06, 2009

Moments of Being (1985)

Thanks to the lovely Julia who always knows just what I will like, I recently read Moments of Being (1985) a collection of posthumously published autobiographical writings by Virginia Woolf (edited by Jeanne Schulkind and first published in 1976; I read the second edition which was expanded and edited a bit after some other manuscripts came to light).

Virginia Woolf is probably my favorite writer of all time, so it was amazing to read these intimate and literary (but still relatively unpolished) memoirs. The writings split their time between Woolf's childhood and family and her adult friendships with the Bloomsbury group. One of the writings on her childhood was written very early in her career (before she had published any novels) and the other late in her life, finished the same year she killed herself. The remaining three pieces were written as part of the Memoir Club, a writing group of Woolf and some of the other Bloomsbury regulars where autobiographical sketches were written and read aloud to the other group members. Rather than arrange the writings by the time period in which they were written, Schulkind arranges them so that the events discussed move forward in chronological order, and includes brief prefaces to each piece that tie the works into the timeline of Woolf's life and make this collection something of a mini-biography.

Having recently read and loved To the Lighthouse, the writings about Woolf's parents and family were particularly moving. In Woolf's fiction, she has a way of writing that makes every scene and phrase so present and engulfing that I almost feel that everything she writes about has somehow also happened to me. These autobiographical writings have the same sense of immediacy and shared sensation, and even though they are rough and sometimes incomplete, they are just as fascinating as her novels and have left just as much of an impression in my mind.

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