When Virginia writes that “fiction here is likely to contain more truth than fact” I immediately think of the ways in which myth, legend, and fiction reveal things about the world and humanity. Characters, themes, connected ideas, symbols, metaphor, and storytelling unite to translate reflection into exposé. This is one reason why the “liberties and licenses of a novelist” can offer insight into the novelist’s thoughts about truths or truth as a concept. Even more, they can serve as links in a chain of connected realities when analyzing the works of different writers.
Now, before Virginia asserts that “‘I’ is only a convenient term for somebody who has no real being” she sets a scene for the reader that introduces us to her state of mind prior to arriving to the location she’s meant to talk. Or so it seems.
Two days before her arrival she pondered the subject at hand, feeling its weight heavy upon her shoulders. She glosses over two curious inventions, Oxbridge and Fernham, that we can expect to read more about later. Then, she admits that while “lies may flow” from her lips they may be infused with truths and she states that it is up to the audience “to seek out this truth and to decide whether any part of it is worth keeping.”
Part of my appreciation for Woolf stems from the interactive nature of her work. In a way, the reader/listener is a muted interlocutor invited to engage with her cerebrally, to mull over her words and ideas with delicate skepticism.
Moving on Virginia brings us back to the banks of a river where She Who Need Not Be Named, lost in thought, ponders the prejudices and passions that influence people who approach the subject of women and fiction.
Glowing golden and crimson flora “burnt” by fire paint her periphery and mark the picturesque mise en scène with spoils of nature. Virginia’s vivid nod to the Romantic tradition then introduces us to the personified Willows weeping in “perpetual lamentation.”
As we continue on this narrative path with her we’re subtly privy to Virginia’s feelings of entrapment as she describes the rivers reflective surface and the images that have captured her attention as she watches a rower enter and exit the scene. Still lost in thought, she informs us that the stream and her mind are kin; her consciousness drifts down the river and to the sky until the “sudden conglomeration of an idea” transforms her confusion into curiosity and an eagerness to make sense of her own mind.
Casting her focus from the “reflections and the weeds” she returns to her own idea, comparing it to a “fish that a good fisherman puts back into the water so that it may grow fatter and be one day worth cooking and eating.”
At this point, I’ve gone back to reread this paragraph. I felt a need to because I could sense a sort of legato composition feel to this paragraph. A rhythm, a smooth collection of transitions. A fluidity. A stream of consciousness fugue in a minor key, nearly catatonic, that begins the moment she bows her head to the ground in frustration.
She doesn’t go inward, she doesn’t proceed to search her mind for answers to questions she hasn’t figured out yet. She turns to nature and considers “thought” too proud a name for what she was doing, engaging with.
The little tug of which she speaks I am certainly familiar. You (think you) feel the pull of a fish on your line that forces tension through the fishing pole and into your hands as you wonder what you’re about to, hopefully, reel in.
This is where I wonder, though, about the importance of doing something for the sake of doing that thing instead of acting with some other purpose in mind. In this case, Virginia compares her almost-thought to a “fish that a good fisherman puts back into the water so that it may grow fatter and be one day worth cooking and eating.”
Must the fish be “worth cooking and eating” to be important? Aren’t there other reasons for a fish to grow fatter other than for the sake of human cuisine? I wonder what Virginia would say about Aristotle’s idea of self-sufficient eudaimonia. Sure the topic at hand, women and fiction, especially given the fact that the topic would be the subject of something spoken to an audience, isn’t itself what reminded me of Aristotle’s Ethics. It was, rather, Virginia’s description, in that paragraph specifically, of thinking.
“Thought—to call it by a prouder name than it deserved—had let its line down into the stream,” she states, almost pitifully. Now, I know she had to take this seriously because these thoughts would compose a piece meant for delivery to an audience. So, in a sense, her exercise of thinking was going to be an action done for the sake of something else. She didn’t come to banks of the river to contemplate for the sake of contemplation but I can’t help but think of her act of contemplation, her stream of consciousness, as the living embodiment of the topic at hand: women and fiction.
This makes me think differently about the final sentence of the paragraph: “I will not trouble you with that thought now, though if you look carefully you may find it for yourselves in the course of what I am going to say.” She’s referring to the thought of the fish thrown back into the water by the “good fisherman”. What is a lie and what is truth? In general and in this piece, in this passage, in this literary moment of uncertainty and anxiety.
Moving forward, Virginia becomes restless and anxious as she is bombarded with a “tumult of ideas” sparked by the small-turned-important previous thought.
Rising to walk, she quickly walks through the grass only to be intercepted by a man’s figure. His face “expressed horror and indignation” and, fueled by instinct rather than reason, she carries on. We learn that the man is a Beadle and that Virginia eyes a path.
For some reason I felt compelled to find my copies of Horkheimer and Adorno’s Dialectic is Enlightenment and Friedrich Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols after reading that “instinct rather than reason came to [her] help”. When thinking about, what the former refer to as, the self-destruction of Western reason and what the latter refers to as the Problem of Socrates I’m torn. Not between anything, it’s not a liminal sort of torn but an implosive one.
We have yet to get to page three and discover what happens after Virginia encounters this horrified Beadle on the banks of that river. What I can gather is that she may have felt disturbed, serious, bothered, uncomfortable, stopped in her tracks after finally making progress with respect to her almost-thought experiment. In the face of this horrified Beadle she is helped by instinct rather than reason.
Before I continue, I want to find out how instinct helped her which means I need to read the next page.