Spent much of the day again happily immersed in Virginia Woolf memoir essays for my Women Write Their Lives class at NYU. In “A Sketch of the Past” she reflects from adulthood to her childhood and it is just filled with gems.

Providing historical perspective, this passage on June 8, 1940:

The battle is at its crisis; every night the Germans fly over England; it comes closer to this house daily. If we are beaten then — however we solve that problem, and one solution is apparently suicide (so it was decided three nights ago in London among us) — book writing becomes doubtful. But I wish to go on, not settle down in that dismal puddle.

On her father’s violent temper and his belief that men of genius were invariably “ill to live with”:

But it never struck my father, I believe, that there was any harm in being ill to live with.

Her memory of the “tyrant father” as opposed to the “writer father” or “sociable father” he could be:

It was like being shut up in the same cage with a wild beast. Suppose I, at fifteen, was a nervous, gibbering, little monkey, always spitting or cracking a nut and shying the shells about, and mopping and mowing, and leaping into dark corners and then swinging in rapture across the cage, he was the pacing, dangerous, morose lion; a lion who was sulky and angry and injured; and suddenly ferocious, and then very humble, and then majestic; and then lying dusty and fly pestered in a corner of the cage.

After one of her father’s rages, when he said she must have thought him foolish:

I was silent. I did not think him foolish. I thought him brutal.

Overarching insight regarding her father:

From it all I gathered one obstinate and enduring conception; that nothing is so much to be dreaded as egotism. Nothing so cruelly hurts the person himself; nothing so wounds those who are forced into contact with it.

Thinking back to age 15 and the back room that was hers in the family home, where she experienced so much reflection, grief, rage, ecstasy:

I was thinking; feeling; living; those two lives that the two halves symbolized with the intensity, the muffled intensity, which a butterfly or moth feels when with its sticky tremulous legs and antennae it pushes out of the chrysalis and emerges and sits quivering beside the broken case for a moment; its wings still creased; its eyes dazzled, incapable of flight.

Leaves me kind of breathless.

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