I spare you the twists and turns of my cogitations, for no conclusion was found on the road to Headingly, and I ask you to suppose that I soon found out my mistake about the turning and retraced my steps to Fernham.
--Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own (1929)
“No matter how patient the transcriber, a voice cannot be written down. Inevitably its flavour and richness is lost…On the page, Happy’s memories of her past read a little flatly…The taped interview, however, is a different story. Happy laughs throughout, a rich, throaty laugh, which often overcomes her, and stops her from talking….Mrs. Sturgeon also laughs every time she mentions a terrible experience. Her laughter ironizes much of what she recalls: ‘oh it was the the most marvelous door!’ she says, tongue in cheek, when she remembers the almost sacred ritual of cleaning the oak front door and the brass door knocker” (298)
Many years ago, I was at a conference in Oxford, feeling quite pleased with myself. My paper had gone well, I had made friends, I had spoken at Oxford! At the end of the day, I sat down next to a new acquaintance to await the last plenary talk. “Have you read Forever England?” My seatmate asked. I had not, but I was full of that anxious mix of adrenaline, confidence, and fear, so, to my regret I said “I heard it’s not very good.”
Olivia Gentile’s Life List is the book I gave this Christmas. My mom and my mother-in-law both got copies. I loved this book. I think about it all the time. I am a little amazed to find that it’s not a bigger phenomenon than it is.
If you don’t know about Girls Write Now—this brilliant non-profit that pairs NYC high school girls with women writers—or if you haven’t yet given them a little Christmas/Hanukah/Eid/year-end donation, now is the moment for this amazing little non-profit is trying to raise $50,000 this holiday season, to keep their programs running and to expand them to serve more girls in need.
You can click right here and make an express donation through the Network for good.
At Girls Write Now's Holiday Soiree last month, I spent a festive evening with many of you at the Center for Fiction, where we each reached out to friends and family, writing letters for the Annual Holiday Appeal. I took this time because I believe, to my core, that helping girls write will change the world. Those letters have elicited a warm response, and to date we've raised $18,706. I wrote 34 letters that night to friends (and won the prize for the most letters written!); so far those letters have brought $625 to Girls Write Now. Every little bit counts.
Girls Write Now is on the rise. You may have heard that on November 4, Brooklyn high school senior Tina Gao joined founder and executive director Maya Nussbaum in accepting the 2009 Coming Up Taller Award from the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, distinguishing Girls Write Now as one of the top 15 after-school arts and humanities-based programs in the country.
I came to my first Girls Write Now event to hear Tayari Jones and Janice Erlbaum read from their work; I stayed--and went on to join the Advisory Board--for the girls. As a Virginia Woolf Scholar, I guessed that other Woolfians and feminists might respond to the power of the mission, too, so last spring I made Girls Write Now the beneficiary of our silent auction. So moved were the 200+ attendees that we were able to raise more than $2,000.
When people hear about Girls Write Now, they give to Girls Write Now. It's as simple as that. Won't you please consider giving and help me spread the word?
This led me, through a circuitous route (with, clearly, a detour to my children) to a favorite poem from my childhood, A. A. Milne’s “Disobedience”:
James JamesI remember finding this poem deeply upsetting and moving as a child. Once you ask yourself what kind of mother would want to leave her child, it’s not a very far leap to imagine the heretofore unthinkable: my mommy might want to leave me for an afternoon. It’s not just that she’s a bad mother, careless about babysitters and urban danger, but that she has desires that are not about caring for her children. The poem seems to lift a veil from adult life.
Weatherby George Dupree
Care of his Mother,Though he was only three.
And then, there is that strange notion that James “Took great | Care of his Mother, | Though he was only three.” I was very aware that I needed caring for as a young child and I see that same awareness in my children now: they remind me (as if I needed reminding) constantly of what they can and cannot do on their own, what they need help with. Assertions of “I do it myself” are followed, in mere seconds by “Can you help me, mommy?” Surely, then, I thought, this poem must be one of my first encounters with literary irony.
So, I thought, how would I explain the puzzle of the poem to my daughters? Defining “irony” is, clearly, the least promising route, so the idea must be approached through questions: can a three-year-old take care of his mother? Isn’t it really the other way around?
Or is it? (I give you my thoughts as they came to me, as Woolf says.) The first stanza continues:
James JamesThis is a masterfully ironic patriarchal poem: a little ditty about a (bad) woman chafing under the demands of home and childcare and paying the price with her disappearance. I'm not fully sure where Milne's sympathies lie, but he nails the dilemma. Its humor and power and creepiness comes from the way in which Milne captures the tyranny of children and family responsibility. In a way, James does “take care” of his mother, for the demands of motherhood circumscribe a mother’s desires. Suddenly, a once taken-for-granted freedom—like running an errand when one wants—becomes a brazen liberty. When I am home alone with my kids, I cannot just run out and get milk—even if the store is only a block away. So, yes, James maybe does take care of his mother for, in making women into primary caregiver and then in setting up small households consisting in nuclear families only, we make it impossible for women to “go down to the end of the town” if they don’t go down with their children.
Said to his Mother,
"Mother", he said, said he;
"You must never go down to the end of the town,
if you don't go down with me."
Miss Kilman resents the degradation of poverty, degradation that forces her to take jobs from rich people like the Dalloways. Still, she remembers, Richard had been kind.
Lady Bruton can barely stand Hugh Whitbread. Nonetheless, she remembers that she needs to tolerate him since he had been kind.
At the very beginning of the novel, the florist remembers that Mrs. Dalloway had been kind years ago, very kind.
Clarissa’s aunt is kind to Peter, since he gave her a rare flower, and in spite of his horrible lovesick rudeness.
Rezia desperately searches the faces of Septimus’s doctors, of strangers on the street, for signs of kindness.
There is an argument about kindness running through this novel: about how it matters, about how it binds us together, about how it papers over all kinds of differences and resentments. It’s hard to articulate without sounding sentimental.
But these are the sorts of patterns one begins to notice on the fifteenth or twentieth time through a book…
Yesterday’s find was the strong speculation that the woman Orwell bragged about having sex with in a public park was likely Smith.
Here is today’s: Smith was a libelously autobiographical writer. Novel on Yellow Paper begins “Good-bye to all my friends, my beautiful and lovely friends” and she did, indeed lose many friendships over her thinly veiled accounts of marital spats and her confusing frankness (and anti-Semitism) toward her Jewish friends. One such friendship sundered was that with Betty Miller, author of Farewell Leicester Square (another of my discoveries this summer). Smith spent the weekend with the Millers and then commemorated it in a short story portraying the Millers as burdened by the sense of English anti-Semitism, Miller herself as a suppressed wife, and Miller’s son Jonathan (the Jonathan Miller) as a brat.
Betty was not pleased.
I don’t doubt it.
Throughout, the novel offers astute glimpses of all kinds of casual moments of wounding anti-Semitism: the wife’s friend, also a schiksa, comments that the son’s name, David, is inevitable, combining, as it does, Jewishness with fashion; Alec and his old friend Lew Solomon walk through Trafalgar Square to hear a newsboy touting the only “non-Jewish controlled paper” in the city; Alec’s brother-in-law, refined and repressed, withdraws from his sister’s life when she marries a Jew; there is even an offstage playground fight. These scenes, scattered across this 300-page novel, offer a kind of taxonomy of what it might have been like to live as a successful Jew in London during the years of Hitler’s rise to power. (Hitler himself is in the background throughout, his voice on the radio.)
This was Miller’s third novel but Victor Gollancz, the usually wonderful progressive English Jewish publisher refused to publish it in 1935; it eventually was printed in 1941: at that point, sadly, Miller’s exposition of the effects of casual, domestic anti-Semitism and the strains of a “mixed” marriage had been eclipsed by the events of WWII. I put “mixed” in quotations because one of the novel’s strengths is that both Alec and his wife are self-consciously rueful about the oddity of that term; Catharine muses that al marriages are “mixed,” that any marriage brings together strangers. Still, it’s not hard to see why, in 1935, a Jewish publisher would have hesitated to publish such an honest account of how far most non-Jewish English people had to come to overcome their prejudices.
Then, there is all the interest of the film industry itself. There is verisimilitude in the possibility of a Jew’s rise to power, respect and prominence in British film: many English Jews did work in film. The opening scene, of Alec and his lover, Hetty, a movie star, riding in a car through traffic to a premier is wonderfully done. And the second chapter, flashing back to his boyhood ache to get out of Brighton and work in film is fantastically right about adolescent desire and the ways that the movies attract (or used to attract) that kind of longing for something glamorous, something apart from the claustrophobia of home.
Miller’s writing is wonderful and she is at home with all kinds of scenes: she gets the mood of a boy smoking and staring off to sea right and then, pages later, she gets right the feeling of a new mother getting up from a dinner party to nurse her baby. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book that moved among classes, cultures, genders with such grace.
As I guess you can hear, I’m a little gobsmacked by this book: so much better than I had any reason to guess.
For me, the memory of Michael Jackson is all bound up with second grade and a girl in my class then who was murdered, Cynthia Hinds. Cynthia loved the Jackson Five.
I have been thinking about her and recently, I found the essay I wrote about her death back in 2003 when her murderer was sentenced. Cynthia was one of the victims of Gary Ridgway, the Green River Murderer. The Green River Murders were a series of serial killings of prostitutes along a lonely strip of highway south of the Sea-Tac Airport.
In 2003, I wrote:
Cynthia Hinds and I were in the second grade together at Lowell Elementary School in Seattle. We were not friends. She envied my ability to read with ease; I envied her beauty. Looking back at our class picture, I can see that she was a wide-eyed, buck-toothed girl who had yet to grow into her looks, but to me, at seven, she was the prettiest girl in the class. Beautiful. She had cinnamon skin, huge brown eyes, and long wavy hair that she wore in a ponytail on the side of her head, tied with thick, fuzzy red yarn. Hers is still the hair I think of as the prettiest I have ever seen. …There is a lot to say here—about my nerdiness and aspiration, about her love for the Jackson Five and my sense that I wouldn’t know what to say to them (let alone remember Marlon, Randy, and Tito’s names or tell them apart). (Funny to imagine being more comfortable with Lincoln than with Jermaine Jackson, but with Lincoln, I felt more confident: I had a lot of questions to ask him and I knew a lot more about him, having read the D’Aulaire biography dozens and dozens of times.) Lowell was a very integrated elementary school: no one race dominated and we thought and talked a lot about race all the time.
She was good at dancing. Everyday, we did Soul Train. I ran between the two swaying lines of classmates, trying to get it over with; Cynthia thrived on the attention. She loved the Jackson Five. One day, Ms. Pogue asked us to write a little composition, finishing the sentence: “If I could invite anyone to dinner, I would invite…” While I wrote an essay on Abraham Lincoln, Cynthia was getting Ms. Pogue’s help with the spelling of Michael and Jermaine.
I also remember that Cynthia pinned me to the wall every day for a little over a week and kicked me in the butt. No matter which exit I used, she found me, gave me one kick, and walked away. Eventually, the teachers got control, and I was freed.
Even after elementary school, I remembered her—how pretty she was and her animus to me and all the confusing feelings connected with that, with knowing that I was smarter than she was, knowing (duh!) that just by my being white, things (what things I couldn’t have said) were easier for me than for her. So I was shocked to see her picture on the front page of the Seattle Times as a murder victim in 1982. There I was, in high school honors classes and this girl who had been such a part of my second grade life was dead.
I think back to that intimidating Soul Train line in second grade and remember loving Michael Jackson in spite of my fear of dancing in public. I think we all loved Michael Jackson. I still do.
But the thought soon sickens me: it starts seeming like some of those crafty mommy blogs that I mostly read for schadenfreude, full of Martha Stewart-y tight extreme close-ups of the perfect peach, the porcelain mug of green tea.
In any case, I find that, in the end, I like life with a wider angle. Sitting here with a box of Dora Band-aids, a couple quarters from my husband’s pocket, my watch, a white rock, some crumbs, a bent paperclip, all on a very loud oilcloth tablecloth (huge yellow sunflowers on a blue background): Martha Stewart would need an army to fashion this into something redolent of the charms of a month in a rented house by the River.
Maybe I have to learn to dislike the fantasy of a cell, of a life apart and uninterrupted. It’s not that I don’t need time to write without children around: I do, and that’s why we hire a sitter for the mornings. It’s just that, since I am blessed with children and the desire to write, I need to strike a richer balance. That’s a banal insight, worthy of the mommy blogs themselves, but a little rougher around the edges.
So, here is what I know, so far. There are fourteen classes, but one needs to be an introduction. We meet for two hours each week. At the moment, I know I’ll be teaching the following:
- Woolf (some have already requested The Waves, but I’m not sure which I’ll teach),
- Gertrude Stein 1
- Stein 2: I’m giving her two weeks because I think she’s out of favor, challenging, amazing and worth more attention
- Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes and More
- another Harlem Renaissance woman--perhaps not Nella Larsen—that’s the slot that Alice Dunbar-Nelson and Jessie Fauset are “competing” for (I mean that with heavy irony—see below)
- Marianne Moore
- Jean Rhys, not Wide Sargasso Sea, probably not Good Morning, Midnight (since my colleague often teaches it)
- Katherine Mansfield, a generous selection of stories
- Elizabeth Bowen
- Stevie Smith, Novel on Yellow Paper & poetry
- Djuna Barnes, Nightwood & more
- a Persephone book (perhaps Betty Miller's Farewell Leicester Square)
- and then, I think I need another avant garde woman.
When you see how little room there is in a syllabus, you see literary turf wars in a different light. You see, in the end, how very little room there is for a “new” writer to make it onto the list. I write that Fauset and Dunbar-Nelson are up against each other with a bitter irony: I know almost nothing about either; both seem worthy, important writers; both could make it onto the syllabus in the end. They are just one example of a whole range of such mini-competitions between less well-known writers as I shape the course. It’s a class on American and British women, poetry and prose; I want a balance of styles and political outlooks, urban and rural themes, gay and straight writers … and so I keep looking at the list and asking myself if it’s fair. But fair to whom?
Here are some other ways of thinking about the list:
Moore and Smith are poets. Stein is nearly one: that’s just 4 weeks on poetry and poetic prose (excepting Woolf)—and we’ll likely focus more on Smith’s novel than her poems.
Because my specialty is modern British, I tend to favor that side of the Atlantic, but the list so far has only 6 weeks of Brits: Woolf, Rhys, Mansfield, Bowen, Smith, and Miller. I’m pleased that the list is as cosmopolitan as the first half of the 20th century in England can be: Miller (who is Jonathan Miller’s mother) was Jewish (among many other things) and Rhys (who was probably of mixed race) and Mansfield are both colonial.
Among Americans, I’ll do Stein, Hurston, Moore, and Barnes for sure.
I watch contemporary writers bicker and battle over prizes and reputations knowing that part of what is at stake is a legacy they will never see. That there will come a day when some future professor sits staring at her bookshelves, asking herself if she’s really going to ask a dozen young people to read a mostly-forgotten novel about the career and romantic struggles of a young black woman or a selection of short stories by a New Zealander who died young or a lesbian novel full of antiquated ideas about homosexuality or something else entirely.
I can teach my students to sympathize with Lily Briscoe’s efforts in To the Lighthouse to get past Charles Tansley’s “women can’t write, women can’t paint,” but as I teach the passage, it feels to me like a story from another era. So does the story in Woolf’s essay, “Professions for Women,” of killing the angel in the house. I am confident in my profession. I am happy with my writing: it’s never as good as I want it to be, it’s not nearly as good as I’d once dreamed it would be, but it perks along and I am generally all right with what I write and how it’s received.
Still, though, one of the meanest things anyone has ever said to me continues to ring in my ears when I get tired or start to falter. I’m ready to be done with it, but I’m not quite sure how to let it go.
Years ago, a boyfriend and I had some people over for dinner. This couple, his college friend and wife, are good-looking, athletic, easy-going. They are a lot like the Seattle people of my youth: smart liberals, committed to living an ethical life as long as they can still wear technical fabrics on their weekend outdoor challenges. I liked them a lot and, though I suspected they didn’t like me, I really tried my best to be my warmest self that night. I pushed my bookishness and clumsiness to the side, embraced as much as I could about open water kayaking and the importance of volunteering at the local midwifery practice. I did all this, cooked dinner, smiled, and tried to keep my equilibrium.
At the end of the night, after an evening that had gone from my being nervous to my being relaxed and everything being genuinely lovely, I looked at my guy. He had a real glow of affection in his eyes. I noticed this because I don’t usually get that look. I’m pretty enough. A handsome woman, I suppose. But I don’t spend a lot of time on my looks—I love pretty clothes, but other things in life—books, friends, cheese, social justice, flowers—are more important, so I get dressed in the morning, run a brush through my hair and call that good enough. Plus, I’m busy, competent, practical, and a little nervous. Not a seductress, but a nice woman trying her best. Not the kind of person who gets fond glances or inspires double takes. Sometimes, I remind myself to try to slow down enough to note the looks of affection, the moments of flirtation, so when they come I don’t miss them utterly. So this look on his face, I noticed.
“I was just thinking,” he said, “that if you lost ten pounds, you’d be as pretty as Jess.”
It totally shocked me, too. It still does. I mean, twenty years ago, when I went to Oxford for summer school, I was friends with a very pretty woman. She left the class after three weeks and I stayed on for another three. The night she left, someone came up to me and said, “I wonder what it will be like for you now that you’re not hanging out with someone so much prettier than you.” I was stunned: I knew Elizabeth was beautiful, but I had never thought of myself as her ugly friend. No more had I ever thought of myself as less pretty or fatter than Jess. If you’d asked me, objectively, to rank myself against these women, I would have said we were very different types. That’s all. For all my anxieties about beauty and weight, I liked these women and, in liking them, didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about them as greater beauties.
I look back on the Oxford comment and laugh. I don’t remember it exactly. I don’t know who said it. It seems clearly like the remark of a mean person, jealous that I had befriended her idea of “the prettiest girl here.”
The difficulty in exorcising the “if you lost ten pounds….” remark is that it was said by someone I loved. In a moment when I felt especially full of love and especially confident that he loved me. How do you forget boneheaded meanness at that level?
I’m no longer angry at the old boyfriend for this. It was clearly a testosterone blurt: a moment of uncontrollable male idiocy. But the lesson I took from that night—that people who love you may also be ranking you on some “objective” scale of their own making, that at any moment (especially when you let your guard down) someone you love may be at the ready with your grade for the evening—is harder to forget. It’s made me cautious, self-doubting, and self-hating. It comes back to me in private moments—just before falling asleep, on a run—and fills me with grief and rage. I would love to move on. But how?
When my book came out, I thought I’d leave Woolf behind. I thought I’d quickly finish editing Mrs. Dalloway (ha!) and move on. But I wanted to host the Woolf conference, so then, perhaps, after the conference…
So, on Monday, I stayed home to prepare for the week’s teaching: 1) leading a reading group on Mrs. Dalloway at the Mercantile Library Monday night, 2) teaching the end of The Waves to my undergraduate class on Tuesday, and 3) leading the Modern British graduate students’ group on editing Mrs. Dalloway on Tuesday night. That’s a lot of Woolf.
I didn’t expect Woolf to continue to loom so large. I certainly never expected to continue to be so riveted. I half-fear that it may be some kind of mental flaw: a scar in my brain that makes this one writer continue to resonate so powerfully.
Sunday night, I was reading some urban theory. Specifically, I was reading a discussion of the links between city life and agoraphobia, of Freud’s interpretation of the tension between women’s desire to sit in a window, beckoning men, and the fear of their sexual feelings. Freud and his generation (Woolf’s generation) also linked such moods to male homosexuals. Suddenly, I could see the dim outlines of a footnote, something about Septimus’ method of suicide as deeply connected to the modern city.
I was so excited that I could read no further.
I have been thinking a lot about returning soldiers. Worrying about them and listening intently whenever Paul Rieckoff is on t.v. talking about IAVA and veteran’s issues. He was the guest on one of the WNYC podcasts on my iPhone, so I listened on the plane out to San Francisco. I also checked my email, and there was a message from the academic vice president announcing the creation of a task force on welcoming returning veteran’s back to Fordham.
Then, just to continue the theme, once at the conference, I saw that San Franciscan Dave Eggers was speaking on a panel on war writing. I loved Heartbreaking Work, advised a thesis on McSweeneys. Though I know it’s fashionable to turn up my nose at Eggers, I actually think he’s amazingly cool. I’d love to be the one to have founded 826 Valencia, to have resisted all that rampant snark. At the panel, the moderator interviewed Eggers about What is the What and then six veterans read from the work they had done in Maxine Hong Kingston’s writing group. They spoke about their book, Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace. It was deeply moving.
They spoke about listening to difficult stories, telling them, and not asking stories to turn out to be inspirational or moving or redemptive. They read a wonderful Tim O’Brien quote to the effect that if you feel redeemed at the end of a war story, you have been lied to.
At the book exhibit, then, I bought A Soldier’s Heart, Elizabeth Samet’s account of teaching at West Point. So far, I find that she capitulates too much to the military perspective for my taste. But she is smart and I’m learning about military culture from it.
All of which to say that I think I’ve found my way in. Maybe nothing will come of it; maybe something will. But I’m going to write to my university’s committee and see if they will think about writing and reading as a piece of the veteran’s program. I don’t know what will come of this, but perhaps this can be a way for me to contribute… We’ll see.
Don't get me wrong. I admire Caroline Kennedy. I feel for her many losses. I think she is beautiful, smart, classy. She has handled her life in the public eye with grace and with a deep commitment to service. She is also a scion of America's greatest political family.
We bid goodbye yesterday to a horrible president whose main claim to power was that he was a president's son.
The election to replace him saw the failed bid of a supremely qualified woman who came to our attention primarily as a First Lady.
Now, a woman who wanted the former First Lady's seat has withdrawn. Her main claim to fame is as the daughter of a president.
This is a democracy.
It feels divine to put nepotism to rest.
Divine but also problematic for women: it's been hard in this patriarchal nation for women to find paths to power without the authorization of men. Being a daughter or a wife marks a woman as acceptable; it marks her ambition as an understandable family trait: the tomboy daughter, the wife who learned from the sidelines. Unmarried woman like Condi Rice or Janet Napolitano, are suspect. Married women, well, let's talk about married and partnered women.
See, there is this whole problem of child-bearing, child-rearing, childcare, that comes right at a really strong moment in women's lives. Just when your career seems to be taking hold--BOOM!--you're spending five or six pretty intense years wiping bottoms and wiping tears. Or, maybe you have your kids on the early side and, when jobs beckon you back, there is nothing on your resume to catch anyone's eye, so you end up with a dull job, a job with no leadership potential.
I have no doubt that both Hillary Clinton and Caroline Kennedy were able to fulfill the posts that they sought and, for different reasons did not get. I do not doubt, either, that Obama will be a better President, that Clinton was a better Senator than C. Kennedy.
It just feels more democratic, better, more redemptive, and more politically right to have elected someone who fought for the post out of intelligence, canniness, and good policy.
It's too bad that we're still a long way from having a path for women that permits a Barack Obama to emerge.
That flatness has faded. I am excited again. I read on Jezebel that Obama’s letter to his daughters in Parade magazine was unbelievably adorable; Girls Write Now’s Twitter feed confessed to tearing up. On the strength of that, I decided to read it. But it didn’t come up on my iPhone before the train drifted out of range. I read it aloud to my 6 y.o. daughter as part of her bedtime reading, tears streaming down my face. She thought it was nice, but beloved children are used to hearing our outsized hopes for them and their future. It’s the grown-ups, parents or not, who understand the odds against those dreams coming true and the faith it takes to commit yourself to working toward dreams in spite of those odds.
The next day, I asked her to write a letter to the President. She came up with a sweet, noir note that makes Jersey City sound like Dodge:
"Dear Presudint Obama I am vere happy that you are going to be ourI find this both odd and dear: not a letter for the ages, not really about a top pressing issue for the nation or even for our lives here. Still, I’ll stick it in an envelope with our fervent prayers for some of the promises of this election to be fulfilled.
Presudint love Olivia age 6
In a town wer crims are arownd evre cornr ples make those crims stop."
That is, in conventional spelling:
Dear President Obama, I am very happy that you are going to be our President….In a town where crimes are around every corner, please make theose crimes stop.”
I have been thinking since November about what this Obama victory means. Those thoughts are on two tracks: one is about race and identity, one is about competence and ideas. As for competence and ideas, I am moved and humbled and also angered to feel the tremendous relief of knowing that Obama’s election brings some grown-ups back to Washington. On the one hand, he calls us to be more engaged in our country. On the other, I can relax in the assurance that my President is not actively seeking ways to begin wars, to circumvent the Constitution, to ignore the entrenched problems of poverty.
As for race and identity, I am so relieved to move a new generation into the White House. It’s moving and meaningful to me, as the working mother of two little girls, to think that my concerns are not far at all from their concerns. For all that is incredible, outsized, and amazing about the Obamas, I have more in common with them than with any other First Family in U.S. history. Selfishly, this makes me hopeful that issues that matter to me will also naturally occur to him to work on. But I have not failed to notice race, of course. And that matters more than I can say with any great intelligence or insight.
I do however, think about two crucial facts of my elementary school days and how different they will be from now on: Martin Luther King Day and Black History Month. Both celebrations, central to my schooling forever, were always accompanied by some grouchy, skeptical racist mumbling from somewhere in the back of the room. Now, think how that curriculum can change to shut up the doubters. Even in the most conservative corner of the most conservative state, the narrative has a happy and victorious chapter. This is not the whole story, by any means, but it’s a useful piece, especially for those children under ten: to be able to say, “….and then, 40 years after 1968, Barack Obama was elected President.”
I keep thinking about the shoebox diorama I lovingly made in my 4th grade class. Toilet paper rolls for tree trunks, moss growing on the north side of the tree, Harriet Tubman running sure-footedly through the forest. What is Mrs. Goings thinking this week? What would Harriet Tubman make of this? I was raised on hope. I’m a sentimental West Coast girl. I can’t say this moment surprises me, but it moves me deeply and I do think it changes the world for the good in profound ways.
What will my daughters’ dioramas look like?
i … was searching to find out which version is correct-the etexts of mrs dalloway or the printed one regarding this passage and if there are other instances that you have knowledge of.
She felt glad that he had done it; thrown it away. The clock was striking. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. He made her feel the beauty; made her feel the fun. But she must go back. She must assemble. She must find Sally and Peter. And she came in from the little room.
...thrown it away while they went on living. The clock was striking. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. But she must...
i'd really appreciate it if you tell me about it. i am writing from iran!
The e-text includes the phrase “he made her feel the beauty, made her feel the fun,” which is also included in most American editions of Mrs. Dalloway. The printed version that my reader quotes must be a British edition. Woolf’s addition of this phrase to the American proofs, but not the British ones, is probably the most striking difference between the American and English editions of Mrs. Dalloway. It’s a huge difference. This is the kind of sentence that one might pin a reading on. Susan Gubar and Sandra Gilbert did.
What does it mean? The “he” is Septimus Smith, of whose death Clarissa has just learned. So, Clarissa thinks that learning about Septimus’ death—or, rather, about the death of a shell-shocked soldier—makes her enjoy the party all the more.
It’s a shocking thought. And a very human one, I think. Sometimes, when we hear of a death during a celebration, we do feel a little electric jolt, an animal response that, in words would be something like “I’m alive, anyway!” It is a callous statement of the connection between Clarissa and Septimus, one that fuels readings of him as a scapegoat.
But why isn’t that thought in the British edition? There are a couple possibilities, so let me reason my way to the most plausible guess. We know that Woolf corrected three sets of proofs simultaneously. Her diary accounts of this process, regarding Mrs. Dalloway and other novels, indicate that she found the task tedious. This suggests that the inconsistencies between editions are likely as much an indicator of fatigue and error as anything. This makes it unlikely, in my opinion, that Woolf meant a change for her American audience. Thus, though the thought is hard to shake, I do not think we can read the change as evidence of Woolf’s pandering to an American readership.
I do think, however, that her failure to make this correction on either her personal proofs or the British proofs, indicates that some ambivalence about it as a correction.
This is a aesthetically consistent. Woolf typically revised explicit statements of meaning and intent out of her drafts as they approached publication, so this addition seems like a hiccup, a momentary lapse of confidence and judgment.
What do you think?