the Bloomsbury angst

Luminary lady of the Bloomsbury literary clique, Virginia Woolf, published her novel, The Years, with Harcourt, Brace & Co. in 1937.

On page 296, Nicholas, the mysterious Polish sage, is conversing with Eleanor, Digby’s niece. In the story, the year is 1917; German bombs are dropping on London whilst they sit in a cellar at Westminster discussing the soul:

“But how…” she began, “how can we improve ourselves…live more…” she dropped her voice as if she were afraid of waking sleepers, “…live more naturally…better…How can we?”

“It is only a question,” he said–he stopped. He drew himself close to her–“of learning. The soul…” Again he stopped.

“Yes–the soul?” she prompted him.

“The soul–the whole being,” he explained. He hollowed his hands as if to enclose a circle. “It wishes to expand; to adventure; to form–new combinations?”.

“Yes, yes,” she said, as if to assure him that his words were right.

“Whereas now,”–he drew himself together; put his feet together; he looked like an old lady who is afraid of mice–“this is how we live, screwed up into one hard little, tight little–knot?”

“Knot, knot–yes, that’s right,” she nodded.

“Each is his own little cubicle; each with his own cross or holy books; each with his fire, his wife…”

“Darning socks,” Maggie interrupted.

Eleanor started. She had seemed to be looking into the future.

What is sad about Nicholas’ and Eleanor’s dilemma is that they never, in the story or even in their lifetimes, harken to the example of the couple in whose home they are sitting. As the two soulish seekers speak of things that matter, with words that must be said, Renny and Maggie snuggle the children in bed upstairs, which marriage endeavor is the antidote to Nicholas’ and Eleanor’s loneliness and alienation.

CR, with new novel, Smoke, in progress

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