Kelley Lonergan

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Happy Birthday, Virginia Woolf!

Some people like to think that their interests belong to them, like how that one girl in middle school was all, “Dashboard Confessional is mine.” Or that other girl in high school that was like, “Watching SNL is my thing.”  Well,  Virginia Woolf was my author. Like Steve Carrell’s character in Little Miss Sunshine, instead of being the world’s most renowned Proust scholar, I wanted to be the number one scholar on Mrs. Dalloway; I wanted to get my PhD in Virginia Woolf.

 

My first encounter with VW occurred my senior year of high school in the form of her nonfiction essay A Room of One’s Own. Throughout high school, I had labeled myself a reader, and to come upon Woolf’s feminist call-to-arms finally sparked a light inside of me, sealed the deal: I could be a writer as well as a reader. (Really, every HelloGiggles girl out there should read this book at some point in her life.)

 

I didn’t come across Virginia’s fiction until college. I got my hands on Mrs. Dalloway freshman year and instantly became obsessed. It seemed like every interest of mine came together in this one book. The pains of growing up, the cruelty of time, the static quality of everyday life, the romanticism of madness. Mrs. D. covered it all beautifully. And I ripped that book apart. No mention of a rose or a crocus went unnoticed, the movement of every bee was traced, the echoes of church bells earmarked through each chapter. I would walk through stairwells and quads thinking, “Fear no more the heat o’ the sun!” to myself over and over, becoming a little more brave with each chant, each step. To my 18-year-old self, Mrs. Dalloway was the pinnacle of literature, the ultimate masterpiece.

After reading the book, everything I learned from then on was seen through Woolf-colored glasses. I could find the author in every class I took in college, and not just those in literature. I could maneuver my way through any paper using Virginia Woolf. History of European Modernism? Easy. Philosophy of Time? Yes. The Sociology of Mental Illness? Duh. Of course I would get the occasional red-inked ??? signifying, “Why on earth are you talking about Virginia Woolf in an essay on Ancient Chinese Art?” But, really, how could they not understand? To understand time, madness, youth is to understand Virginia Woolf. To believe in Virginia Woolf is to believe in the interconnectivity of all human life. It was so simple. Didn’t they at least ever see the movie The Hours?

 

I’ve come upon other Woolf Heads in my life, and there are actually quite a few of us out there. Each of us has our own niche, our own corner in Woolfdom. (“How could you NOT have liked To the Lighthouse? Turn to any page of the book, and the first paragraph you read will be EXACTLY what you were just thinking of: it’s like an oracle.”) But, despite our differences, we still have all in someway been touched by Virginia’s writing.

 

Though my copy of Mrs. Dalloway lays quietly in a box of old school books, I still think of Clarissa, Sally, Peter and all of the novel’s other characters often. While I no longer yearn to be the next great Woolfian scholar as ferociously as I did in my undergrad days, I feel the dream is alive in me somewhere.

 

So to you, Virginia, on your 130th birthday, I’d like to say thank you for all that you have done for the women’s world of writing.

 

Even if I still haven’t gotten through Orlando.