I just finished reading something wild and wicked, wonderful and Woolfian. Knowing that I’m always looking for fiction with Woolf references, Beth Hicks (an Australian friend and Woolfophile) told me about Toby Litt’s Finding Myself, a 2003 novel about a novelist who is writing a novel called From the Lighthouse.
Victoria plans to invite a group of acquaintances to spend a month together, all expenses paid, during which she will observe them, with their consent, and write about them. This book is her manuscript, her “docu-novel,” with handwritten comments and deletions from her editor.
She finds a house on the Suffolk coast with not just a lighthouse, but “all the atmosphere one could desire. I kept expecting Virginia Woolf herself to waft round the corner, silk gloves in hand.”
She buys copies of To the Lighthouse for everyone to read for what she envisions as “an extended discussion of Virginia’s masterpiece, all secretly examining the parallels with our own relationships.” And she will, on their last evening, serve boeuf en daube.
She notes in her diary that if it comes out right, it will be “just the best beach book in the world, ever: naughty, gossipy—with just the right ratio of tittle to tattle. Virginia Woolf’s letters are all very well, but they don’t exactly make one throb, do they?”
Woolf is Victoria’s muse and is never far from her mind. When the guests decide to go to church, she is dismayed: “We’re meant to be the Bloomsbury set—who would never have been caught engaging in Anglicanism.”
Writing her notes by hand “seems more fitting to the spirit of Virginia” when necessitated by a computer malfunction. But from the start, the experiment fails to live up to Victoria’s expectations, and a hilarious romp ensues.