I read a wide assortment of literary journals for the purpose of finding appropriate targets for my own creative nonfiction. Among them, though far beyond my present aspirations, is The American Scholar, the publication of Phi Beta Kappa.
A writer friend, my mentor and model, has the talent and the good fortune to have been published there a number of times, and I’ve found it to be a brilliant periodical. It’s no surprise, then, to come across Woolf in its august pages, cited twice in the Spring 2011 issue.
Doris Grumbach writes with wit and wisdom about old age in “The View from 90,” taken from her memoir, Downhill Almost All the Way, (ironic in itself, considering Leonard Woolf’s volume of autobiography, Downhill All the Way).
She tells of Somerset Maugham being asked to speak on the virtues of being old. He stood at the podium and said, “I cannot think of one,” then stepped down.
The elderly commune together socially to combat their segregation from the general population, Grumbach says, and notes that “In Mrs. Dalloway someone says that parties are held ‘to cover the silence.’”
Also in the issue is a collection of quotations on Patience collected by Anne Matthews. Along with passages from Marcus Aurelius, Walt Whitman, Garrison Keillor and others, she includes the following from The Waves:
“Certainly one cannot read this poem without effort. The page is often corrupt and mud-stained, and torn and stuck together with faded leaves, with scraps of verbena or geranium…One must put aside antipathies and jealousies and not interrupt. One must have patience and infinite care and let the light sound, whether of spiders’ delicate feet on a leaf or the chuckle of water in some irrelevant drainpipe, unfold too.”
These sightings that I stumble across, that seem to merge different areas of my life, are the ones I enjoy the most–they give me a sense of continuity and reinforcement. And as we discover repeatedly and see in the sheer numbers as well as the broad range of the sightings that Paula posts so prolifically, Virginia Woolf’s after-life is unending.