Woolfians who attended the 2009 conference in New York, Woolf in the City, were treated to a keynote address by Rebecca Solnit. In person as in her prose, Rebecca paints beautiful word pictures and reflect thoughtfully on their significance.
Her talk wasn’t included in the selected papers from that conference, but now she has published it as “Woolf’s Darkness: Embracing the Inexplicable” in her newest book, Men Explain Things to Me. The essay’s title in this volume is taken from Woolf’s 1915 diary entry: “The future is dark, which is the best thing the future can be, I think.” In noting the relevance of Woolf’s work today, Solnit says: “Here we are, after all, revisiting the words of a woman who died three quarters of a century ago and yet is still alive in some sense in so many imaginations, part of the conversation, an influence with agency.”
The title essay, “Men Explain Things to Me,” may go down in history as a feminist classic along with Judy Brady’s “I Want a Wife” in the 1972 inaugural issue of Ms. Magazine. And, no surprise, Solnit evokes Woolf in her jibe at male (some, not all, she allows) know-it-allness: “A Freudian would claim to know what they have and I lack, but intelligence is not situated in the crotch—even if you can write one of Virginia Woolf’s long mellifluous musical sentences about the subtle subjugation of women in the snow with your willie.”
Virginia Woolf is clearly a strong influence and appears in almost all of Solnit’s work. In her last book of personal essays, The Faraway Nearby, she is motivated to dig deeper into reflections about her mother by Woolf’s example and words in Moments of Being: “It is only by putting it into words that I make it whole.” Rebecca Solnit puts her stories and arguments into words in a way that does credit to Woolf.