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Posts Tagged ‘Moments of Being’

Lynnette Beers is a Woolf scholar and enthusiast who teaches British literature and creative writing at Santiago Canyon College in Orange, Calif. So it’s no surprise that Virginia Woolf would make an appearance in Lynnette’s first novel, Just Beyond the Shining River

Woolf introductions

The protagonist, Gemma Oldfield, discovers a cache of letters spanning six decades at the cottage of her recently-deceased grandmother in the East Midlands village of Moulton. The letters disclose family secrets with ever-widening ramifications across generations. The story balances between the past, as revealed by Gemma in the letters, and the present, as she grapples with crises and discoveries in her own life.

Epigraphs from Moments of Being and The Waves introduce each of three sections and help to establish themes of remembrance and change, resolve and renewal. Within the letters themselves, Mary, their author, tells Emily, Gemma’s grandmother, that “I find myself one of the lucky ones to have actually met Mrs. Woolf years ago.” In another Mary writes about an article she’s researching about suicides by drowning, specifically Mary Wollstonecraft and Virginia Woolf.

Sense of place

What I enjoyed most, though, was an ever-present sense of place. Lynnette brings London to life throughout the novel. As in Woolf’s own work, I was able to visualize so many scenes and sites, the Chelsea neighborhood of Gemma’s friend, their walks along the Embankment, back lanes of Soho, and more. But it was the story’s frequent surprises, its twists and turns—both Gemma’s and her grandmother’s—that kept me turning the pages.

Just Beyond the Shining River grew out of Lynnette’s MFA thesis, and involved extensive time and research in England. It has been selected as a finalist in the debut novel category for the “Goldie” awards of the Golden Crown Literary Society, which recognizes and promotes lesbian literature. Congratulations to Lynnette Beers!

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Virginia Woolf’s entreaties in A Room of One’s Own were directed to women, urging them to write. To write all kinds of books, to write whatever they wish. She said: “When I ask you to write more books I am urging you to do what will be for your good and for the good of the world at large.”

The authors of two recent essay collections are living Woolf’s legacy. Jericho Parms and Durga Chew-Bose acknowledge the footprints that precede them, and their successful debuts are a gift to today’s readers.

I was struck repeatedly in Jericho Parms’s collection, Lost Wax, by word constructions and rhythms that brought Woolf to mind, especially in her contemplations of memory and the self. It was no surprise to read in an interview: “I first fell in love with the essay and the unending possibility of the form from reading the works of Joan Didion, Annie Dillard, James Baldwin, and Virginia Woolf.” She mentions Moments of Being as a major influence, and it’s evident in reflections about her own life.

The final essay in Lost Wax is “Immortal Wound,” in which Parms ponders a dead luna moth and relates it to human mortality, to the recognition that one can expire “in a moment unobserved, as if it never came to pass.” Woolf had witnessed her moth’s death, and Parms says, “I envied Woolf her day moth zigzagging against a windowpane.”

The title of Durga Chew-Bose’s book of essays, Too Much and Not the Mood, comes from Woolf’s diary entry of April 11, 1931. Woolf is bogged down in making corrections to a number of her articles. She’s working with a faulty pen, for starters, “And not much to say, or rather too much & not the mood.”

The prose in these essays evokes Woolf’s interiority and love of language. I underlined phrase after phrase, passage after passage, as Chew-Bose, like a moth herself, lights here and there, pausing on family and friendship, on James Baldwin and Nina Simone and the young Al Pacino, on her name and her voice and her skin color.

The opening essay, “Heart Museum,” is a 90-page abstract meditation, in which she likens writing to body language, to “a woman narrowing her eyes to express incredulity,” to “an elbow propped on the edge of a table when you’re wrapping up an argument,” to “a closed pistachio shell.” In which she describes her version of happiness as “curling up inside the bends of parentheses,” and in which the odds and ends on a friend’s dressing table represent “a parish of miscellany,” “a village of items.”

The essay is alive and well, and women’s writing in all genres is more wide-ranging and abundant than even Virginia Woolf might have imagined.

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