Kristin's Reviews > Moments of Being

Moments of Being by Virginia Woolf
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's review
Sep 29, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: adult-books-for-teens, memoir, non-fiction, read-in-2012, favorites

Check this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.

The moments that can't be articulated. Virginia Woolf is the only writer I have ever encountered who can describe those moments - the surreal nature of existence and the blur between the conscious and unconscious - and have them make perfect sense. These memoirs are just a non-fiction extension of the writing she pioneered throughout her life.

Much of this work concerns her childhood, with particular focus on her mother and the issues that arose in her family following her mother's death. Woolf describes her life unflinchingly and without much ceremony. Though everything is still conveyed lyrically, it was what it was. Reading about the sexual abuse she suffered from her older half-brothers is hard to take. It's by no means graphic, and one is unsure exactly how far it went, but you can't help but feel terrible for her no matter what the extent.

However, Woolf does not seem to look back on these incidents as things that paralyzed her. She is in fact much more preoccupied with the deaths of her mother, father and older half-sister. I always get a sense when reading her writing that she spent her life, not merely gaping, but boldly and unflinchingly staring existence in the face, so to speak. I think Woolf felt it was her duty as a human being, not even simply as a writer. Unfortunately, I don't think her mind was capable of overcoming what she saw. These memoirs, though, present the author's struggle with this task that she set for herself. And I can't help but admire her for it. For me, I know there won't be any other writer, as in, no one else can equal her. I haven't seen any other artist (in any medium) so profoundly convey back to me the way I have always felt about perception, existence, human relationships...

Getting to my tags now... I think conscientious teens could read this book. It's very much about grief over the loss of parents, siblings, coming into one's own on the eve of adulthood. It's also much easier to follow than her fictional work. The cover, too, provokes a lot of speculation. I think this photo was taken of Woolf as a teenager, or a very young adult, and I found myself looking at it repeatedly as I read this book - wondering what was going through her mind as she sat for this portrait. Perhaps she was experiencing a moment of being? Or maybe she was incredibly bored and thinking of what else she could be doing. Either scenario is intriguing.

The pieces done for the Memoir Club are much lighter and easier to take (despite the chilling side of "22 Hyde Park Gate"), and these will be of particular interest to teens. "Old Bloomsbury" is perfect in its portrayal of a family previously caught in the cross hairs of a stifling, patriarchal upbringing now coming into their own with abandon once Virginia and Vanessa in particular crept out from under the rule of their father and older brother. I could picture their faces as I read, "running wild" for the first time without a care.
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Quotes Kristin Liked

Virginia Woolf
“We dressed ourselves up as Gauguin pictures and careered round Crosby Hall. Mrs. Whitehead was scandalized. She said that Vanessa and I were practically naked. My mother's ghost was invoked once deplore the fact that I had taken a house in Brunswick Square and had asked young men to share it...Stories began to circulate about parties at which we all undressed in public. Logan Pearsall Smith told Ethel Sands that he knew for a fact that Maynard had copulated with Vanessa on a sofa in the middle of the drawing room. It was a heartless, immoral, cynical society it was said; we were abandoned women and our friends were the most worthless of young men.”
Virginia Woolf, Moments of Being

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