Memorable Lines: Virginia Woolf

Considering how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings, how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, what wastes and deserts of the soul a slight attack of influenza brings to view, what precipices and lawns sprinkled with bright flowers a little rise of temperature reveals, what ancient and obdurate oaks are uprooted in us by the act of sickness, how we go down into the pit of death and feel the waters of annihilation close above our heads and wake thinking to find ourselves in the presence of the angels and the harpers when we have a tooth out and come to the surface in the dentist’s arm-chair and confuse his “Rinse the mouth – rinse the mouth” with the greeting of the Deity stooping from the floor of Heaven to welcome us – when we think of this, as we are so frequently forced to think of it, it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love and battle and jealousy among the prime themes of literature.

From “On Being Ill,” by Virginia Woolf. First published by the Hogarth Press in 1930, now available in a facsimile edition from the Paris Press, with an introduction by Hermione Lee.

And here (thanks to Andris Taskans via Penn Kemp) is the only recording of Virginia Woolf’s voice:

Virginia Woolf on YouTube

Last but not least, some images of titles up for auction, should you have an extra $10,000 or so to spare. , Thanks to Nigel Beale for this.

Comments (3)

  1. Sarah October 2, 2009 at 12:48 am

    This is one of my favourite books ever. It helped me understand my partner’s chronic illness in a new and deeper way. i love it.

  2. theresa k October 11, 2009 at 10:46 pm

    Wonderful and moving. And I’m reminded of how beautiful the cover designs for those early Woolf books were. I think they were designed by Vanessa, weren’t they? Am I right in recalling her pleasure, in the diaries, when she saw the designs for the first time? Such a human scale for both writing and publishing…

  3. Susan Olding October 11, 2009 at 11:21 pm

    Vanessa did do the designs, yes. Looking at the On Being Ill cover, I wonder what she was thinking. It reminds me of a camera’s lens – as if in reference to the different perspective that illness brings. A oblique reference, not one that pounds you over the head.

    You are right, such a human scale, and it must have been so satisfying for both of them to make something together.

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