Friday, October 24, 2008

Virginia Woolf Speaks

Over the summer, I finally got around to reading the novel Mrs. Dalloway (1925) by Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), and I absolutely loved it. The stream-of-consciousness that flows from Clarissa Dalloway to different people she encounters along the way makes it a masterpiece of early 20th-century fiction. There are some wonderful quotes as well ("What a lark! What a plunge!" and "I prefer men to cauliflowers" are now two of my favorite sayings--and those are just on page 1). If your only exposure to Woolf is from the movie The Hours, you should know that Woolf was one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century. She has become an icon for feminists and lesbians for her writing and lifestyle. A part of the talented and polyamorous Bloomsbury Group, she was friends with other great writers like E. M. Forster and Lytton Strachey and artists like Duncan Grant. Her sister Vanessa Bell was a Bloomsbury artist as well. But the reason for this post is that the BBC has an article ("Great writers find their voice") about the release of a multi-CD set from The British Library with recordings by various writers. On the article site, you can listen to the audio file that is the only known recording of Virginia Woolf's voice. As always, her quips are fantastic: "Words do not live in dictionaries, they live in the mind." It's fascinating not only to hear what she has to say, but to actually listen to the intonation of her voice. People don't realize how much the way people speak English (American and British) has changed over the past century. Regional accents have diminished more and more as the global media shrinks our planet. Woolf's voice and words reveal not only her talent as a writer, but as a modern woman as well.

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