While I’ve read all of Virginia Woolf’s novels and short stories, and reread a number of them a number of times; and while I’ve read a number of her essays and book-length essays, too; as well as a smattering of her letters and diary entries; not to mention essays and books about her work; I feel like I still only have a rudimentary appreciation for and understanding of this incredible thinker, this profound artist. I wish I could spend months and months reading everything all over again and reading what I’ve missed and rereading all of that, too. Virginia Woolf is my Shakespeare.
So today, I’m reading Woolf, and I’m also continuing to read Proust; and I’m reading Woolf on Proust:
“Proust so titillates my own desire for expression that I can hardly set out the sentence. Oh if I could write like that! I cry. And at the moment such is the astonishing vibration and saturation and intensification that he procures—there’s something sexual in it—that I feel I can write like that, and seize my pen and then I can’t write like that. Scarcely anyone so stimulates the nerves of language in me: it becomes an obsession. But I must return to Swann.
My great adventure is really Proust. Well—what remains to be written after that? I’m only in the first volume, and there are, I suppose, faults to be found, but I am in a state of amazement; as if a miracle were being done before my eyes. How, at last, has someone solidified what has always escaped—and made it too into this beautiful and perfectly enduring substance? One has to put the book down and gasp. The pleasure becomes physical—like sun and wine and grapes and perfect serenity and intense vitality combined.
Jacques Raverat…sent me a letter about Mrs Dalloway which gave me one of the happiest moments days of my life. I wonder if this time I have achieved something? Well, nothing anyhow compared with Proust, in whom I am embedded now. The thing about Proust is his combination of the utmost sensibility with the utmost tenacity. He searches out these butterfly shades to the last grain. He is as tough as catgut & as evanescent as a butterfly’s bloom. And he will I suppose both influence me & make out of temper with every sentence of my own.”
John Madera's fiction may be found in Conjunctions, Opium Magazine, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His criticism may be found in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, John Madera lives in New York City, where he runs Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.