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    AC Benus
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

The Great Mirror of Same-Sex Love - Prose - 28. Leonard to Lytton “But who will marry Virginia?”

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Leonard to Lytton "But who will marry Virginia?"

 

(Having been an ex-patriate myself – that is, having lived in a foreign land – I can relate to the type of hyper emotionalism Woolf exhibits here. Isolated from the mundane drone of one’s mother culture, the mind focuses on past relationships and produces melancholy “what if’s?” of the most serious kinds. In this particular case, the friends had formed a literary social club in university which consisted of all Gay men and one Gay woman named Virginia. Now, four years on, the friends worry about her and wind up playing a game of hot potato on which one of them is best suited to marry her. Why do this? Because as typically caring Gay men, they could not bear the thought of Virginia’s creative light being smothered beneath the oppression of traditional marriage. The following letter is a disjointed mix-up of feeling: genuine ones for Lytton, and sentimental ones for Virginia. Leonard’s mind keeps vacillating between the true and expected actions they should take in proper society, but the tender, extraordinary love poem Woolf sends to Strachey at the end ensures the recipient understands where Leonard’s heart has been all along.)

 

 

Palatupana, Ceylon

[Postmarked February l, 1909]

 

I have just received your last letter in a hut in the middle of the jungle. I am on my way to the Game Sanctuary, a vast area of forest which the government in its forethought for the villager & as much for the sportsman has reserved: no one may shoot in it or live in it, & so the buffalo lies down with the elephant & the elephant with the leopard & the leopard with the deer. I trail along with my caravan of carts & mudaliyars [district chiefs] & tents; there are no villages & no people, & if I don’t go out & shoot something, my dinner is sardines & eternal chicken.

You have the atmosphere into which you launch your thunderbolts. It is a fairly simple frame of mind to walk 10 miles with a rifle in your hand & the only thought in your head to shoot a deer. And then you suddenly come with all the violence & the intricacies of feelings, which after all – perhaps after 4 years – I understand. But I don’t agree with you. The most wonderful of all would have been to marry Virginia. She is, I imagine, supreme, & then the final solution would have been there: not a rise perhaps above all horrors, but certainly not a fall; not a shirking of facts. Of course I suppose it is really impossible for the reason (if for no other) that I cannot place you in it – & that for me makes it impossible, or shows only perhaps that everything has gone beyond me – but it certainly would be the only thing. It is undoubtedly the only way to happiness, to anything settled, to anything not these appalling alternations from violent pleasures to the depths of depression. I am sure of it for myself &, as I perpetually now live on the principle that nothing matters, I don’t know why the devil I don’t. But something or other always saves me just at the last moment from these degradations – their lasciviousness or their ugliness probably – though I believe if I did, I should probably be happy. Do you think Virginia would have me? Wire to me if she accepts. I’ll take the next boat home; & then when I arrived I should probably come straight to talk with you. You don’t know what it is not to have talked to anyone for four years. By the bye, one of the saddest things in Moore’s letter I thought was this. He said that Ainsworth seemed so happy at being engaged. ‘I wished I could be engaged too’. God! I wish could write like that!

A curious little thing with regard to your previous letter may amuse you. There was one thing in it about D[uncan Grant] which, on reading it first, actually struck me with a horror. And then suddenly I remember that a woman once did it to me, & it hadn’t struck me as a horror at all. Two things are quite clear from this, & one is that what I always say is true: reality is nothing, it is only in writing & imagination that things are wonderful, or horrible, or supreme. In reality, they are sometimes just beautiful, nearly always ugly & always vague & dire.

I wonder if after all Virginia marries Turner.

 

Your

L.

 

[P.S.] I never thanked you for the books. I do read on these circuits in the middle of the day, & they are a godsend, especially as I have got to the end practically of the last batch I ordered out. I suddenly thought I must now read Maupassant again, & when I re-read the tale about the child who is pinched on the buttocks by the adulterating captain, I thought I was right. I also read [the Earl of Cromer’s] Modern Egypt, & you can deduce my stare of mind by the fact that I think it is the greatest book written in the last 25 years. I wish you wouldn’t write introductions, but when you do, you must send them to me. What do you think of this . . .

 

When I am dead and you forget

My kisses in the stirring air

Will you not shudder when my touch,

Grown nothing now, just stirs your hair?

Will you not shudder when you feel

My arms about you in the mist;

You will not know the dead man’s lips

You will not know that you have kissed

A dead man. Only there may come

A memory of a foreign land

Of wind and sun and how you lay

By the salt marshes in the sand

With someone. Some forgotten name

May murmur in the wind: but I

Amid the havoc of all things

Know that our bodies never die.

—Leonard Woolf,[i]

1909

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[i] “Leonard to Lytton ‘But who will marry Virginia?’” Leonard Woolf letter to Lytton Strachey, reprinted in The Love of Friends [Constance Jones / Val Clark, Editors] (New York 1997), ps. 224-225

https://archive.org/details/loveoffriends00cons/page/223/mode/2up

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Copyright © 2021 AC Benus; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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The poem that concluded this entry left me breathless. It seems like our own day and age is likely to leave few or no letters like into this illuminating and fascinating correspondence. Thanks for letting us see it. 

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1 hour ago, Parker Owens said:

The poem that concluded this entry left me breathless. It seems like our own day and age is likely to leave few or no letters like into this illuminating and fascinating correspondence. Thanks for letting us see it. 

I agree, Parker. The main paragraph of this letter is extraordinary if you start breaking it down. He expresses his conflict to be true to both his true self and societal expectations. He's still uneasy at the idea of marring any woman at all, but says with Virginia it might "not a rise above all horrors [of straight life] but certainly not a fall, not a shirking of facts [of my orientation]." I don't think a proper contextualized reading can affirm he is saying any different. He certainly expected Lytton to understand implicitly.

This is why I find Dolly Wilde's comment that Leonard and Virginia never slept together very interesting. 

(And what's ironic, is that when Leonard came home to propose to her, Virginia turned his down flat, writing a letter to him soon after saying she'd said no because they both deserve a life with someone they love)

Edited by AC Benus
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2 hours ago, Parker Owens said:

That seems like a tough irony indeed. 

Well, she soon changed her mind. If I have to guess, perhaps it was with assurances that she'd have complete artistic freedom. If that's the case, then it's to the world's benefit they wed :)

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