GoodReads Review of Virginia Woolf’s “The Moment and Other Essays”

The Moment, and Other Essays (Harvest Book, Hb 295) The Moment, and Other Essays by Virginia Woolf

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
If you haven’t read Woolf’s essays, you just haven’t really breathed in exhilaration. She is pure breath and light. Reading her fills up your lungs, and makes you dizzy in love with her voice, her insight, and her humor. Woolf is a refuge to run to whenever writer’s block threatens. She is a pinnacle that challenges and inspires. She is constantly at my side, pushing me to think harder, write better, and live wider.

Though some of the pieces in The Moment and Other Essays may fly over the head of contemporary readers, particularly the biographical tributes to lost names of people Woolf admired, or didn’t, many of these essays are masterful works of art. Rather than try to summarize them, please taste for yourself:

From “The Art of Fiction”:

That fiction is a lady who has somehow got herself into trouble is a thought that most often struck her admirers…For possibly, if fiction is, as we suggest, in difficulties, it may be because nobody grasps her firmly and defines her severely. She has no rules drawn up for her, very little thinking done on her behalf.

“American Fiction”:

Women writers have to meet many of the same problems that beset American [writers:]. They too are the casualties of their own peculiarities as a sex; apt to suspect insolence, quick to avenge grievances, eager to shape an art of their own. In both cases, all kinds of consciousness–consciousness of self, of race, of sex, of civilization–which have nothing to do with art, have got between them and the paper, with results that are, on the surface, at least, unfortunate.

“The Leaning Tower”:

A writer has to keep his eye upon a model that moves, that changes, upon an object that is not one object but innumerable objects. Two words alone cover all that a writer looks at–they are, human life…
..Nobody thinks it strange if you say that a painter has to be taught his art; or a musician, or an architect. Equally a writer has to be taught. For the art of writing is at least as difficult as the other arts. And though, perhaps because the education is indefinite, people ignore this education; if you look closely you will see that almost every writer who has practised his art successfully has been taught it.

“To Spain”

You who cross the Channel yearly, probably no longer see the house at Dieppe, no longer feel, as the train moves slowly down the street, one civilisation fall, another rise–from the ruin and chaos of British stucco this incredible pink and blue phoenix four stories high, with its flower pots, its balconies, its servant-girl leaning on the windowsill looking out.

Woolf’s voice is authorial. Reading her, we can easily picture her at the lectern. Her voice bouncing off the tiles and reverberating in the hall outside. Yet she regularly steps down from the podium, wraps an arm around you, perhaps leading you for a stroll through the lush garden or the bustling street outside. Next you’re commiserating in a quiet corner; tea cups rattling as she snickers and you stifle a laugh at her poking fun of Mr. So and So and Lady Such and Such. Then, in a flash, she’ll swoop back up again to center stage, commanding full attention and taking us to task, knowing we can be better and create finer art.

Like any cherished favorite album or collection of poetry, The Moment and Other Essays serves as touchstone. Should a writer or reader need the comfort of a wise and intimate voice to prod him back into the Marvelous, Woolf is nothing less than that scintillating light.

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