Throwing Virginia to the Wolves
The incandescent English writer, Virginia Woolf, has been ill- served by popular culture. The latest example is the current film most loved by Leftists the world over -- The Hours. Little doubt it will sweep nominations at the Academy Awards announcement Tuesday; it won Best Picture at the Golden Globes last month. Based on a lovely little book of the same name -- which won the Pulitzer a few years ago for a gentleman named Michael Cunningham -- the film version is enjoying the same succes d'estime among the intelligentsia that The English Patient claimed. Always fascinating to deconstruct what the smartest, best educated, and most wised up among us enjoy. It's like a gleaming torch of personal growth held before the unreconstructed towards which we must swim with all our might.
But pity poor Virginia Woolf! A generation ago there was the vitriolic misogynist Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, in which two shrieking alcoholics (played by Taylor and Burton) battered each other (and the audience) for 90 minutes. Then five years ago, the aging, simpering ninny Vanessa Redgrave ruined Mrs. Dalloway, by playing her as an aging simpering ninny. Mrs. Dalloway is the book upon which (I know, confusing, but hang on) The Hours, film and modern novel, is based. Cunningham, in The Hours, writes beautifully and subtly about the domestic life of women -- the hours we must, in our appointed time, fill, claiming, as did Woolf, that it is in the interstices that real life is lived and real beauty is clear.
Then the film. I can't object enough. First of all, I love Virginia Woolf. And Nicole Kidman, who won best actress for this role at the Golden Globes last month, plays Virginia Woolf as an abomination with a Nose. As a humourless depressive, who growls and sulks and tries to escape her domestic life with her husband because she's a closet lesbian. Who is afraid of her servants; and wants to lick the tonsils of her sister; who is cold and distant to her nieces and nephews who laugh at her because she's so weird. For which she won the Golden Globe for Best Actress. OK, so this is so incorrect. It is wrong, wrong, wrong. Woolf had breakdowns, it is true, and in her last breakdown she did drown herself, but in the interstices (which formed 80% of her life), she was a true genius, with a limpid mind given to soaring flights of fancy, with a crackling sense of humour. She wasn't a closet lesbian, trapped in domesticity. True, she had at least one very public affair with a woman. But her true love was her husband, Leonard Woolf, who she adored. The success of her marriage has been a beacon for women artists for three generations.
I went back to her diary and read through the entries for the months during which she wrote Mrs. Dalloway. Not a whiff of misery. She was happy then, excited by the work, anticipatory and active of the time, with her entirely original mind spinning and laughing. Even in those entries you could see that the real Woolf lived a life so lit by colour and magic that yes, occasionally, she crashed.
But that doesn't fit into literary Hollywood's world view. Which is that bourgeois life sucks, is unbearably painful and dull and that there is no recourse but narcissism, homosexuality, living in a filthy warehouse in Tribeca and early death. Misery is Us. Therefore, The Hours and Woolf are manipulated by those who claim intellectual heft, and bent to serve a malign purpose which is entirely dishonest.
This is called depressivism, and is the dominant contribution to the arts made by the Left, in the last ten years. Depressivism is a dead end, which is the only good thing you can say about it. Put it this way, is there anything more likely to go extinct than a movement that promotes the idea that killing yourself is, as Gloria Steinem recently described Woolf's suicide, a "radical act of self- deliverance"?
Depressivism is based on the belief that a) individual happiness is the highest good in anyone's life, and brave are those who have the courage to put personal fulfillment above any other entanglement. This is OK and good because b) the world is dominated, in a malign conspiracy, by cruel insensitive white men whose aim in life is to oppress, torment and crush the life out of the weak, by which they mean: people of colour, women, children, homosexuals, and all those others with proper emotional orientation, who think that life sucks. Finally c) that malign conspiracy provides the excuse for flagrant attacks on middle-class society, anyone who appears happy and anyone in a position of responsibility.
This, of course, is an apologia for evil, and is the root cause for the unreason which spread itself like a stain over last week. The CBC found that 90% of their viewers thought that George Bush was a greater threat to World Peace than anyone else. (Could there be any better example of the prejudice our public broadcaster serves?). Nelson Mandela claimed that Bush wouldn't bow to the will of the United Nations because Kofi Annan was a black man, this in an administration where blacks hold more power than ever before. Arianna Huffington placed the cause of terrorism at the feet of SUV drivers. But, in fact, terrorism is actually triggered by people who smoke marijuana, trumpeted anti-drug crusaders. And the UN discovered that it was Iraq's turn to head up their disarmament conference.
Reason loses its power when people believe that they are puppets without self-determination. This is the fiction that artistic elites have been hawking with increasing shrillness for 40 years, and it is a flagrant lie. Exaggerated sensibility is a gift that can turn into a curse without rigorous discipline, which was, by the way, why Virginia Woolf's husband and doctors wanted her to live in the suburbs. Leonard Woolf wanted his wife to prosper, and work well. Her suicide was not a "radical act of self-deliverance," it was the great battle lost, and it left her family devastated.
As a man thinks so he becomes. When unreason rules, darkness gathers.