16 Nov 2011

The Severed Wasp

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Virginia Woolf

David Wemyss takes an anecdote from George Orwell as the title of a thoughtful essay on alienation (which he refers to as “insularity”) as seen in the writings Orwell, Woolf, and Kierkegaard, man’s alienation from his fellow man (particularly those of other classes and conditions) and the alienation of some modern intellectuals from values and self.

Virginia Woolf is treated harshly.

It was a salutary lesson for me that the pellucid beauty of “On Being Ill” led eight years later to “Three Guineas”, with its insistence that Britain in the thirties was a tyranny as bad as Nazi Germany, that all loyalties were false (except those emanating from the virgin forest of course), that all uniforms were evil, and that war was a male desire to dominate brought about by competitive education.

Indeed, not many people realise that Virginia Woolf in 1938 was pretty well recommending the post-1967 British comprehensive school – except that it would have been a university – one so given over to cultural destructiveness that her own books would have fallen out of the syllabus.

Theodore Dalrymple put it characteristically well in the City Journal a few years ago when he said that, had she survived to our own time, Woolf would have had the satisfaction of observing that her cast of mind – shallow, dishonest, resentful, envious, snobbish, self-absorbed, trivial, philistine, and ultimately brutal – had triumphed among the elites of the Western world. And if that seems a little harsh on someone who did I think have a considerable gift – Mrs Dalloway is surely a very good novel – just remember that she also wrote the most immitigably stupid book of the twentieth century.

Hat tip to Bird Dog.

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