Friday, 22 June 2012

Virginia Woolf and Victoria, Lady Welby

Oscar Wilde might well have been thinking of Virginia Woolf's paternal Aunt, Caroline Stephen- referred to in 'A Room of One's Own' under the name Mary Beton, who 'died from a fall while out riding in Bombay'-when he observed that the most unwelcome surprise a gently nurtured English maiden receives on her wedding-night is the unctuous ostler's bon ton hint that she should sleep with the groom not the horse.

Speaking of unctuous ostlers, Literary scholars- deceived by Leslie Stephen's ascription of his younger sister's nuerasthenia to, not the incessant nursing duties her family imposed on her, but unrequited love for some nameless swain who soon sailed off to die in distant Ind- have tended to dismiss Caroline Stephen as a nun-like Quaker whose principle significance in Virginia Woolf's life was to secure her financial independence with a modest bequest. However, as this new study by Dr. V.D. Chothopadhyay points out, Caroline's  influence on her niece was something altogether more robust and intellectually and aesthetically formative. In particular, it enabled Woolf's own creative misprision of John Henry Shorthouse- author of the best-selling  John Inglesant- who, starting from a culturally subaltern Quaker position- a position similar to Victorian ladies, like Virginia's Aunt and Victoria, Lady Welby, who were denied higher education- ended up simulating an amor fati infatuation with the ignis fatuus of the Oxford Movement which, by a contemporary cliche, hallowed the parlors of Victorian patriarchs with a 'dim religious light'.
On this reading, Woolf-  though intertwined in the Bloomsbury Set's daisy-chain of graded molestation as  Second Childhood a la Sage-  provides texts that powerfully deconstruct G.E. Moore's philosophical warrant for a senescent Relationism parsable only as endless neotenous prattle. 
My own interest in Victoria, Lady Welby- who influenced the Pragmatism of Charles Sanders Pierce and the Intuitionism of L.E.J. Brouwer and, at a more popular level, the views of C.K Ogden whom Virginia knew from the Heretics Club - is what drew my attention to Dr. Choothopahdyay's new book.
Not that Caroline Stephen and Victoria, Lady Welby, despite being respected authors passionate about their reconstructed Christian faith, ever actually met or corresponded. Nor, truth be told, does Dr. Vagina Dentata Choothopadhyay- outside the pages of my novel 'Samlee's daughter'- genuinely exist. Still, if you begin a blog post with a made-up, totally unfunny, quotation from Oscar Wilde- surely the least funny man who ever existed-  it's like you just have to carry on inventing belletristic, pseudo intellectual, Eng Lit tripe of a stripe so fucking boring it's probably all true.
And that scares me a little.
 As it should you too.
Think I'll keep the light on when I go to bed tonight.

Who knows who might be reading this?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

WTF? Oscar Wilde not funny? What r us smoking/