I met a man once who was reading Virginia Woolf in a café. He wore a bowtie and a hat. Except it wasn’t Virginia Woolf, it was a biography by her nephew, Quentin Bell. He said it was better than other records of her life, really, that he’d read so many.
I asked, was he a scholar of Virginia Woolf.
Not really, he said, I’m just taken with her life. Not her works, really, which was odd, he guessed, just her person. She’s inspired so much interest, he said, like Proust. He couldn't say he'd ever finished one of her novels, but he’d read all of her diaries, her journals and letters, multiple accounts of her life, criticism good and bad.
Oh, I said, I love her work but I guess I’m a bit nervous to study her life. I know about her illness and her demise, so I worry. Her work is incredibly inspiring to me. I’m a huge fan.
I encourage you, he said, to learn about her life. Though I should warn you, it’s troubling the way that people try to co-opt her, to make her into something they want her to be. Like the feminists. I mean, I want women to do anything, to be anything, but when any political platform tries to own something and mold it, well, listen to me, I’m just… and then he made a motion with his hands for talking incessantly.
I noticed that the cover of his book was brown paper. I’m a bit idiosyncratic, he said, I didn’t like the cover so I papered it.