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Mystical Experiences of Virginia Woolf
(1882 - 1941)

English writer Virginia Woolf made original contributions to the form of the novel and produced several fictional works that continue to be widely read. To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway, The Waves, and Orlando are her most famous works. Much of her writing involved experiments with the way time is experienced by the major characters.

The two experiences below are from a collection of her essays, Moments of Being. Woolf gives great importance to these experiences as they remain vivid throughout her life and provides glimpses of a reality not typically experienced.

First Memory
"--I begin: the first memory.
This was of red and purple flowers on a black ground---mymother's dress; and she was sitting either in a train or in an omnibus, and I was on her lap. I therefore saw the flowers she was wearing very close; and can still see purple and red and blue, I think, against the black; they must have been anemones, I suppose. Perhaps we were going to St. Ives; more probably, for from the light it must have been evening, we were coming back to London. But it is more convenient artistically to suppose that we were going to St. Ives, for that will lead to my other memory, which also seems to be my first memory, and in fact it is the most important of all my memories. If life has a base that it stands upon, if it is a bowl that one fills and fills and fills---then my bowl without a doubt stands upon this memory. It is of hearing the waves breaking, one, tow, one, two, and sending a splash of water over the beach; and then breaking, one, two, one, two, behind a yellow blind. It is of hearing the blind draw its little acrorn across the floor as the wind blew the blind out. It is of lying and hearing this splash and seeing this light, and feeling, it is almost impossible that I should be here; of feeling the purest ecstasy I can conceive." p.64-65
Second Memory
"The next memory---all these colour-and-sound memories hand together at St. Ives---was much more robust; it was highly sensual. It was later. It still makes me feel warm; as if everything were ripe; humming; sunny; smelling so many smells at once; and all making a whole that even now makes me stop---as I stopped then going down to the beach; I stopped at the top to look down at the gardens. They were sunk beneath the road. The apples were on a level with one's head. The gardens gave off a murmur of bees; the apples were red and gold; there were also pink flowers; and grey and silver leaves. The buzz, the croon, the smell, all seemed to press voluptuously against some membrane; not to burst it; but to hum round one such a complete rapture of pleasure that I stopped, smelt; looked. But again I cannot describe that rapture. It was rapture rather than ecstasy.
The strength of these pictures---but sight was always then so much mixed with sound that picture is not the right word--the strength anyhow of these impressions makes me again digress. Those moments---in the nursery, on the road to the beach---can still be more real than the present moment....But the peculiarity of these two strong memories is that each was very simple. I am hardly aware of myself, but only the sensation. I am hardly aware of myself, but only the sensation. I am only the container of the feeling of ecstasy, of the feeling of rapture." (pp.66-67)

Source: Schulkind, Jeanne. Editor. Virginia Woolf: Moments of Being-Unpublished Autobiographical Writings, (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976), from the chapter entitled "A Sketch of the Past" .



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