Brain Pickings

Virginia Woolf on What Makes Love Last

In praise of those intermittent “moments of vision” that electrify love.

Virginia Woolf on What Makes Love Last

“Real love,” wrote philosopher Alain Badiou in contemplating how we fall and stay in love, “is one that triumphs lastingly, sometimes painfully, over the hurdles erected by time, space and the world.” But what, exactly, adrenalizes that triumph, particularly against the tidal tedium of time that washes over any long-term relationship?

That’s what Virginia Woolf (January 25, 1882–March 28, 1941) explores in a beautiful short passage from her diary, which I rediscovered in W.H. Auden’s commonplace book and which originally appeared in A Writer’s Diary (public library) — that indispensable portal into one of humanity’s finest, sharpest minds, and the source of Woolf’s abiding wisdom on the elasticity of time, the paradox of the soul, and the creative benefits of keeping a diary.

In an entry from the early fall of 1926, fourteen years into her unconventional marriage to Leonard, 44-year-old Woolf writes under the heading The married relation:

Arnold Bennett says that the horror of marriage lies in its “dailiness.” All acuteness of a relationship is rubbed away by this. The truth is more like this: life — say 4 days out of 7 — becomes automatic; but on the 5th day a bead of sensation (between husband and wife) forms which is all the fuller and more sensitive because of the automatic customary unconscious days on either side. That is to say the year is marked by moments of great intensity. Hardy’s “moments of vision.” How can a relationship endure for any length of time except under these conditions?

Complement this particular portion of the wholly magnificent A Writer’s Diary with Anna Dostoyevskaya on the secret to a happy marriage and Joseph Campbell on the single most important thing in sustaining romantic relationships, then revisit Woolf on writing and consciousness, why the most fertile mind is the androgynous mind, the epiphany that revealed to her what it means to be an artist, and this wonderful illustrated biography of the beloved writer.

Published May 11, 2016




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