Courtesy of The Guardian UK, The BBC announced this week that they’re releasing CD’s that feature audio recordings of famous authors, including Vladimir Nabokov, F. Scott Fitzgerald, a drunken Raymond Chandler (surprise), and the only known surviving recordings of Virginia Woolf. At the link itself, you can hear a snippet of her discussing writing. I have to confess that she sounds nothing like I expected, and I suspect that’s entirely because of my modern ear. I think I wanted something at once more dulcet and a bit less posh. But there is a frisson of hearing her characteristic prose in her own voice. Here’s a brief self-transcribed snippet from the bit you can hear at The Guardian (which begins at about 1:40 or so).
Do we write better? Do we read better than we read and wrote 400 years ago, when we were unliteratured, uncriticized, untaught? Is our modern, Georgian literature a patch on the Elizabethan? Well, where are we to lay the blame? Not on our professors, not on our reviewers, not on our writers, but on words. It is words that are to blame. They all the wildest, freest, most irresponsible, most unteachable of all of these. Of course, you can catch them and sort them and place them in alphabetical order in dictionaries. But words do not live in dictionaries, they live in the mind…
There are some complicated thoughts here about the place of the modern writer in the teleological trajectory of literature, and it would be no small task to articulate Woolf’s representation of the Word itself. I’ll leave this for the Woolf scholars to sort. In the meantime, I think I’ll call up the library and ask if we can order the CDs. I can’t wait to hear the full 8 minutes of Woolf’s recording, as well as the others.
As a sidenote, this came my way via Tina Brown’s new venture, The Daily Beast. (Some might remember Brown as a former editor of the New Yorker and Vanity Fair. As with all things Brownian, it’s big and theatrical and snarky. But it’s also looking for the intersections of politics and culture in ways that I think many political blogs (like the Huffington Post) don’t quite manage. Give her a read.