Saturday, June 28, 2008

Seminal moment

Reading Diana Wichtel on the Bloomsbury trail in the latest
Listener recalls for me the memorable account in one of
Virginia Woolf's journals or letters of the moment when
civilization shifted on its axis. It was a spring evening in
1908, and Virginia and her sister Vanessa were in the
drawing-room at 46 Gordon Square, Bloomsbury, London.
Wrote Woolf later: "Vanessa sat silent and did something
mysterious with her needle or her scissors. I talked
egotistically, excitedly, about my own affairs no doubt.
Suddenly the door opened and the long and sinister figure
of Mr Lytton Strachey stood on the threshold. He pointed
his finger at a stain on Vanessa’s white dress.

‘Semen?’ he said.

Can one really say it? I thought & we burst out laughing.
With that one word all barriers of reticence and reserve
went down. A flood of the sacred fluid seemed to
overwhelm us. Sex permeated our conversation. The word
bugger was never far from our lips. We discussed copulation
with the same excitement and openness that we had
discussed the nature of good. It is strange to think how
reticent, how reserved we had been and for how long."

This seminal moment is also the subject of a poem by Anne
Stevenson, "The Fiction-Makers."

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