We all know taking a break is a ‘good thing’. We’ve been hearing about the benefits of a sabbatical in the news this week as the government considers sabbaticals for teachers. Apparently they refresh your attitude and energize you to put more into your day, in short, work miracles. I’ve never had a sabbatical, only paid holiday leave when I worked in a regular job. Any holidays I took with husband and two children usually left me exhausted and longing for term to start.
I have been holidaying in Cornwall. As a 13 year-old girl, I discovered Daphne du Maurier whilst visiting Fowey. During that week, I took her novel Rebecca to the beach, on walks, to meal times, to bed. I fell in love with writing. (I had been in love with reading since my grandma taught me aged 3.)
This time I visited The Tate at St Ives, showing Virginia Woolf – An Exhibition Inspired by Her Writings. The first painting I saw was The Blue Ship by Alfred Wallis (1855-1942), a harbour painted flat; then an old favourite, a self portrait by Gwen John (1876-1939) also her delicate painting of her room in her Paris flat. Also displayed were several paintings by Vanessa Bell. I read letters from Virginia to Dora Carrington and Lytton Strachey, in either tiny handwriting or that battered typeface of an ancient manual typewriter so familiar to those who began their writing life before laptops.
A painting by Clare Attwood (1866-1962) attracted my attention because of the length of its description. ‘Vita Sackville-West in Ellen Terry’s 1895 costume for Portia in William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice for the Masque at Knole 3 July 1910.’ So many answers to so many questions if you knew the questions to ask. The visitor was told the painting illustrated ‘the challenges to conventions and gender normalities these women enacted.’
Totally up to date. Only today men are allowed to enact those challenges too.
I bought a thin Penguin paperback of selected stories of Virginia Woolf. This edition has a detailed introduction and is illustrated with woodcuts by Vanessa Bell. The stories might not either startle you or astound you but her precise and detailed writing is a joy to read.