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The Pattern Behind the Words

Suzanne Bellamy

(A version of this essay was first published in Virginia Woolf:Lesbian Readings, Eileen Barrett and Patricia Cramer (eds), NYU Press 1997)

Among the clutter of my studio is a very large photograph of Virginia Woolf taken in her late thirties, a beautiful one with her long fingers stretched up to her cheekbones and deep-set, melancholy eyes. It has lived in my changing work spaces, among books, clay, etching inks, and tools for twenty years, and holds the place of honor and the muse. Along with this photo are a number of large, hand-printed quotations from Woolf about work, the brain, shapes, and the creative process. As they yellow, tear, stain, and deteriorate, I make them again, and again, and again.

This is the one I look at after an exhibition, after the weariness and emptiness settle, or with a looming deadline:

Now I must press together; get into the mood & start again. I want to raise up the magic world all round me, & live strongly and quietly.... The difficulty is the usual one—how to adjust the two worlds. It is no good getting violently excited: one must combine. (Diary 4: 202)

Every woman who knows me intimately, or has ever lived with me, knows about the centrality of Virginia Woolf in my life. There is a dy­namic in the relationship that has always been erotic, though like many affairs it deepened slowly, and the passion comes and goes.

I was blessed to be a young artist and scholar just as the publishing world blossomed with Woolf's biographical, diary, and letter material in the early 197os. Something started in me then, something I needed as a lesbian artist, as a writer, as a political activist, as an explorer of the hid­den and mystical. We linked arms, Virginia and I, our garden grew and grew, and our metaphors mixed and flourished.

This then is a love story, one of those really good long ones, in the manner of the eighteenth century, where the space between vibrates with a thrilling inquiry, with probing intimacy and incalculable respect, projection, correction. The hot and the cool. It is time for me to look more closely at this passion, to find out why this great artist has been my most potent mythic companion. How did it begin? What are its shapes? How has it illuminated my own creative life?

I have written about Woolf often, bounced off a sentence, an image, played Bloomsbury games with my friends. I have written a series of partly autobiographical essays over a number of years, each of which has a Woolf title and philosophical underpinning.1 I have lived with the dilemmas of dual creativity, sister love and envy, child abuse memories, madness, sibling suicide, the failings of love and lust and loyalty, the drive and passion of work. In all of this and in degrees, Virginia Woolf has had something to say. She has given me contexts, windows, parts in the play.

It is a constant idea of mine; that behind the cotton wool is hidden a pattern; that we—I mean all human beings—are connected with this; ... we are the words; we are the music; we are the thing itself. (MOB 72)

The clarity and seriousness of this passage thrills me to the core; all the more so for knowing how tenuous is the effort to make it happen in a life or a piece of work, to bring the world into focus as if for the first time. "I am the thing in which all this exists." This "thing" Woolf writes about so often rings in my brain, "the thing itself," over and over again, the core, the form, the life force, the mystery, the point of everything. How daring the use of this word is, how precise its evocation. This thing, a life, something, her life, my life, patterns and connections, find­ing patterns behind the words. "I think I am about to embody, at last, the exact shapes my brain holds. What a long toil to reach this begin­ning" (D 4: 53).

For twenty years I have imagined and explored those shapes in her brain, and in the process have grown my own story. The formal academy could not offer me this fare. I needed to find it myself. Teacher, muse, companion, beloved—a potent mix.

This story really begins with another wonderful friendship in the great lesbian tradition, an Australian story. In my women's liberation group in Sydney in 1970 I met Bessie Guthrie. I was twenty-one, a Ph.D. student in history at the University of Sydney. She was then in her late sixties, an intellectual, a political campaigner, and a children's rights activist. We became devoted friends until her death in 1977, and in those few
years she opened up a new world to me. She had been Australia's
woman publisher, in the 1930's, and had a great library.2 Bessie loved Virginia Woolf, and she ignited that love in me. A Woolf bibliophile, she had all the old hardcover colonial editions of the novels, a first edition of Three Guineas, Granite and Rainbow, The Captain's Deathbed, and The Common Reader, as well as Vita Sackville-West's The Garden, Collected Poems, Volume 1, the Winifred Holtby biography of Woolf, and a vast collection of Bloomsbury material in fragile old blue early Penguins: Clive Bell, Lytton Strachey, Leonard Woolf. When she died we had just received the first of the new material, two volumes of letters and the first diary. How she would have loved what was to come. I inherited her books and continue to add to them, in hardcover whenever I can. It has become a joyful responsibility and in time will pass on to another. This is the tradition of the common reader.

It seems to me indisputable that the conditions which make it possible for Shakespeare to exist are that he shall have had predecessors in his art, shall make one of a group where art is freely discussed and practiced, and shall himself have the utmost freedom of action and experience. Perhaps in Lesbos, but never since, have these conditions been the lot of women. (D 2: 341)

I wonder if that is true. It is hard to recreate now what it was like to be in those women's liberation groups of the early 1970s, in the gritty inner-city suburbs of Sydney. Not since Lesbos? Perhaps. The precondi­tions Woolf listed were there: a passionate community of women in fierce debate, confident, optimistic, able and beginning to acquire re­sources to work creatively, to write, make art, make choices about insti­tutions, the academy, loyalty, the critical tradition; to be serious and to take each other seriously. "I dont mean that one ought to strain . . . only that one ought to stand outside with one's hands folded, until the thing has made itself visible" (L 3: 321).

I like this idea. It suits me and the way I work as an artist. I have read and thought and wondered about Virginia Woolf's influence, our cre­ative partnership. I haye waited until the thing has made itself visible. What comes is a mirror, the present, a love affair, and the need to shed the quest for analysis: inspired by my favorite, Miss La Trobe, "You've stirred in me my unacted part"; "You've twitched the invisible strings" (BTA 153).

My method in writing this essay is discursive, as is the freedom and privilege of the common reader, shedding the quest for answers, allow­ing germination. For so long the spotlight has been on Woolf, endless inquiry, endless questions—is she mad, is she a genius, is she a lesbian, does she hate men, is she a separatist? Her work and story spiral ahead of all these attempts. Enough! The spotlight can now shift and be on the seeker. Everyone finds what they are looking for; the rich, deep veins lend themselves to it all. For myself here I am content and thrilled that, as a lesbian artist, I can find resonances.

That Woolf's work at all levels continues way beyond its time to ig­nite inquiry and lead to links with me, my work, my life, for twenty years already, and with a community of women internationally is greatly sig­nificant. She found a form of writing and speculation that straddles at least the twentieth century and, like. Orlando, perhaps will go further. Perhaps she did crack the pattern behind the words, fusing work and life form, moving in the stream past time.

Jane Marcus brilliantly speaks to Woolf's writing as seduction. Noting that for Woolf writing is a sexual act, Marcus writes,

What, then, will we call it when the woman writer seduces the woman reader? ... The seduction of the woman reader . .. has two purposes, to inculcate sexual solidarity by establishing difference and claiming that difference as superior, and the recruitment and enlistment of a new gener­ation of women in the cause of feminist scholarship. The artist, the histo­rian, or the critic have all been assigned their tasks in the conspiratorial "cell" of our "room." ("Sapphistry" 169, 176)3.

This fits me so well. Certainly I began making creative choices in Woolf's wake, in her line. In July 1979 I made two fifty-minute radio programs for the Australian Broadcasting Commission on Virginia Woolf's life and work. It was a big project in a big year at the end of which I walked out of the university for the last time, away from an academic career, teach­ing, working in a hierarchy, a comfortable salary, an identity. It was fan­tastic, one of those pivotal moments of being for me. I chose to find a way to become an independent scholar and artist in the Woolf tradition.

She was not my only inspiration, but she was the one who has lasted the distance. Those of you who have taken this path know it is only for thrill seekers, crossed with nightmares and phantom terrors, economic strictures, and self-doubt. You learn to work from within your own im­perative, invent a creative process, be self-motivated, and survive tough times. Not once have I regretted my choice, but I have foundered regularly, and it's the story of Virginia Woolf that picks me up. I chose inde­pendence in as many ways as possible, moving to the country where it was cheaper to have studio space and a garden. I chose to exhibit, and sell my sculptures and installations in spaces where I had creative con­trol, rejecting the gallery system without compromising the best avail­able professional standards. I sought and built my audience from a community of women, artists and writers, activists, and readers, and all kinds of feminists and lesbians. I saw my role as that of a cultural worker but independent, following my own demons, my own patterns. I work with the expectation that the thing will make itself visible.

In 1980, at the start of this new life, I went on a pilgrimage—my country: the whole world. After the certainties of the 1970s, it was time for some shocks. How seamless it can all look with distance from the view, but journeys are turbulent. Thanks to Woolf, I had become a seri­ous diarist, which is helpful then and now in finding the pattern.

On my first trip ever to New York in 1980, I sat at the Berg Col­lection and held the manuscript fragments of Three Guineas. Even now I am hard pressed to communicate the importance of this. Reading is one thing; touching and seeing is something else again. Perhaps because I make things, it meant more to me. Certainly it still matters when I think about it. It was such a wonderfully lesbian experience at the Berg, feeling the mistrustful eyes of guards who sensed I didn't belong there despite my ticket, the last privilege of academe I ever got. Now as an indepen­dent scholar, I daresay I wouldn't get a ticket. No Entry, and an anti­podean colonial to boot.

It was so intimate, this reading of fragments. And the handwriting was atrocious. It was all quite agitating. There I read and copied Vita Sackville-West's diary of a journey to France with Virginia Woolf in Sep­tember 192.8: "We had breakfast in my room, and entered on a heated argument about men and women. V. is curiously feminist. She dislikes the possessiveness and love of domination in men. In fact she dislikes the quality of masculinity. Says that women stimulate her imagination, by their grace and their art of life."4

What a dilemma, I thought. A lover who doesn't share your politics. How can that love work? As usual I was taking Virginia's part, and re­flecting my own experience of love and politics. Jane Marcus grasps this tension between two women as it develops around the whole Orlando business, A Room of One's Own, and the trip they made together to Girton for Virginia's talk. The creative dynamic between them seems

more important than the sex. Marcus quotes Kathleen Raine, then a young Girton student, who described Virginia and Vita being together there on that day, "descend[ing] like goddesses from Olympus" (Raine 16). Such a picture of the two of them! Marcus says, "Much of A Room was meant simply to convert her beloved Vita to feminism, its seductive tone an extension of her love letters" ("Sapphistry" 166).

This business of sex and politics, passion in the body and in the work, is not simple, but it all belongs, it all matters. Can the muse come so close? Is it impossible to be stirred and stimulated by a lover one cannot convert, seduce, hold, and transform? Conversely, is the muse always best just beyond the grasp? Creative tension has its price for lovers who are artists, I decided. And wanting Virginia to have been a little happier in life, I realize, flows from my own love of her but is not especially help­ful to my understanding of the creative process. Its great use for me is to expose youthful folly in me, which has nothing to do with Woolf at all.

Rethinking earlier ideas about Woolf became part of my work throughout the 198os. As a common reader, I shifted some ground, as I discovered when I listened again to my old radio programs. Some cer­tainties dissolved; some views extended. Lily Briscoe's yearning for Mrs. Ramsay was then hot, painful, and pivotal: "[T]o want and want and not to have" (TTL 202). My reading of Mr. Ramsay was severe, and I loved the scene where Lily resisted his demands for sympathy, pulling back her skirts, "grasping her paint brush" (TTL 153). Lily Briscoe, the independent lesbian artist, still shines for me, but I feel her depths more now, explore her palette and her perspective with more attention, and I can stay connected emotionally with the gigantic spirit of Mrs. Ramsay in her grace and impossible choices.

With Three Guineas, I experienced an extension on my return visits. I hold it to be the most brilliant piece of political writing I've ever encoun­tered in the English language, other than some of the works of Mary Daly in my own time. 5. In 1979 I analyzed it as an invocation to establish our own traditions and centers of learning, to flourish as an outsider. I read the analysis of fascism within patriarchy in a historical sense primar­ily. What has changed for me now is how contemporary a document it remains. The Three Guineas world remains, with the rise of more blatant anti-feminist forces among intellectuals, as well as in the resurgence of male Militias, neo-Nazis, and racist sects. As in the 1930s, we can witness radical-sounding aesthetics, invented by critics, that mock and erode feminism with fashionable rhetoric—the subtext of "post-modernism" feeling very similar to that of high and mighty male "modernism."

In the current debates about post-feminism and post-modernism, there are useful reminders for feminists about Woolf's modernist tag.6 Contrary to the myths of Bloomsbury unity, there were always uneasy relations. As Marcus suggests, E. M. Forster, Lytton Strachey, and Goldsworthy Dickinson tended toward misogyny in their lives and writings, and cer­tainly didn't like sapphism or lesbianism ("Sapphistry" 175n). E. M. Forster, in his speech about Woolf after her, death, mocked "the cantan­kerous Three Guineas," claimed "feminism responsible for the worst of her books," that she had little to complain of, "grumbling from habit," and that in any case she failed to address the two great (male) concerns of that time—sexuality and class ("Rede Lecture"). Are we reading the same author, I wondered, when I first encountered this. Gracious enough though he is to add that he was not the person best positioned to judge these matters, Forster nonetheless maintained what became a continuous point of tension within Virginia Woolf's social circles. Although the Apostles formed largely a male homosexual culture, they were not politi­cally motivated toward any radical defense of the rights of women. Once the high modernist reactionaries around T. S. Eliot began to attack Woolf, her critical position began to look quite embattled. She was able to be resilient in the face of growing criticism—for example, that mount­ed by Q. D. Leavis—but it seems to me that terms like "modernism" require expansive qualification if used about Woolf.7.

I am left with the sense that the broad cultural terms "modernism" and "post-modernism" are calculations fitted to the male tradition prin­cipally, with only partial application to writers like Woolf. We women artists have a tradition of our own like another language. Working with­in patriarchal culture becomes something like speaking in a second lan­guage, whether verbal or image-based. The rise of post-modernist attacks on feminism remind me of my years as a student in Leavisite-dominated English university departments of the late 1960s. It feels the same to me; the agenda has a snobbish, mocking anti-feminism about it.

The crucially important work of articulating the forms of cultural shift that are happening to women's creative work simply has to shed this re­curring bitter and unhelpful debate, or at the very least decenter it. The cat in the bag is still a tom. As to Three Guineas, it has lasted the dis­tance beyond the Leavisites and is due for a major rereading.

What has in fact changed for the lesbian outsider in the Three Guin­eas tradition is not at all structural but cosmetic, though there's some­thing to be said for a little of that. Lesbian chic, sadomasochism at women's festivals and on the covers of magazines—this is more about the infection of the patriarchs than about the end of power politics. Rising anti-lesbian violence is a fact; death lists, threats, and recent mur­ders in Oregon and other cities all coexist with the phenomenon in Australia of the Sydney Mardi Gras, which is interpreted by many as an indicator of community tolerance and acceptance. The Three Guineas world reappears for me when it is seen yet again as cantankerous to spoil the Mardi Gras–style party mood by challenging this assumption, by showing, as Woolf did in Three Guineas, the real growth of violence under the surface of the myth of greater freedom. Lovers without poli­tics, a dynamic of dangerous times.

There are, of course, women everywhere inventing new pathways, liv­ing not as fragments, not in exile, not without our own language, creat­ing the practice of post-patriarchal creative form. I try to live and work in this way. It's no harder than any other way. One thing I know intu­itively from twenty years of reading Woolf, where texts merge, novels run into letters, diaries into reviews, is that it's living that is hard. It's being alive to life that is almost impossible. Beyond and because of all the wounding, there's the living. Not a half-lived, compromised life, but engagement—"real things behind appearances" (MOB 72). My hope in this is that we can be happier than Lily Briscoe, not so bad tempered as Miss LaTrobe, live in some community—but I doubt that the creative process will lighten at some level. Beyond our temperaments, there is still work to do. Central to that work is putting the time into each other's creative best. Like Orlando, Virginia Woolf can stay alive while I and others still find points of dynamic exchange with her. I don't stay in my relationship with Woolf from duty or career or nostalgia, but be­cause it still ignites me, because in her and through her I drop down into my tradition, I play my part. I give my work context. I satisfy some of the lust of my own brain.

It has taken me a long time to think through the intersections of Woolf, lust, love, climax, and after. I have had to be brutally honest about myself and my relationships, and to allow for some insights to come through aging. In the sculptural non-verbal work I produced through the 198os, mainly in clay, I moved through erotic forms, the female land­scape, mythic journeys, memory, and the lesbian brain.8. In a long sequence of porcelain studies, my Lesbian Salon Series, I tried to create the tense intimacy of a community of ex-lovers, pompous, fragile, epic, and ridiculous in one breath. This series spun off from a major work called And We Hid Our Secret Knowledge, Even from Ourselves, a great wooden barge and sail, full of porcelain figures and objects, women car­rying books, instruments, artifacts, boxes, scrolls, fleece, statuary—a cul­ture in flight, waiting and wanting to be remembered. Like an ancient dynamic artifact, this journey boat seemed to come alive in my own life. I began to travel again, to meet the women on it, scholars, artists, min­strels, holy women, storytellers, archivists, musicians, navigators, chate­laines. These women, my spiritual peers, ancestors, and contemporaries, had gathered up into the secret recesses of my ancient memory the key ideas and forms of a separate heritage, mythic if not real. They floated on the sea of my amnesia, waiting to be made and spoken back to form.

As in Miss LaTrobe's play, the distinctions of character and time blurred. These boat women shared with us the same ordinariness, limitations of trust, arrogance, irritability, small-mindedness. Invoking a per­fect humming past is nonsense, simply unbelievable, as Woolf knew. Some acknowledgment of the fierceness in us, the lust for nourishment and nurturance, is a good idea. What I have always found in Woolf is this marvelous battle among women, whether it is in her novels or in her lived story. It is not the battle between men and women, but battle it is, biophilic battle at its best. Once you throw out the angel in the house, keep her out. Save us from the new tyranny of the perfect femi­nist and perfect lesbian, reincarnated killers of the independent spirit. "With me and I think many women the root of love is in the imaginative part of one—its violence, its tenderness, its hunger" (quoted in Marcus, "Thinking" 14).

For myself, cerebral/imaginative passion is what gets me near the peak. The key to erotic charge is a kind of sex in the mind, a complex experience of words and shapes and potencies that can be shared, but not essentially—that can be physical but will not stay there. My heights come when a personal connection or experience or place ignites the cerebral revolution.

For Woolf, there's no question that Vita Sackville-West provided some­thing of that charge. Many writers have appreciated this intensely fruitful collaboration.9 The byplay is delicious, to consider, and Vita acknowl­edged at least something of Virginia's ability to educate her. "It is quite true that you have had infinitely more influence on me intellectually than anyone, and for this alone I love you. I feel my muscles hardening" (Sackville-West, Letters 165).

As to Orlando, Vita claimed to have found herself "in love with Or­lando ... a complication [she] had not foreseen" (Sackville-West, Letters 289). It would seem that as Vita took on another lover, Virginia created an immortal one—a stylish seduction indeed.

Another relationship that has come to fascinate me in recent years is the one of the two sisters, Virginia and Vanessa. I have seen a few of Vanessa's paintings at the Tate, and there is much new material now so that she can be really approached at last. The intimacy of sisters has been a difficult subject for me to approach. I have an older sister who is a painter and has two children and four grandchildren. Our brother com­mitted suicide in 1981. Our relationship has been given friction by my lesbianism and by child abuse memories throughout the 198os. The long break in our bond as sisters has only recently begun to mend, with lots of attention on both sides. In my family, my sister was "the artist" and I was "the intellectual." Both of us have needed to expand on these iden­tities, give each other space and separation, and now piece together a new relationship. I also needed to settle with the dilemma and pleasure of dual creativity, needing both to write and to make artifacts and images. These territorial matters between Virginia and Vanessa draw me in and take on new importance in my reading and understanding of Woolf. Their letters are a monument.

People will certainly think that we had a most amorous intercourse. They read more like love-letters than anything else. (V. Bell 71)

[Vanessa to Virginia]

Now if you sometimes kissed me voluntarily perhaps I would not be afraid. (L 4: 68; emphasis in original)

[Virginia to Vanessa]

Are you too much engrossed in me as a subject for your art to be able to think of me in the flesh? (V. Bell 59)

[Vanessa to Virginia]

my own proper science; the theory of Vanessa. (L 1: 289) [Virginia to Clive Bell]

They seemed very happy, but are evidently both a little exercised in their minds on the subject of the Goat's coldness I think I perhaps annoyed her but may have consoled him by saying that I thought she never had under­stood or sympathised with sexual passion in men. Apparently she still gets no pleasure at all from the act, which I think is curious. (V Bell 132)

[Vanessa to Clive Bell]

Their intimacy here founders, as it can between sisters on the differ­ences in sexual orientation and with differing experiences of child abuse. I flinch at this letter to Clive on the subject of sex with Leonard, smell­ing as it does of compulsory heterosexuality and insensitivity to the effects of rape. Their love survived deaths, betrayals, the burdens of care, too much grieving and too many losses, partly, I feel, because each expected the other to work and respected that work profoundly. This makes for the most sustainable model of a partnership, which is crucial for women. Only Virginia's death breaks the pattern.

I often think how Virginia would have adored your having 4 daughters and have enjoyed the feminine atmosphere. (V. Bell 525)

I wish dolphin were by my side, in a bath bright blue, with her tail curled. But then I've been always in love with her since I was a green eyed brat under the nursery table, and so shall remain in my extreme senility. (L 6: 153)

What emerges beyond the family intimacy is the profound professional influence each had on the other. Vanessa's experiments in painting, the Omega Workshops, the country living, the gardens, the domestic aesthet­ics were all large influences on Virginia Woolf. An ambience grew around both women of rich sensuality. In their way, they each lived out "the per­sonal is political" notion as well.

When I first began to read Virginia Woolf's novels, I felt she wrote like a sculptor. She was able with words to build forms, strip away surfaces,shed representation in a way different from abstraction. "I shall reform the novel and capture multitudes of things at present fugitive,enclose the whole, and shape infinite strange shapes" (L 356-57).

Watching Vanessa's paintings evolve, participating in her art theory discussions of postimpressionism, and then immersing herself in the physical act of printing and making books was an expansive experience for Woolf. The decision to self-publish, to buy a press, to set the type with her own inky fingers, to commission art work—all this put Virginia and Leonard in the flow of an art movement. What I feel is that she pushed past the limitations of painting as a way ahead, drawing from another, more robust form of construction, literary but breaking into the same new territory as a maker of physical shapes that free themselves from direct representation but take on independent form. Things them­selves, coming from a place in the brain not often visited. Something dif­ferent from abstraction and not random.

If I could catch the feeling, I would: the feeling of the singing of the real world . (D 3: 260)

Inwardly I am more full of shape and colour than ever. (D 3: 219)

I believe these illnesses are in my case ... partly mystical. Something hap­pens in my mind. It refuses to go on registering impressions. It shuts itself up. It becomes a chrysalis." (D 3: 287)

This embodies the paradox at the heart of Woolf's creative process. The madness business is beyond my present scope. As an incest survivor my­self, I have many thoughts about the potent infusion of that experience into Woolf's work and life. It is a rich area of exploration for me and deeply familiar territory.

Her articulation of the mental landscape when the brain turns within is the peak of her genius and her courage. Sometimes chrysalis, some­times only to "wish for death" (D 4: 319), she articulates the extremes. No writer gave more of her life force to the exploration of the world beyond the surfaces.

Woolf's creative courage and influence led to an explosion of experi­ments among women artists and writers. In my work this influence man­ifested itself unexpectedly some years ago within a personal meditation practice. For over twenty years I have developed a creative, meditation I call the "workshop of my own mind": a dynamic studio tool for access­ing work images, stories, and solutions to problems. I first wrote about this meditation practice in 198z, using personal journal stories ("Form"). The idea of the workshop developed over time to encompass an expan­sive world of women, a great city, studios, teachers, complex art prac­tices, journeys, a forum for ideas. It became a multitudinous form and is still expanding.

In this world of my mind, there is a studio complex where I work, discuss projects, and in particular meet with a teacher, Hephaista, who is both a mathematician and a "mosaic scientist." In one of these medita­tions, Hephaista showed me a studio where this mosaic process was being researched. We went through a maze-like garden of exuberant color to a beautifully light-flooded room where a woman was working. It was Virginia Woolf. It is no surprise to me that I should invent her in my work world, but the detail of our ensuing contacts has been mar­velous and continuous. I have never written of this before outside of my journals, but it seems insistent now to be included in this essay.

When I first saw the Woolf persona, she stood absorbed at a huge easel-like circuit board, tipped at an angle like an architect's bench. On both sides of her were hundreds of tiny objects in containers and trays, exotic materials unknown to me, like jewels and unknown metals, tiny shapes. She had an array of tweezers and tools that she used to pick up these objects, and obviously amazing eyesight, I thought, helped by the abundant prismatic light in her studio.

The board she worked on seemed to be moving as she built shapes in intricate detail. I asked her whether she could tell me what her current work involved. "The pattern behind the words," she said. Speaking very much in character, with comfortable references to her earlier corpus, she said she was now absorbed at a deeper level, creating forms in the shape of brain patterns themselves, synaptic constructions with patient experi­mentation. Now when I recall my first sighting of Woolf's work in pro­gress, it was like a computer-generated circuit board. It had dynamic energy and seemed to make me dizzy, or at least cerebrally agitated, and at sea. It's hard to explain exactly. She was quite seriously courteous but not wanting to encourage silly questions or any gee-whiz responses, so I withdrew on the invitation to return by the courteous "Woolf character." This I have done often, and I am studying mosaic science directly with Hephaista. As to "Virginia," she is not a teacher there, not overly famil­iar at all, but we have had some conversations and sat together on deck chairs in the garden, smoking rollies. I like it a lot.

Of course, after I saw her and was trying to write it up in my journal, I realized the parallels with setting type. The tweezers, the tiny objects-
it could all have been at the Hogarth Press but for the light, color, and the absence of words and letters. "Thoughts without words. Can that be?"(BTA 55) Recently I read the essay by Ellen Hawkes, "Woolf's 'Magical Garden of Women,'" in which she mentions an enclosed garden where women can tell their tales, where the outsiders come in. I can happily report that in my mind at least this garden flourishes.

The book I turn to now, as if pursuing some urgent puzzle in my own work, is Between the Acts. Miss LaTrobe and Mrs. Swithin speak to me from scraps of paper on my studio walls. "But we have other lives, I think, I hope...' . We live in others. .. . We live in things," says Mrs. Swithin (BTA 7o). "'We haven't the words—we haven't the words,' Mrs. Swithin protested. 'Behind the eyes; not on the lips; that's all.' Thoughts without 'words,' her brother mused. 'Can that be?"' (BTA 55).

This last great work of Virginia Woolf puts the lesbian artist at a his­toric turning point. Does she go back to merge with Anon or will she come into her greatness at last? It's a matter of attitude, of self-inven­tion.10 Miss LaTrobe, like Woolf, the embodiment of the Elizabethan fool/scapegoat, is my personal nemesis. She is drawn to great projects, doomed to work with available materials and people, between worlds, cranky, depressive, driven. Her village play is not a failure. It is both an ancient passion play and a radically experimental revitalization of ritual. She is a shaman. She can live in things. She suffers the despair of empty­ing out before the next thing comes. She sits at the pub alone:

She raised her glass to her lips. And drank. And listened. Words of one syl­lable sank down into the mud. She drowsed; she nodded. The mud became fertile. Words rose.... Words without meaning—wonderful wbrds.... She set down her glass. She heard the first words. (BTA 212)

And so the creative cycle begins again. Transcending the great patriar­chal forces that demand our attention and refuse to give us our liberty, there are other places. In the world of Chloe and Olivia, in the place through the looking-glass, there is magic to be had from the gift of Virginia Woolf to lesbian artists with the wit to go looking.

She is one of us; she is us; and the work continues.


1. See Bellamy, "Form—'We Are the Thing Itself,' "Freedom from Unreal Loyalties," "The Creative Landscape," and "The Narrow Bridge of Art and Politics."

2. See my essay "Bessie Guthrie" and the entry by me in the Australian Dic­tionary of Biography, 1940-80, on Bessie Guthrie.

3.After reading Marcus, I can never use three dots the same way again .

4.Victoria Mary Sackville-West, "Diary of a Journey to France with Virginia Woolf in 1929." Holograph, unsigned, dated September 2.4-30, 1928, 5 p. with Nigel Nicolson's MS identifying note. Berg Collection, New York Public Library.

5.In particular, Mary Daly, Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Fem­inism. Mary Daly makes strong links with Three Guineas and Woolf's outsider vision.

6.See Bell and Klein for a variety of critiques of post-modernism.

7.See Willis (46-47). See also L. Woolf, Downhill, for a good discussion of Virginia Woolf's handling of criticism and "thorns" (148-49).

8.A book of photographs and text from this fifteen-year period of my work, Mapping the Coming Women, is to be published by Sanguinary/Spinifex.

9.See Raitt for a mapping of the work relationship.

10. See Eisenberg.