Memoirs, Non-Fiction

Excerpt from “A Sketch of the Past” (II) – Virginia Woolf

From it all I gathered one obstinate and enduring conception; that nothing is so much to be dreaded as egotism. Nothing so cruelly hurts the person himself; nothing so wounds those who are forced into contact with it.

But from my present distance of time I see too what we could not then see–the gulf between us that was cut by our difference in age. Two different ages confronted each other in the drawing room at Hyde Park Gate. The Victorian age and the Edwardian age. We were not his children; we were his grandchildren. . . [ . . . ] Hyde Park Gate in 1900 was a complete model of Victorian society. If I had the power to lift out of the past a single day as we lived it about 1900, it would give a section of upper middle class Victorian life, like one of those sections with glass covers in which ants and bees are shown going about their tasks. Our day would begin with family breakfast at 8.30. Adrian bolted his, and whichever of us, Vanessa or myself, was down would see him off. Standing at the front door, we would wave a hand till he had disappeared behind the bulging wall of the Martins’ house. This hand waving was a relic left us by Stella–a flutter of the dead hand which lay beneath the surface of family life. Father would eat his breakfast sighing and snorting. If there were no letters, “Everyone has forgotten me”, he would exclaim. A long envelope from Barkers would mean of course a sudden roar. George and Gerald would come later. Vanessa disappeared behind the curtain with its golden anchor. Dinner ordered, she would dash for the red bus to take her to the Academy. If Gerald coincided, he would give her a lift in his daily hansom, the same generally; in summer the cabby wore a red carnation. George, having breakfasted more deliberately, would persuade me sometimes to sit on in the three-cornered chair and would tell me scraps of gossip about last night’s party. Then he would kiss me, button up his frock coat, give his top hot a promise with the velvet glove and trot off, handsome, debonair, in his ribbed socks and very small well polished shoes to the Treasury.

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