Alienora is a friend first met long before I became a blogger. I remember the moment we first really talked, at a magical workshop, wine glasses in hand. Hair wilder than mine but a similar shade of orange, a fabulous smile that lit her whole being and warmed the space around her… and a pair of unforgettably colourful Doc Marten boots.
Alienora has been absent from the blogosphere for a little while, but I am pleased to say, she is back. You can find her here at Chronicles of an Orange-Haired Woman.
Riding at the Gates of Sixty:
by Alienora Taylor
This third novel ‘narrated’ variously, by Virginia Woolf, her husband, Leonard Woolf, and her sister, painter Vanessa Bell, starts, in March 1941 with the novelist’s suicide. The lead up to March 28th, and the immediate aftermath, is seen through both Leonard and Virginia’s eyes.
The book then jumps back to 1927 – a year I chose because it was the one in which VW started to write ‘Orlando’ and I wanted to bring her relationship with Vita Sackville-West into the story – and takes us into the heart of the Bloomsbury Group, bringing in such characters as Lytton Strachey, Roger Fry, Duncan Grant and Clive Bell. The more social side of VW’s life is explored through meetings with, amongst others, Lady Ottoline Morrell and Dame Ethel Smyth.
There are flashbacks to VW’s childhood, young adulthood and her most serious experience of madness in 1913 – but the novel deals far more with the joy and creative inspiration she found in life than the bouts of mental illness.
The last two sections, ‘narrated’ by Vanessa Bell, bring us back to March 28th 1941.
The novel is a blend of known facts and imaginative flight. I hope that, in the latter, I have stayed true to the spirit of VW, even though some of the events described did not happen.
The following quote comes from the end of Part Two – and describes, from VW’s perspective, the insanity which drove her to walk into the River Ouse and drown herself.
Extract from ‘Riding at the Gates of Sixty’
‘March 28th 1941
Ah! That mirror lies to me! A red-eyed hag glares. I wire my hair out with claws. The Writing Room is a long tube blown violently into my right ear. I wade to the desk. It towers above me. I hook a quill pen from the tiny white pot and sheets of paper cascade about me. I pull at two of them as they float past. I have pulled feathers, many feathers, out of a poor bird to write with.
I laugh and strike, ‘Dearest…’ onto the page.
I remember who he is and a lifetime of love clears before my eyes. I am crying again, making the ink run.
It is too late for that now. I have many letters to write. I fear I am going mad again. I am a fool. He will not understand. He will understand; he has always understood and waited for me to return…fool, fool, he was lying – aiding the eyes which hide in trees, closed but potent.
The sound of tearing paper is all it takes – and I’ll be free to run lightly up the garden path calling, as I usually do, ‘Leo? Any post yet?’ – And all will be as it always has been. I look up and around the sunny room. There is a bird singing outside. My pen is held tightly.
I stiffen. It is an imperious voice; I think at first it is Leonard.
‘Virginia, come my dear child – all these books still to be read. You are becoming very remiss these days. Come closer, that’s right…’
‘No, no, go away! I’ve made my decision… see the stilled pen? My eyes are clear; I can see the sun and hear the birds. You do not understand!’
‘Virginia, it has been raining all day; the planks holding your room together are dark with water, and slimy. You are miles from reality.’
He wants me back. I’ve been banished from his room for too many years. He’ll taunt me.
I cut my tongue licking the envelope. A thin line of blood coats the back…
I look out and the leaves are peaches, falling, falling; they do not land but bounce. My head swims. Leonard, come in now and hold me back.
The path yawns up to meet me; I fear falling. There are silver fish moving up the tree trunks; I watch then fascinated. They have a bed at the top which they leap onto and then wriggle in and out of the human shape lying there.
Those are human eyes straining to look at me. I must lie down. I must not be seen. She is too high up and visible.
The bedclothes will not hold me down by themselves; I will fall out on to somebody. I need anchors, swept up from amongst the trees and crammed into the folds of my tattered wings.
My stick snakes away through the grass. The mattress has pebbles in it. I am cold.’
Virginia Woolf was an English writer born in1882 and is known as one of the great modernists of the twentieth century. She was a significant figure on the literary scene in London and part of the influential Bloomsbury Group of intellectuals. Woolf suffered from periodic bouts of severe bouts of mental illness, now thought to have been caused by bipolar disorder. She drowned herself in 1941, aged 59. Woolf left a legacy of novels and short stories, including ‘Orlando’, ‘Mrs Dalloway’ and ‘To the Lighthouse’.
An English teacher for thirty years, I gave up the Day Job in 2012 in order to write full time.
A prolific writer since the age of eight, I have kept a journal since 1972, have written plays, poems, reviews and novels.
In 2012, I started my Alien Aura blog on WordPress and write something on it most days.
In late December 2014, I published a book of erotica (both poetic and humorous) entitled ‘Come Laughing!’
In January 2015, I published my second novel – ‘Long-Leggety Beasties’ – a humorous piece, set in a school and based upon my three decades of experience as a teacher.
‘Riding at the Gates of Sixty’, my third novel and first literary one, was published on March 10th 2015.
A fourth novel – ‘My Esoteric Journey, Volume 1’ – is due to come out next week.