Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Woolf at the Door

By Cornelia

Yesterday I was chatting by phone with my great pal Ariel, while her five-year-old daughter Eve was trying to simultaneously engage her in conversation about the disappointing quality of snack she had been offered for mid-afternoon sustenance. We were in our respective kitchens—mine in Berkeley, hers in Montclair, New Jersey.

Ariel is without doubt the most well-read woman I have ever met. She’s introduced me to amazing writers over the years—Robertson Davies, for instance, and wonderful children’s books like Half Magic and A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver, and Shirley Jackson’s Life Among the Savages. She is in her first year of library school, and has recently taken to re-reading the essays of Virginia Woolf.

“You know the one about ‘the angel in the house’?” she asked.

I admitted that I did not.

“Oh my GOD, Cone,” she said (my sister nicknamed me Cone years ago, because she thinks my head is a little pointy), “you MUST READ it. It is scathingly brilliant. All about how you have to kill the angel in the house if you’re ever going to get professionally serious, as a woman—the Victorian ideal of femininity and everything… well, Evie, if you don’t WANT to eat that, do you want some fruit? We have fruit… It was Woolf’s response to this saccharine poem by Coventry Patmore… Grapes. And Strawberries, I think… Here, Cone, I have to read you part of it… Crackers, then, do you want some crackers?… Where did I leave the book… I think we have cheese too, yes, my darling… Okay, let me just find the right page. I bookmarked it… You don’t want The Yucky Cheese? This wasn’t The Yucky Cheese yesterday. When did this one become The Yucky Cheese? Okay, so… ‘It was she [the angel in the house] who bothered me and wasted my time and so tormented me that at last I killed her...She was intensely sympathetic. She was utterly unselfish. She sacrificed herself daily...’ What kind of juice, sweetie? We have apple or we have white grape… ‘The shadow of her wings fell on my page; I heard the rustling of her skirts in the room. I took my pen in my hand...she slipped behind me and whispered [to me], “My dear, you are a young woman...Never let anybody guess that you have a mind of your own. Above all, be pure.”

"‘And she made as if to guide my pen...’ No you can NOT have a popsicle, sweetie, I’m sorry. Maybe after dinner.

"‘I turned upon her and caught her by the throat. I did my best to kill her...’ Yes, you did ask for the popsicle very nicely, but you still can’t have one now. 'Had I not killed her she would have killed me. She would have plucked the heart out of my writing...'"

I could hear Eve’s voice piping up in the background. “Mommy,” she said, “I think you burned your lamb chops.”

Ari emailed me later to say that Eve had wanted to know what we’d been talking about, after we’d hung up.

“Cornelia’s book just came out, Evie,” she said, “and I wanted her to know I hoped it would be a bestseller.”

Eve, who’s a big checkers aficionado, pondered that, and then said “So if it’s a bestseller does that mean they will king her?”

Ari replied that she supposed so.

Eve nodded. “Then we’d better hurry up and get her autograph, don’t you think?”


  1. King Cornelia, huh? I'm with Evie. I guess I'd better hurry up & get your autograph! I've always loved that essay, BTW. And the context of that conversation - one busy, literate mom to another - is something Woolf would have enjoyed, I'm sure.

  2. Women are great multi-taskers. They can have five conversations simultaneously.

    But if you become King, I fear your brain may go a bit male, and you'd lose that ability.

  3. Mazoltov, Cornelia!

    I hope you have the time of your life.

  4. Thanks, you guys!

    I'm figuring that if anyone ever kinged me, it would just mean I have to run around with a checker on my head, which seems disconcerting--especially since my sister is right about me having kind of a pointy cranium, so it would probably be sliding off all the time.

    I think it's far more sensible to leave the King stuff to that Stephen guy. He seems to have it under control pretty well.

  5. Remember that TV program "Queen for a Day"? Today's your day, Cornelia ~ enjoy & have fun with it.

    Long live the Queen!

  6. I love this. How many times have I slowly made my way to the laundry room with the phone, deep in serious sociological, psychological, political or literary discussion with a friend? Lots. Why the laundry room? It's the last place the kids look - buys me at least seven minutes. I've actually watched them walk past the window when they've gone outside to search for me in the garden (my other refuge and escape).
    If only I could hide with the computer, I'd comment on many more blogs.
    So, quick, before they find me, let me again give Cornelia kudos for great writing - for FIELD and for this blog post!
    Oh, wait -that's the second time my middle child has called for me to see if the splinter in her foot has soaked out yet. Maybe I can quick tell her no so she's still trapped in the kitchen and I can read more blogs before din-din!

  7. Are you kidding? Stu and I are already worrying about how you'll forget us little people (squish, squish) (that's us underfoot) when you're famous. Okay well STU was worried. I myself personally was already planning the outfit to wear to the movie premiere.
    Provided of course that the movie does not premiere in Syracuse.

    Being kinged of course does whisper of possibilities of tiaras all 'round.....we've been discussing that as attire at Left Coast next year. Tiaras and bunny slipppers.

  8. If you get kinged, does that mean you get to start endorsing marmalades and stuff? Because that would be cool.

  9. Oh, you guys!!! I adore you.

    Off to my first signing as soon as the shirt in the dryer is done.

    Please keep your fingers crossed for me! I figure if I manage not to barf in the first five minutes, it might turn out okay.

    (Daisy, you might want a seat in the SECOND row??)

  10. The signing will be great, King Cornelia, I just know it will ;-)

    ...can't wait to see you in Berkeley tomorrow.....

  11. I'll take that under consideration.

    By the way, I'm bringing you a milkshake, and there's nothing you can do to stop me.

  12. I'll be at your signing here in Phoenix, Cornelia. I'll bring the barf bucket. I can't tell you how excited I am about reading your novel.

  13. Have a great first signing. Hope it goes well.

  14. Raising kids makes us king, but writing a book and raising kids--emperor of the world!!!

    Good luck, babe!!


  15. I DIDN'T BARF!!! AND IT WAS FUN!!!!!!!!

    Thank you all for the good wishes--they worked!!!!

    And thank you for the milkshake, Daisy!!!!!

  16. Congrats on your book. Any signings in NJ ?(I live about 2 miles from your friend Ariel).

    About getting Kinged....does that mean you may nove move backwards and jump over any other players in your way???