Virginia Woolf beats up the waters of talk

Occasionally, a single passage from a single diary entry can floor you. This one from Virginia Woolf was quoted at Diaryfest recently and I just love it so much:

Wednesday June 13th, 1923

“…and then I went to Golders Green and sat with Mary Sheepshanks in her harden and beat up the waters of talk, as I do so courageously, so that life mayn’t be wasted.”

That turn of phrase – to beat up the waters of talk – is just so evocative and stirring! One thinks of conversing in this style, like being waist-deep in water, slapping the surface chaotically, stirring things up. One can imagine the disapproving looks on the faces of nearby bathers…

But this entry – this singular turn of phrase – isn’t the first time Woolf’s diaries have stopped me in my tracks.

From Michael Palin’s diary of 11 September 1985, he notes another of her clever observations:

“Have been dipping into V Woolf’s extraordinary diaries over the last few days and found a neat phrase – to ‘rout the drowse’. Sounds like street talk, in fact it describes what a good walk does for her creative energy. So, as I feel increasingly addled, I eventually go for a run, which routs the drowse most effectively.”

I’ve referred to this passage before somewhere. But it’s too good not to share, particularly in tandem with the other quote above. Whether beating up the waters of talk or merely routing the drowse, Woolf never fails to impress.

On a related note, I was immediately drawn to the above quote due to its mention of Golders Green, near to where I work. Indeed, the quote goes on: “the fresh breeze went brushing all the thick hedges which divide the gardens,” which immediately makes me think the passage refers to a meeting either just within Hampstead Garden Suburb or just without; hedge-lined gardens remain a prominent feature – indeed, a requirement – of most Suburb homes a century on.