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[Virginia Woolf]

 

[Virginia Woolf]

 

 

 

 

 

[Virginia Woolf]

 

L. T. Hewitt

 

 

 

 

 

‘What’s her name, Virginia Plain?’ – Roxy Music

 

 

Story I

 

A house. Two figures. They are 1 and 2. 1 is sat on the furniture, reading Novel. 2 is outside. 1 adores Novel. By now, e thought, this must be the ordinal number time I’ve read Novel. Yet with every reading (every wonderful exploration into the realm of Character!) something new appears. A new thought emerges. A second story takes shape. Though by now dozens upon dozens of stories have taken shape, they are all within the pages of the one novel; eir holy book now being that named Novel.

2 enters. 1 and 2 are housemates, and had now lived together for time.

‘Hello,’ said 1.

‘Hello,’ said 2.

‘How was your day?’ asked 1.

2 sighed. E had had a long day, as the expression went: initially starting out with an unsatisfactory chronological arrangement, before moving on to a point where an acquaintance made a remark which changed the whole mood of the area entirely – the proceedings were topped off with an uncomfortable encounter with those unwelcome. ‘Bad. I could go into more detail, but I shan’t bother you.’

‘No, do go on,’ – that’s what 1 would have said. But in reality e was too engrossed in Novel to care what was happening in the outside world. E continued to look down at the pages of the text. Each second drew em in like a mousetrap covered in pure ecstasy.

‘As I say, I shan’t bother you.’

1 didn’t look up.

‘I’ll just head over to room on my own, shall I?’

1 remained locked in eir book. ‘Hmm?’

It wasn’t really a question, but showed e at least acknowledged e should be saying something – which wasn’t at all similar to actually saying something.

Eventually, 1 found a position in which e could place a finger in the book; he reached the end of a paragraph (having started three since 2 started talking to em), placed a fleshy stop in the pages and looked up ready to listen.

‘Yes.’

‘Everything has gone negatively.’

‘Oh, dear.’

‘Things are not particularly positive and I am feeling fairly negative about it.’

2 took a place on an item of furniture.

1 sat up, ready to listen. ‘Tell me about it.’

‘Oh, 1, you will not want to hear.’

‘No, I do.’

‘Okay, then.’ 2 cleared eir throat and began: ‘The day started off all right. You saw me this morning. I was okay. Then my breakfast was less than satisfactory. A little downturn, but insignificant enough that it did not ruin my day. The next event was the getting to the location. On the travel there, I had an unpleasant experience. This caused my positivity to lessen. Next, my peers brought me down further. The following events were bad. Overall, today has been a bit of an unpleasant one.’

‘Well, you are back home now,’ 1 said in an attempt to comfort 2, but also to allow emself the safe passage back into the literature of Writer.

2 saw this was going nowhere. E could be insightful at times – and not so insightful at others. At this moment, 2 was somewhere between the two and not prepared, after the day e had had, to sit here with an inattentive 1 and try to express emself.

2 took emself off to room. When there, e performed the task required of em (who is 1 to assume I will perform the task?; I will, of course, but because I want to) and felt the satisfaction of acting for oneself when helping others.

2 spent some time on the action – a perfectionist in some areas – and then drew a heavy sigh when the light toil was complete.

From here, 2 desperately needed to relax. E went through to a more personal room and picked up eir favourite book. It was a fine work. Eir favourite, a work perpetually able to conjure pleasure. Oh, Novel. Oh, Writer. Oh, beauty and passion. Oh, everything.

It was at this point, 2 melted. 2 simply collapsed, fell, slid into the book. Such a work of fiction – such a beautiful expression of art! How passionate it was that someone could put so much of themselves into fiction.

In the first room, 1 was sat on the furniture, reading some book e deemed good. But I know of true literature. I am the one who holds a true connection with art.

Meanwhile, 1 had no idea how arrogant 2’s thoughts were getting. Instead, 1 had paid little attention to where and when 2 was. 1 was far too engrossed in eir book to care for the ‘real’ world. The book was Novel. Novel had always made 1 feel positive.

Novel had the perfect mix of characters. Those both relatable and distant. Obscurity and the everyday. Here and now. Life and the lifeless. Oh, to dwell within those pages. To sit for hours and simply read. But not simply read – reading was everything but simple. Reading was everything. But simple. To sit and read: that was the endgoal of every ambition. And 1 had accomplished this.

After some time, 2 was forced (or at least believed emself forced) into ending the reading session. There were pressing issues. There were things to do other than just sit around and indulge in literature. Novel was just a book. There was life to be lived.

2 left the leisure zone and engaged emself in activity. Work, labour, toil. That was life, and such a life must life be.

2 looked across at 1, and all e could feel was rage. That lout, lying around, absorbed in a good book, when other people have real work to do. Real lives to live. Reality to face…

But it did seem fun. Lying back and absorbing fine literature. And, in a sense, it almost seemed useful. After all, is one of the functions of life to find some pleasure, or some meaning, or something somewhere in some way. But, of course, 2 had more important things to do.

Out the corner of eir eye, 1 noticed that 2 was employed in menial labour. What a waste of time. Pointless motion and action with no overall aim but the prolonging of the same actions.

What a waste.

Inevitably, the irritation became too much for 2. 2 could never bear to watch people in any level of comfort for any length of time. E stepped over towards 1.

‘What you doing?’ 2 asked. 2 sounded angry.

‘I’m reading,’ 1 replied. ‘It’s a concept you may or may not be familiar with.’

‘I’m familiar with reading,’ said 2, littering her every word with all eir excess spite. ‘What I’m not familiar with is lazing around.’

‘Who’s lazing around?’

‘There is work to be done. I can’t stand timewasting.’

‘Neither can I,’ said 1. ‘That’s why you should lie down and read a book.’

2 groaned and sighed in one painful bundle. ‘Can’t you just answer me plainly once, please?’

‘I’m being serious,’ 1 clarified. ‘Sit down and read a book.’

‘I can’t just laze about. They are other things to be doing.’

‘Well what’s the point of them if they don’t allow you to read a book?’

Some days 2 was convinced 1 spent all days actively calculating everything e could do to annoy 2, and only began to be slobbish once 2 came home.

‘Sit down,’ 1 said, almost a forceful command. Almost. ‘Read a book. There are plenty of great books to be getting on with.’

‘1, I’m sure we don’t read the same sort

‘Wha’ ye’re tal’in’ aboot?’

‘Well,’ 2 began, ‘yous are a slob, what wi’ yer lazin’ aboot—’

‘Lazin’ aboot, lazin’ aboot; all I ever ‘ear aboot is your tellin’ me Ah’m lazin’ aboot. Lazin’ aboot, mah foot.’

2 was in a huff. ‘Fine. Justify why this ain’t lazing about.’

‘Why on Earth would reading ever be considered lazy?’ asked 1. ‘Reading is the only productive thing you can do. It’s the only real activity with any worth.’

‘What?’

‘It opens the mind – or closes it where necessary. Reading teaches you facts, emotions and methods of perception. What would you have me do instead?’

‘Well…’ 2 tried to think of an alternative. E had talked on and on about all the work which needed doing instead of reading, but when it boiled down, 2 could not think of anything which really needed doing besides reading. ‘It’s just not real. Reading is not reality. It is creating useless fantasy worlds. What a waste of time. I like to read, but only once everything else is already done. You cannot go out of your way to read. You have to read to fill any gap which arises. You have no gaps to fill. There is still work. Stop reading. Come back to reality.’

1 leant over the back of the furniture, half-closing eir eyes to view the world and would reopen them fully when e later returned to the book, to the wonderful world of Novel. ‘2, reality is what I choose to do in the moments between reading.’

1 returned to the book. 2 sighed and returned to work.

A moment of external peace fell upon the room. 2 worked and worked. 1 read and read. There was a silence not unpleasant to the ear – no extended strain of soundlessness, but the gentle denouement of a conversation break.

Internally, of course, irrational fires blazed. 2’s bitterness about having to do work e volunteered to do but felt awful for doing was overshadowed in the ether only by 1’s mild annoyance and complete violent ignorance of every fibre of 2’s being and string of eir mental turmoil.

 

2 wandered around the room, making a note of every spot e stepped into. Inevitably, e could not stand the silence any longer.

E walked up to the music player and put a piece of audio beauty on to play. It was eir favourite piece. The perfect composition. The most excellent work of art ever observed by ear.

‘Turn it off,’ said 1.

It was an elegant work, was ‘Song’. The mystery. The splendour. The ardent artism of acoustics. Every wave which reached eir ear brought into life a whole new reason to live.

‘Turn it off.’

‘What?’

‘I hate it.’

‘You hate it?’ 2 had never considered that anyone could hate ‘Song’, but their mutual contempt for each other’s conditions with respect to any interests and levels of activity meant it was unsurprising they differed in opinion. ‘I can’t believe you hate it.’

‘Why is dat soh sorprisang?’

‘It’s surprising because “Song” is perfect. It is the greatest expression of identity known to mankind.’

‘Is no. Is bery bad work. Da song “Song” is jus’ de worse.’

‘You’re wrong.’

‘I not wrong. Is my biew and my biew is what is right. Go back to you owan opinion and leabe me alon.’

‘I am leaving you alone. I like “Song”; I want to play “Song”; I will play “Song”.’

1 got out eir seat and switched the piece off. ‘Don’t put it back on again. Leave me in peace. Read if you want. In fact, I encourage you to read. Please do. Just don’t make me listen to that awful thing you were just playing.’

2 left the room in a huff.

 

Reading, reading. 2 went back to eir room and read for some time. Then e stopped. E wanted to defy 1’s orders. E went back into the main room and then made as much noise as possible without switching ‘Song’ back on. E rattled plates, e knocked over every loud thing. E was generally a nuisance, but did not switch the song back on. Then e decided e should not have to follow 1’s orders. So 2 switched ‘Song’ on. 1 got up and switched it off again. They did this a few more times. Then 2 left the room and spent the next period of time reading.

 

Then it happened. The event which shook the foundations of their relationship and slashed the heart of the atmosphere.

It. The great it occured.

‘What on Earth is it?’ asked 2.

‘Isn’t it obvious?’ asked 1, fully aware that it was not completely obvious to 2, but wanting to sound reassuring at the same time as timidly comforting. ‘It is it.’

It is it. Never a truer word spoken. It was as clear as night and life-affirming as a gravestone; the simile running, of course, as the fact that the presence of a gravestone was the most accurate indicator of a life having taken place.

The event of life, the warm lingering around until the inevitable conclusion: nothing but the conclusion could more accurately prove that the original run of life had taken place.

It. The all-powerful force which blasted them into a new age of being – a baptism of fire in a candle-snuffer.

Nothing had ever made 1 and 2 question life as much as it.

‘Oh, 1,’ said 2. E opened eir mouth to speak, but the words never apparated.

‘It’s okay. Don’t be afraid.’

‘I am afraid,’ said 2. ‘I don’t think I can ever be anything other than afraid. Not now. Not again.’

‘Then if you must be afraid, be afraid with others.’

They held each other tightly.

When it occurred, nobody but those at the centre knew quite what had happened. It had its positives and negatives. It had its precursors and consequences. It had its attack and response. There were numerous theories as to why it happened. All 1 and 2 could say for certain was that it had happened.

The shock rippled through every inch of their bodies. A colossal vibration which turned their cells to jelly and their minds to dust.

All they could do was huddle close together and hope the world didn’t end. Or, if the world did end, they would be beside each other.

 

In time, it came to pass that not everything was bad in the world. Overall, the mood was temperate. There were good times and bad times and all right times and mediocre times. There was Heaven and Hell, the Earth and the outside. The everyday and the great unknown.

1 and 2 came to realise that, indeed, they could cope.

‘What do we do now?’ asked 2. ‘How on Earth can we cope?’

‘There’s only one way to move past this event,’ 1 explained. ‘We read.’

 

1 came to think that perhaps there was good in the world. E picked up the book e had been reading just before it had happened.

‘Oh, 1,’ said 2, from the next place on the furniture. ‘I don’t want to be left alone.’

‘You aren’t alone. You never have to be alone. I am here and you are here and so we are together.’

‘But I’m alone.’

1 put an arm around 2. ‘Read and you’ll never be alone. You’ll be in perpetual dialogue with the immortals.’

1 delved into Novel. Oh, Writer. Only Writer could express what e felt – well, that was never truly true. Writer, 2 and 1 emself could all feel the same. But they were individuals. Each of them was an independent being united in thought; not just in having the same thoughts, but that they thought at all.

2 retrieved eir book. It was Novel. The most perfect work ever perceived. It spoke of life and death. It spoke of birth and decay. It spoke of innocence and experience. But most of all it spoke to 2, and that was the most important thing.

 

‘I lied.’

‘What?’

‘Earlier, when I said I hated “Song”. That was complete rubbish.’

‘Really?’

‘Yes. “Song” is my favourite song ever. I listen to it practically every day. I was overjoyed when I discovered you liked it too, but we were blanking each other and our shared joy made me detest you more.’

‘That’s all right with me.’

 

The two were transfixed for some time in listening to the wonderful music of ‘Song’ – their shared passion – and reading works of literature.

1 delved deep into Novel, eir favourite novel by eir favourite writer, Writer. 2 did the same, also reading Novel by Writer. After a good period of time spent reading, 1 and 2 put their books down and looked at each other.

‘Did you enjoy?’ asked 1.

‘Yes. It’s a great work. My favourite. I’ve read it loads of times before. ’

‘I sometimes feel like Character is the only person I can connect to. Nobody else appears to understand me. I do not wish to whine, but the story displayed here in the life of Character – while not identical to my own – is at least an exploration of what it is about, which is currently the only thing I can identify with.’

2 looked both alarmed and emotive. ‘What did you say? That’s just what I want to say.’

‘I said I feel a deep connection with Character. Something which goes beyond observer status. I am living in the world of Character. Not merely that; I am living in eir soul and eir mind.’

‘Character?’

‘Yes. Character is a character.’

‘As in the character Character, from the novel Novel?’

1 sat up abruptly. ‘Yes.’ A warm glimmer appeared in eir eyes. ‘Do not tell me you are also reading Writer.’

‘Yes! I love Novel. It is my favourite book ever.’

1 was so taken aback, e no longer had any words to say. ‘Oh, 2!’

‘1! If only we had known earlier that we had this connection.’

‘How strange this all is.’

 

‘Of course,’ said 2. ‘I was reading Novel by Writer.’

1’s face lit up. ‘Really? You like Novel?’

‘Yes. It’s excellent. Why?’

‘I like Novel. It’s what I was just reading.’ 1 picked up the book e’d just put down and showed the cover, displaying the luxurious words:

 

Novel

by Writer

 

2 delicately took the book out eir hands. ‘That is beautiful.’

‘I read it for the first time a few periods of time ago. It was very uplifting.’ 1 twisted eir face. ‘But now I think about it, I analyse it very differently to how I did the first time.’ E turned to 2. ‘Do you ever find you read a book differently on the second run through?’

‘I rarely have the opportunity to read a book more than once, so I don’t have the experience.’

‘You should read more,’ said 1. ‘Spend more time with Character.’

‘I would love to spend more time with Character. E’s my favourite element of Novel.’

‘You like Character?’

‘Oh, 1,’ said 2. ‘Character is not just what makes Novel; Character is Novel.’

 

‘I had no idea you were into Novel or the works of Writer at all.’

‘Oh yes, it’s the greatest.’

‘The most beautiful work.’

‘The most perfect expression of existence.’

‘Life bound in a spine.’

They sat in silence a moment more, listening to the mellowing force of ‘Song’. It made the moment. Music forged the experience of life. Then 1 turned to 2 and said, ‘Did you know that “Song” was written by Writer?’

‘That makes everything in the world greater.’

 

1 sat and pondered. Then e announced, ‘All this experience. All these events. All these thoughts. Flowing back and forth between the two of us, 1 and 2. And all this happening right here in a single household in a single settlement over the reading of a book in year.’

 

 

List A

 

1 James Joyce

2 Virginia Woolf

Novel The Odyssey

Writer Homer

Character Odysseus

‘Song’ Odysseus

It World War I

furniture chaise longue

period of time a month

year 1914

location Hogarth House, Richmond

 

 

List B

 

1 Sarah from Essex

2 Charles from Chelsea

Novel Angel

Writer Katie Price

Character Angel

‘Song’ ‘Free to Love Again’

It a blind date

furniture bed

period of time two days

year 2014

location Chelmsford

 

 

List C

 

1 Sylvia Plath

2 Ted Hughes

Novel On the Road

Writer Jack Kerouac

Character Sal

‘Song’ ‘American Haiku’

It Plath’s suicide

furniture a river bank

period of time a year

year 1956–1998

 

 

List D

1 Cleopatra, Sandra, Sam, Richard and Capacity

2 Vaclav, Maria, Lisa, Jean-Luc and Retina

Novel all literature

Writer all writers

Character the outsider figure

‘Song’ ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’, poetry, dubstep

It a dream, moving house, the end of a party, midnight and losing hope

furniture sofa, table, worktop, bed, staircase, door, bathtub, dance floor and dart board

period of time one day

year 2014

 

 

Story II

 

‘This bread’s going off,’ said 3. ‘We must have had it quite a while and the bag’s not even open. Honestly, it really gives you a sense of time passing by when you can purchase a loaf of bread, take it home, keep it in your house and then it can go off without you ever being aware it was old.’

4 was in another room, folding away the washing. She faintly heard 3’s miserable and reflective voice droning through the expanse she’d applied between them – an act she often did when annoyed with 3; an act she often did. ‘You’ll have to speak up,’ 4 said. ‘I can’t hear you.’

‘I said the bread’s off.’

‘I still can’t hear you.’

3 sighed. What was the use? 3 closed the door. They both knew that they both knew she could hear 4, but it was a relief not to have to pretend that this was the case any more. If she couldn’t actually hear him, everything was much simpler, and now she really couldn’t hear him; at least not to any discernible degree.

‘I suppose I’ll just throw the bread out, shall I?’ said 3; the word asked wasn’t really appropriate, since it wasn’t really a question. 3 took the loaf, still in its bag, and held it over the bin. His foot was on the pedal which kept the lid suspended in the limbo between open and shut, volunteering itself to be burdened with waste.

3 felt he ought to put the bread in the compost bin, but that would require opening the bag to tip the bread out. He couldn’t bring himself to destroy the ecosystem contained within the vicious parcel of biodegrading food, for that would be to unleash the multifaceted viruses stored within upon the outside world.

Had van Gogh been present, 3 supposed the artist could have painted a magnificent swirling image of all the spores spreading throughout the house; but, as was often the case, van Gogh was not present.

Instead, he sadly slumped the bag in the bin, still sealed up, still waiting to be eaten, still seemingly unaware that mouldy bread departs unfulfilled.

 

Upstairs, 4 had managed to block out all signs of 3’s distress; 3 was distressed so frequently any issue he faced leant closer to self-imposed anguish than any real-world concern.

4 was now in the relaxing state of full absorption in her own thoughts. Unfortunately, thoughts were often distressing when single-minded, so 4 adopted some of the thoughts espoused by others; she picked up a book, Novel B, and started reading.

 

Sarah lived in a town house in Essex which was really nice. Her house had all her things in it. She liked it.

In her house, she had books. One of her books was Angel, which was a really good book that was written by Katie Price.

Sarah liked to read when she could, so sometimes she did read because she liked to. On one nice and sunny day in her house in Chelmsford, which is in Essex and is the best place in Essex, she started reading her book.

Angel was so good. It was like if you’ve ever dressed up real nice and gone out on the town and then been hit on by all the guys all the time. So good!

Lots of stuff happened in the book. Lots of really good stuff that was so great. And it was at that moment that what she decided was that she wanted lots of good stuff to happen in her life, too.

 

Oh, those torturous pages. The thrilling exchange between Sarah who’d just had her nails done and Charles whose family were slightly posh. 4 wondered when the fictional couple bound by the pages she held in her hands would unite in glorious love. It would happen eventually. It always did. In the world of pages, not in the real world.

4 had been reading Novel B for a few weeks on and off. It took time to read and time was all too scarce. She’d started an A-level in English Literature when she was at school, but became bored after a month. She stuck with it, though, and finished with a B grade, showing she had the determination to commit to and go through with anything; a fact confirmed by her having taken half a year to read Ulysses.

3 didn’t have the time for reading. He did so anyway.

At the moment he was reading Novel A, which described the conversations between Virginia Woolf and James Joyce around the time of the start of World War I. It was thrilling.

When I say ‘At the moment’, I refer both to the long-term progress of his reading – ‘I’m currently reading Ulysses,’ she says, whilst sipping a cup of tea and not reading – as well as the immediate event; 3 was, at the present time, engaged in holding the physical book, propping up his location within the narrative through force, and indulging in the experience of having his eyes flow back and forth across the pages before him, taking in every word and allowing every word to take in him.

3 observed the book – Novel A – with a loving glint in his eye. He held the text to his face and sniffed, taking in the luscious particles to his body. It smelt of freshly vinegared chips on a temperate summer’s day.

He began to read, to absorb every word of the text. It ran:

 

Virginia gazed into the brandy bottle sat on the book shelf. It was far from literary, yet held a revered spot there; a work waiting to be created. She wondered how long it would sit there, and if it would be drunk in happiness or sorrow. She saw the future in the swirling brown liquid, and it was bleak; many hours sat listening to Joyce’s bragging.

‘It’s selling perfectly! Everybody wants to hear the imaginative story of the Dubliners.’

‘Do they? What is it about?’

James Joyce sighed the gently demeaning sigh of someone about to argue for argument’s sake. Virginia Woolf could relate of course, but her arguments had a social purpose; she believed her discussion of life’s tiresome details added to life itself; if Virginia could address the role of women in literature, maybe she could make the fair sex equal as writers.

Dubliners is not one mere story; it is all manner of stories, detailing the aforementioned Dubliners.’ The phrase ‘all manner’ had long eluded Virginia; surely a manner is singular; or else, the phrase may be better explained as ‘all manners’; it seemed unlikely that James Joyce himself understood the expression ‘all manner’; but, of course, he used it anyway; in all likelihood, he used it purely because he did not understand it; Virginia Woolf fancied that Joyce was using the term purely for self-gain; the arrogance of him to believe he had dumbfounded Virginia Woolf was certainly telling.

 

Similarly, 4 lay on her bed and read from her holy tome: the novel which was Novel B. Though 3 might not regard Novel B as having the same literary value as all the books he read, it brought as much joy to 4 as any book she had ever read, and that included Ulysses.

That most general of messages about the comparison between two works formed the current comparison between the experiences of 3 and 4 in their house at that present moment.

 

The two homeowners rarely spoke about literature; 3 had learned early on that his cohabitant was a fan of the terrible gutter fiction he so detested – works such as the hated Novel B; likewise, it was the case when 4 first started living in the house that she discovered uncomfortably that she would never share reading tastes with the far more precocious 3.

However, the attitude towards differing literature was not shared by these two people; while 3 was firm in his belief that any literature which amused him was the perfect art form, 4 was happy to let everybody enjoy the writing which most entertained them. The initial discussion about art between the housemates led to a mostly one-sided argument; this was not one-sided in the sense that there was any obvious bias; on the contrary there were only two people living in the house and so there was no external body to impose a bias upon the two people; apart from the societally enforced privileges that each person semi-consciously possessed, there was a level playing field within the house; nobody could be said to have the upper-hand; and so it was the case that the one-sidedness which occupied the debate was on account of the limited understanding between the two people.

 

The characters of Novel B were not deep in the same sense that Novel A’s allegedly were; none of them were symbolic of social or political struggles, and they said nothing (either verbally or figuratively) about the history of western or eastern literature. Novel A’s characters did. From all 3 had said about his new favourite book (a new work which 3 claimed to be his favourite ever novel, play or poem, and probably the greatest contribution to the history of western civilisation ever known seemed to emerge with each passing hour), the work talked about Virginia Woolf (every book seemed to talk about Virginia Woolf) in relation to the progress of art.

It was all very well for works to ponder on the nature of beauty and the existence of a perfect art form, but unless they told a compelling story – 4 thought – they were not worth telling at all.

Novel B, however; Novel B had it all. It had romance, it had relatable characters, it had the essence of life.

3 had never read Novel B. The book dealt with nothing more than Novel A did. This was inevitable, since Novel A was actually a fairly dull story about Virginia Woolf and James Joyce bickering over interpretations of The Odyssey. Even then, it left the audience significantly wanting.

 

3 had his nose deep into Novel A; an unusual expression that was, since having one’s nose inside a book would make it impossible to read; nevertheless, that was the commonly used expression, and the common representationalism.

Fully regardless of the idiom’s ideal idiocy, 3 was keen to read the work, with the potential to retain nostril intimacy with the written word. 3 lived in the fantasy world where Literature came before comfort and all other needs or emotions.

Of course, 3’s main concern was with his own perception of the beauty of literature; with the ability to transform the human mind (or the mind-brain-soul) into any shape, the majesty of literature could never be matched.

 

Inevitably, the irritation became too much for Virginia. She could never bear to watch people in any level of comfort for any length of time. She stepped over towards James.

‘What you doing?’ she asked; she sounded angry; this sound of anger probably relied heavily upon the fact that Virginia Woolf was, in her very being, angry; her anger stemmed from every issue in her life; the constant pursuit of perfection and perfectionism; the perfectionism itself was notoriously easy to grasp; yet perfection itself was a Herculean task; she could never resign herself to accept that which was imperfect; but she knew that if she ever hoped to see her writing published she would have to allow a stranger’s dirty fingers to tear up whatever she had produced and to give in to mediocre popularity parades; advertising, and that which was advertisable, were her only prospects of having her work published; she had not the privileges of James Joyce; she had some privileges associated with wealth; but not the power of manhood; she must accept the unacceptable; she must give in to whatever she could publicise; that, or else set up her own publishing press.

‘I’m reading,’ James Joyce replied. ‘It’s a concept you may or may not be familiar with.’

‘I’m familiar with reading,’ said Virginia, littering her every word with all her excess spite. ‘What I’m not familiar with is lazing around.’

 

3 looked up from his book and peered over towards the window. The blind was down, but it was a windy day; the stiff sheet of cotton was being blown towards him slightly; then the wind would change and the Earth outside would suck the blind away. As the sheet was drawn into the window, the edges creased and sharp points and caverns appeared on either side. This happened endlessly and day and all night. 3 wondered how long it would be before the creases showed up permanently.

3 returned to his book. Novel A – that was his hearty text; a passionate, literary work based upon the connection between Virginia Woolf and James Joyce.

He knew every word would be perfect; he knew this because he believed Novel A to be the perfect form of literature, and henceforth read it with an utterly unquestioning approach. He looked down at the page again:

 

‘Who’s lazing around?’

‘There is work to be done. I can’t stand timewasting.’

‘Neither can I,’ said James. ‘That’s why you should lie down and read a book.’

Virginia Woolf could not remember the last time she entered her drawing room and found it free of James Joyce; Virginia Woolf found it impossible to be creative while the man occupied her house, lying around and talking about either Dubliners or how he was the modern-day Homer: all she wanted was a room of her own.

 

On the contrary, 4 questioned everything she read. 4 took nothing for granted. When 4 opened her book, Novel B, and read the words: ‘She didn’t hear him. Charles saw this was going nowhere. He could be insightful at times – and not so insightful at others. At this moment, Charles was somewhere between the two and not prepared, after the day he had had, to sit here with an inattentive Sarah and try to express himself’, she was certain that she liked the work because it pleased her.

Her love of the work came from her subconscious and instinctive feelings towards it.

In this sense, 4 was a far more insightful reader than 3 could ever hope to be. Although 3 believed himself to be a great artist, his views of books were supposedly derived from some outside force. In the same sense that an orthodox Abrahamic follower believed all morality to come from the external force of God, which could neither be seen nor questioned, 3 believed there to be an inherent quality to good literature which was to be accepted unknowingly and unquestioningly, as determined by some abstract but unidentifiable force.

Nietzsche was – under these guidelines – the primary enemy of 3; Nietzsche was the great philosopher who imposed the premise that there is no inherent morality; no guidelines by which life can be judged as perfect or bad; everything, to Nietzsche, existed on a plain beyond good and evil; henceforth, it was the classical summation of these beliefs that Nietzsche named his book such; the great tome of his post-moral beliefs was Beyond Good and Evil; reversing the philosophically based – although primarily pseudo-philosophical at a societal level – trend of looking for the grey areas in life; since Nietzsche blew apart the false perception that the universe was neatly split into good and evil, much public discourse had begun to redesign and reshape the structure of civilisation in order to account for the spectral view of reality; of course, the horrors of the 20th century (namely in the forms of dictators in the 1930s, such as Stalin, Hitler, Churchill, Mussolini and Franco – Generalissimo, not James) destroyed finally the false perception that humanity primarily aspired towards good; the wars and atrocities of the past century depicted perfectly that humanity is not a perfect species driven by God’s love; humans are whatever society molds them into; this necessitated a new form of literature, to reflect the definitive trend away from religion and towards quantifiable reality.

3 was fully ignorant of this interpretation of his reading abilities; far from the extent to which he could read, the essence of his reading abilities was why he read; while 4 read for the sheer pleasure of reading; 4 was certain that she knew why she read; her ultimate aim was pleasure; by reading books she enjoyed, she could achieve pleasure; disregarding the artistic aims of the writers, she read just because she wished to; 3, on the contrary, aimed to please some mythical deities of literary values; the unknown bodies of art which controlled the powers of quality and shoddiness in the world.

 

‘I had a flick through Novel A while you were out.’

‘What did you think?’

‘I don’t get the point. It’s not fun.’

‘It’s not meant to be fun. It’s a serious exploration of the nature of literature as well as an evaluation of the influence of the classics upon the early Modernists.’

‘So? What’s so great about a bunch of old guys sitting around and talking about The Odyssey?’

‘It’s not old guys. You want to read about it because they’re great writers.’

‘It’s not actually them. It’s just a fictional story.’

‘Yes, but it’s inspired by what they wrote; written in their fantastic style.’

‘So?’

‘So? It borrows from the greatest works by the greatest writers. This is James Joyce and Virginia Woolf we’re talking about.’

‘Virginia Woolf, Virginia Woolf, that’s all I ever hear about.’

‘Because Virginia Woolf is the best. Read Mrs Dalloway. Better still, read Novel A. It will change your life.’

‘Is it that good? It changed your life.’

‘Not my life, your life. Read it.’

‘Okay, but on one condition.’

‘Such a cheesy line. You ought to read great literature. Go on.’

‘You have to read Novel B.’

 

3 opened the front door to the house and slumped his outdoor accessories on the floor in front of him. He had a particularly sullen expression on his face.

4 wandered downstairs, book still in hand, saw the look, and said, ‘Oh. What’s wrong?’

‘I walked past a woman today who smelt exactly like old cabbage.’

‘What?’

‘Exactly the same. I think it must be something she was smoking, though I can’t say what.’

‘Right,’ said 4. ‘I don’t really know how to respond to that.’

‘Neither do I. What have you been up to?’

4 wrinkled her face and looks grumpily towards her housemate. She had a book in her hand, though not the one she’d been reading all afternoon. The novel in her hand was Novel B, which she’d taken to reading after she’d finished reading a book. ‘I finished reading a book.’

‘Oh, yeah?’ asked 3. ‘Is it a novel I’d be interested in?’

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘In fact, it is one of your novels. I borrowed Novel A from you. I hope you don’t mind.’

‘Not at all,’ 3 said, grinning. ‘How did you find it?’

4 sighed. ‘Pointless. They just sit around and talk about literature.’

‘What else is there to do?’ asked 3.

‘There’s more to life than books, you know.’

‘But not much more.’

‘What I mean is they are dull and have no real events.’

‘What is a real event then?’

4 turned over yet another corner of a page of Novel B, causing 3 to wince vigorously, and placed the book on the table. ‘It’s the mood of intertextuality which pervades neo-modernist literature that ends up removing any sense of original thought.’

‘What’s wrong with a bit of external reference.’

‘I prefer books which refer mainly to themselves.’

‘Why?’ asked 3.

‘Because they build upon themselves by continually working to better their own efforts.’

Novel A is odd. I don’t find them realistic as characters, since their only purpose is holding a place.’

‘I don’t think that’s true,’ said 3 as he wandered through to the kitchen, filled the kettle with cold water and placed it back on its stand to boil. He’d heard cold water carried disease less efficiently than warm water, and had never bothered to check if this was true; hence he boiled water from cold instead of starting with hot water and taking that up to 100ºC. ‘James Joyce and Virginia Woolf are distinct enough household identities that any scenario featuring them holds plenty of scope for further exploration.’

‘Yes, but that’s my point. I don’t think anything is actually happening in Novel A itself. They’re just making generic statements and presuming the readers to do the work themselves.’

‘What’s wrong with that?’ 3 reached into the cupboard and pulled out a tea bag, holding it from its empty top, at the base of the string, for he never held the string itself, and observed the sagging granules as they descended into his empty mug. He wondered how much psychoanalysis had been performed upon people on the basis of their tea-drinking habits, then wondered no more when it began to feel painful.

‘I’m all for literary criticism and that, but I feel the novel, the actual art if there is any, should be taking between the walls composed of the back and front cover.’

The kettle clicked; its small light went out; the rate of steam expulsion ceased to accelerate; 3 picked up the kettle; he poured the boiling water into the mug; he picked up the mug, now filled with tea, which he took without any milk or sugar; he wondered if that indicated he was asexual; he stopped thinking about Freud; he took a sip of the tea and raised an eyebrow. ‘Surely you don’t view Novel B as artistic.’

‘It’s just as artistic as Novel A.’

He spat out some tea. He always liked to tell people a shock caused him to spit out tea, but his body never naturally reacted like that, so he had to perform a self-imposed convulsion. ‘As artistic as Novel A[?_] But _Novel A is a chick-flick!’

‘Hardly. It’s a novel just like any other,’ said 4, picking up the dog-eared text again and flicking through. ‘Granted it doesn’t talk about old writers non-stop, but that doesn’t make it any less worthy of praise.’

‘It doesn’t have any of the same flair. It can never be great literature.’

4 looked over her eyebrows at 3. ‘Oh, please. Do you have to be so pretentious? Nobody really cares about novels like that.’

‘I’d be perfectly content not holding any pretentions, provided everybody read high-calibre literature.’

‘A book is a book. Yes, I know we have a canon and I respect that. I know some books are use more advanced words and make frequent references to poetry, but I found Novel B entertaining and that’s all that matters.’

‘How did you enjoy it?’

‘I said it was entertaining,’ 4 reminded him, ‘not enjoyable.’

‘What’s the difference?’

‘A work of art is enjoyable when you gained pleasure from delighting in its events. However, you can watch a horror movie or read a crime book and be horrified by its contents without in any way finding them enjoyable – and still go away with a great opinion of the work; that’s when something is entertaining.’

‘Pssh.’

‘Don’t you pssh at me.’

‘Trash is trash, whatever you want to call it.’

‘That’s not true,’ said 4. ‘To some people it’s “garbage”; to others “waste”.’

‘And what is Novel B to you?’

4 thought about this for a moment. ‘Mixed dry recyclables.’

 

3 laid down on his bed. The warm, soft blankets were calming at the worst of times. This was not the worst of times. As such, the blankets meant nothing to him.

Who does 4 think she is? Is she some overlord that she allows herself to so overpower me? She’s not one of overt intellectual prowess; the trashy novel saw to that; but then she won’t allow herself to be brought down in mood by depressing literature; and perhaps that holds some merit of its own.

But does that make her smart? Does ignoring anything which makes you depressed mean you are intelligent? She’s certainly acting in her best interests. So am I stupid? But my self-awareness of my stupidity wards off the stupidity itself; which must then mean the arrogant presumption of intelligence means I am stupid; and my stupidity is a hint of intelligence; and this recursive pattern goes on ad infinitum; I must resolve that I am incurably stupid, making myself intelligent in the belief; and so on and so on and so on until death.

But I am thinking these things and she isn’t; so perhaps I have the edge over her. Perhaps I, 4, am intellectually superior to all others; I presume this on the basis of my thinking about thinking leads me to be a superior thinker; an inferior thinker after all would not contemplate eir own place in the world of thinkers; a poor-quality thinker would never be able to summon the mental capacity to think in such a self-reflective manner.

I do not wish to be one of those people who believes people can be ranked against each other in such a way; yet deep down I believe that I believe such, even if I do not want to believe it.

 

I hate snobbery, thought 4. 4 frequently had this concept and claim at the centre of her mind. 4’s brain increasingly tailored itself to thoughts on the matter of snobbishness.

Though she believed herself to hate snobbery, she could not fully convince herself that snobbery was completely absent; at the heart of her utter antipathy towards 3 in his belief that Novel A was inherently perfect and Novel B inherently terrible, a niggling part of 4 feared that she, too, held some form of snobbery.

For the very fact that she contemplated reading Novel A under the belief that it was above her.

But was not her analysis of feeling that there was no debate to be had itself a form of overanalysis.

Was it not the case that all analysis was overanalysis? Why does anything need to be analysed anyway?

If only there were a freer art, there would be no need to analyse. People could speak as they please, but write with an unexaggerated passion.

 

On a walk later that afternoon, 3 took a chance to free his mind from the strain of literary analysis. What symbolism lies in the trees around me? he thought. What meaning can be brought from them?

What meaning needs to be brought from them? Why does all beauty need a fixed, mandated purpose? I love the trees, as they are an icon of beauty; there is no need to analyse, since the beauty is inherent; perhaps the only purpose for beauty – either in art or life – is merely a substitute for the natural world.

The whole world around him was really just an allegory. A secret message within some outside world.

Then he began to wonder if there could ever be a meaning held by this idea of reality.

 

‘So,’ said 3, ‘what exactly makes Novel A superior to Novel B?’

‘It’s just better. More symbolic. More meaningful. More powerful.’

‘Uh huh. So what exactly should a book be?’

‘It should have a message.’

‘Why?’

‘Because that is the purpose of literature.’

3 realised she could never reason with 4. 4’s beliefs were dead set in his mind as the objective truth, and nothing could deter him from believing that he was inherently right about everything.

 

 

4 was curious about the work 3 was consuming; was this true, vibrant literary matter he was reading, or was that just another rouse. Either way, that was not the matter at hand; after 3’s endless claims to know the manner in which novels must be written, it was inevitable that he must be questioned on his own knowledge of sound plotting.

‘What’s the climax of Novel C?’

‘Let’s not do this.’

‘No, tell me. What happens? What really happens?’

‘Plath dies.’

‘Plath dies?’

‘Yes.’

‘So what’s the rest of the book? You said there was a series of conversations between them to end the book.’

‘Well, Plath wasn’t there.’

‘Plath wasn’t there?’ 4 was by this point quite hysterical. 3 was finding it difficult to believe she wasn’t Jennifer Aniston.

‘Listen, it’s not what you think,’ 3 protested.

‘Oh, really? Then how does Ted Hughes talk to his dead wife? Through a medium? Does he ask her how her day’s been on a ouija board? “How’s death? said Ted Hughes. Oh, it’s been fine, said Sylvia Plath. Are you still bitter about me killing you and all that? he asked. Oh, no, it was just a bit of banter, really.”’

4 rose in a flurry of misguided anger; he knocked the teacup halfway off the table, causing it to balance on the edge of the coaster; twenty-seven days of negligence later, the teacup would be the centre of a drama, when it spills during the middle of

‘Christ, I was just joking. He talks to her ghost? That sounds like a pretty terrible novel.’

‘It is good, though.’

‘I couldn’t have shared a house with you if I’d known you read books where the protagonist dies halfway through.’

3 looked at three with the sense of bewildered disgust she normally held when discussing his reading habits. ‘You’re really reading a book where she dies?’

‘I can’t imagine any other sort of book about Sylvia Plath. ‘All her writing was about dying. As she said herself, dying is an art like anything else.’

 

3 was never certain about trying new books, though she knew it was necessary for her own mental and spiritual progression. 3 was strong in the belief that life was a course of endless development. Many unfortunately were detrimental. In the effort to develop her life with new books, 3 found an awful number of books which did her bad.

Books which were scarring had a purpose still; to be haunted by the message of a novel meant to be significantly moved by its meaning, that the novel held a place perpetually in one’s mind; or one’s brain; or one’s brain-mind; or mind-brain; or soul, should one choose to believe that; yet, despite the evidence; meaning here the lack of evidence either for or against a soul; and a soul here meaning the afterlife; despite all the lack of evidence, belief in a soul was declining; both among the religious and the heathen; not that anyone still said ‘heathen’; besides David Bowie, of course; in both of those groups, belief in the perpetual soul was dying out.

 

4 had spent some time looking into the works of that noted doomed couple, Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath. Given that one was an adulterer and the other a depressed lover, the relationship was powerfully tragic. The tale of Hughes and Plath held as beautiful and heart-wrenching an air to it as any fictional tale. If ever there were a story worthy of having a book written about, it was the true story of Ms Plath.

4 had read a couple of Plath’s poems, and had then given The Bell Jar a go; it soon became too painful, traipsing through the pages; reading a life left behind; feeling the gut-wrenching pain of a woman about to die. 4 had never made an attempt at the works of Ted Hughes; seeing her outsider’s view of Hughes as a man responsible for the death of one of the great artists of the 20th century, she had no desire to grant him any attention; even after her friend had mentioned how Birthday Letters brought Hughes a new perspective, 4 was resolute in her belief that Ted was unforgivable.

Nothing could ever forgive what Ted did.

3 had mentioned at one point his passion for a book on the matter. The perfect story, to 4’s mind; it was the heartwrenching tale of Ted’s betrayal of Sylvia; Sylvia, the beautiful and delicate mind, owed her death to that traitor of a husband; to craft that story into a work of fiction would surely take a genius and a pure artist. 4 had promised her housemate 3 that, if she ever had the opportunity, she would read that novel about Ted and Sylvia.

When, while out for a walk, 4 encountered a book shop, she could not help but enter. And there it was. She had not been looking for it. But she had encountered it nonetheless.

It was Novel C. The book which 3 had raved about. 3, who claimed himself to be an arbiter of all great writing, had proclaimed Novel C to be a masterpiece. If his opinion were to be put to the test, or if his word really was the final word on quality, 3 would have to read Novel C for herself.

 

When 4 finally finished reading Novel C, she threw it to the floor. She couldn’t stand the fact that someone had attempted to make suicide to eroticism in glamourising the death of Sylvia Plath.

Such a wasted life, yet here it made trivial literature. Even the term literature itself was wholly displaced. This was not merely poverty porn but a suicide flick. Cheap thrills gained from reading of somebody’s fate; and this was a real human being, who lived a real human life with a real family and had serious thoughts of suicide, and seriously and really committed suicide fatefully one day.

4 was sick to death of this tragedy being exposed as fiction in a novel.

Several hours later, she returned to her room and saw the book crumpled on the floor where it had landed; there was a crinkle in the spine and a fold in the paperback cover. 4 owned many second-hand books; many of them were in a poor state of affairs; she wondered how many had aged in that way from being dropped accidentally, and how many had been thrown across a room in a rage.

 

‘I hate the book!’ 4 shouted at 3 the next day. ‘I hate it, I hate it. It’s depression made erotic.’

Of all the shocking and contrarian statements 3 had made in the time the bibliophiles had lived together, this next was the most shocking: ‘I don’t care.’

‘What?’ 4 was more than accustomed to having 3 disregard her views. When his beliefs were shaken, he always feigned indifference. But this time he did seem not to care. He had a genuine air of passivity. 4 was more sympathetic. ‘Are you okay?’

‘Yes. I’ve had a change of heart.’

‘What?’

‘It’s not that I’ve changed my mind about books. I still have the same taste in books. But I’m at a sort of conclusion.’ 3 smiled at her. ‘Books are always a conflict, yes, but our choice in books doesn’t have to be a conflict.’

4 didn’t understand what 3 meant, until he held up a new book. A final work had arrived. A new choice in literature, newly delivered. Novel D. 4 couldn’t think of the words to say. After some time slowly approaching and stroking the cover of the next work, she asked, ‘Is it good?’

3 grinned. The first time he’d appeared happy in a long while. ‘I read it all this morning. It’s excellent.’

‘I’ll have to give it a read,’ 4 said; and she did so.

‘How did you find it?’ asked 3.

‘It’s perfect.’

‘My thoughts exactly.’

‘It’s so wonderful. Beautiful yet thoughtful. Emotive and entertaining. Enjoyable while meaningful. All these concepts, perfectly conceptualised.’

‘I never thought we’d agree on anything, let alone a book,’ said 3.

4 agreed, and added, ‘I never thought we’d have Novel D.

 

 

 

 

Novel A

Virginia Woolf stepped up to Hogarth House; it was her home, alongside her husband Leonard in Richmond, London.

They worked side by side in Bloomsbury, in the sweet literary airs of the suburban luxury. Leonard read the books which would not be published by others; the works rejected by the mainstream presses; those stories which would have formerly gone ignored, but which were now handed to the small publishers; the voices yet to be heard; the unknown; the uncommon; the imaginative.

Virginia entered the house; she called ‘Leonard! Leonard! Leonard!’ thrice like the owl in so many poems and curses; he did not respond. Virginia made her way through into the back room, where Leonard was scanning through sheets and sheets of prospective literature.

‘It’s fantastic,’ he announced as Virginia entered the room.

‘What are you reading?’

‘This book; another writer dropped it over earlier and asked if I would read it and review; I am doing so.’

‘That’s fantastic,’ said Virginia. ‘I shall read it after you if they’d like some more feedback.’

‘Ooh, one more thing,’ Leonard gasped, placing a finger in the book to save his space in preparation for a short conversation. ‘James Joyce is here to see you.’

Virginia Woolf groaned.

‘Do you not get on with James? I thought you were well acquainted.’

‘He views writing neither as expression nor relief; to him, writing is a challenge to prove himself superior.’

‘I’m sorry to hear that. He’s in the living room. He says he wants to discuss literature with you.’

‘Of course he wants to discuss it now; he just published a book a month ago.’

‘Ah.’

Virginia walked through into the living room and found herself face-to-face with an Irishman looking smugly at his own self-worth.

‘Very good to see you, Mrs Woolf.’

‘Virginia, please.’

‘Oh, Virginia. Have you heard the great news of my new collection?’

‘What news is that?’

Virginia gazed into the brandy bottle sat on the book shelf. It was far from literary, yet held a revered spot there; a work waiting to be created. She wondered how long it would sit there, and if it would be drunk in happiness or sorrow. She saw her future in the swirling brown liquid, and it was bleak; many hours sat listening to Joyce’s bragging.

‘It’s selling perfectly! Everybody wants to hear the imaginative story of the Dubliners.’

‘Do they? What is it about?’

James Joyce sighed the gently demeaning sigh of someone about to argue for argument’s sake; Virginia Woolf could relate of course, but her arguments had a social purpose; she believed her discussion of life’s tiresome details added to life itself; if Virginia could address the role of women in literature, maybe she could make the fair sex equal as writers.

Dubliners is not one mere story; it is all manner of stories, detailing the aforementioned Dubliners.’ The phrase ‘all manner’ had long eluded Virginia; surely a manner is singular; or else, the phrase may be better explained as ‘all manners’; it seemed unlikely that James Joyce himself understood the expression ‘all manner’; but, of course, he used it anyway; in all likelihood, he used it purely because he did not understand it; Virginia Woolf fancied that Joyce was using the term purely for self-gain; the arrogance of him to believe he had dumbfounded Virginia Woolf was certainly telling.

‘Okay. I am sure it is fascinating.’

‘It certainly is; a thrilling series of windows into the lives of people in our fair city.’

‘That is good to know.’ Virginia wished she could exit the room and occupy herself with some reading; she had far better manners than to actually do so. ‘What have you been reading lately?’ she asked with genuine interest; hearing other people’s experiences of reading always sparked her creative mood.

‘I have been back in The Odyssey.’

‘Homer’s Odyssey?’

‘Do you know of any other Odyssey?’

‘I suppose not.’

‘You will do soon. I am writing my own version of the tale; set in Dublin.’

Virginia Woolf was genuinely excited; she was unsure whether to show that or not; in a sense, it seemed that expressing interest in Joyce’s new work would be feeding his arrogance; in other sense, Virginia knew how it felt to be ignored as a writer; and she would certainly never wish to impose that feeling upon anybody else.

‘I read The Odyssey in my younger days; when I looked fondly upon the history of literature and never upon the future.’

‘Ah,’ Joyce said either dismissively or thoughtfully; Virginia would have to wait for the next comment to know which; even then, it probably wouldn’t be clear; Virgina had often found ambiguity about intent and opinion to be a fault with the Irish; today was not the day for that notion to be dispelled. ‘One shouldn’t read The Odyssey in any state of immaturity. Homer is the poet of poets; back to basics; he really knew how to write a terrific tale.’

 

What could Virginia Woolf do to pass the time? All the books in the library usually pleased her; all the endless volumes of mystery. But today they had lost their appeal. After Joyce’s visit, Virginia could no longer pick up any old book. Only one old book drew her inquisitive mind.

There it was. As she trailed her finger along the spines of the Woolf library contents, her finger semi-consciously stopped on Homer’s The Odyssey.

How could anyone resist the allure of the travelling tales; they were so pertinent in the blissful peace of the Edwardian era; an adventure to distract from all the peace; had Joyce simply put the idea in her head, or had she thought it herself; and did she even care?

In Richmond, Virginia Woolf sat down to read The Odyssey. The book which told her past, present and future; it was the chronicle of the ancient world, while living and breathing in her present mind, and looming over her future as Joyce’s illegitimate Celticisation.

At the very moment she finished Book 1, with Odysseus lost at sea and Penelope avoiding her suitors, Virginia Woolf received a knock on the door.

‘Hello, Virginia,’ James Joyce proclaimed again. ‘I trust you have been reading the reviews.’

‘Hello,’ said Virginia plainly, welcoming the unwelcome Irishman into that house.

‘They have all been overwhelmingly positive!’ Joyce remarked, entering the house with muddy shoes and unwanted optimism. He pulled out a copy of that day’s newspaper—IRISHMAN THRILLS WITH TALES OF HOMETOWN.

The smug look on Joyce’s face was so intense that Virginia could not help but put him down. ‘You read that like a headline.’

‘I know,’ James Joyce responded, as though in agreement; it seemed that in the man’s mind, fact was indistinguishable from compliment.

 

After she had finished the second, then third, then fourth books of The Odyssey, Virginia began to feel she was making way in her voyage as much as Odysseus was.

James Joyce made his way to her door again; she loathed him for interrupting her voyage with another attempt at a bragging session.

Virginia Woolf opened the door to James Joyce without looking; she was still deep in her book; she could not waste time on Joyce and ignore what the Greeks were up to.

‘Are you going to converse with me today, Virginia?’

She was still engrossed in her book.

‘Why must you ignore me?’

‘I’m just engrossed in this book. It means a lot to me.’

‘My next book will be a surefire bestseller; my current book is perfect’; Joyce was incapable of speaking about anything which wasn’t himself; to the man’s mind, the universe was wholly un-Copernican; no suns or moons or any other stars were stationary in the world; James Joyce was at the centre of the universe; everybody and everything else was a distant satellite; he could and would draw these vague moons to crash down upon his surface at will.

 

Virginia Woolf left the leisure zone and engaged herself in activity. Work; labour; toil; that was life, and such a life must life be.

Virginia looked across at James Joyce, sat there on his chaise longue looking Irish, and all she could feel was rage. That lout, lying around, absorbed in a good book, when other people have real work to do. Real lives to live. Reality to face…

Of course, Virginia knew (truly felt within her heart the noble reality of the case) that literature was the ultimate aim of all endeavours. The creation of art stood above all else; but in order to get there, the real work of the world needed to be done.

But it did seem fun. Lying back and absorbing fine literature. And, in a sense, it almost seemed useful. After all, is one of the functions of life to find some pleasure, or some meaning, or something somewhere in some way. But, of course, she had more important things to do.

Out the corner of his eye, James noticed that Virginia was employed in menial labour. What a waste of time; actions without thoughts are maladroit; anything apart from contemplating fully the world around oneself was redundant; it was pointless motion and action with no overall aim but the prolonging of the same actions.

Virginia was sick to death of James glaring at her. She was the one doing work, after all. It infuriated Virginia to know of James’s disapproval; why should he be at an elevated position from which to look down upon Virginia Woolf simply for acting as her very own person? She was active; she was working; she was keeping the world going in its natural order.

Conversely, that was why James was staring at her.

Neither person could stand the other’s actions.

Inevitably, the irritation became too much for Virginia. She could never bear to watch people in any level of comfort for any length of time. She stepped over towards James.

‘What you doing?’ she asked; she sounded angry; this sound of anger probably relied heavily upon the fact that Virginia Woolf was, in her very being, angry; her anger stemmed from every issue in her life; the constant pursuit of perfection and perfectionism; the perfectionism itself was notoriously easy to grasp; yet perfection itself was a Herculean task; she could never resign herself to accept that which was imperfect; but she knew that if she ever hoped to see her writing published she would have to allow a stranger’s dirty fingers to tear up whatever she had produced and to give in to mediocre popularity parades; advertising, and that which was advertisable, were her only prospects of having her work published; she had not the privileges of James Joyce; she had some privileges associated with wealth; but not the power of manhood; she must accept the unacceptable; she must give in to whatever she could publicise; that, or else set up her own publishing press.

‘I’m reading,’ James Joyce replied. ‘It’s a concept you may or may not be familiar with.’

‘I’m familiar with reading,’ said Virginia, littering her every word with all her excess spite. ‘What I’m not familiar with is lazing around.’

‘Who’s lazing around?’

‘There is work to be done. I can’t stand timewasting.’

‘Neither can I,’ said James. ‘That’s why you should lie down and read a book.’

Virginia Woolf could not remember the last time she entered her drawing room and found it free of James Joyce; Virginia Woolf found it impossible to be creative while the man occupied her house, lying around and talking about either Dubliners or how he was the modern-day Homer: all she wanted was a room of her own.

 

There was silence in Richmond; the fellows of the area had nothing to say, and relations were down; if Virginia Woolf had had the energy or inspiration to talk, she had no desire to do so with James Joyce; she desired something significantly more in her conversation that James Joyce’s self-indulgent immodesty; in order to quench the silent desire for a medium of sound, she had a new idea.

‘Shall we switch on the radio?’ Virginia asked; it was customary for friends to share the pleasures of music; conversely, this prevented an enjoyable experience, since her annoyance at James prevented any friendly activity operating with absolute pleasure.

‘Why would one want to do that? I have plenty more wisdom to impart,’ Joyce said; Virginia switched on the radio.

A blissful music burst out; the endless summer themes of a lifetime of simplicity.

And then the tune ended; the melody faded; and the sounds of summer bliss brought a pleasant demise delightfully. This sound was what they deeded.

The announcer propped up: Next we have the music of Monteverdi, with his composition Il Ritorno d’Ullise in Patria.

This new sound was a wonderful melody of majestic tones expressing the adventures of the noble Odysseus.

‘Perhaps I have been a little rude in allowing myself in,’ James Joyce surmised.

‘Perhaps,’ Virginia replied; despite her appreciation of the majestic sounds of Trojan battle, the pomposity of James Joyce’s entrance and egocentrism brought out a grudge from Virginia’s core. She did not want to engage in conversation with a man who had forced his way into the house purely to boost his own ego.

 

‘I’ve never cared for the name Odysseus,’ James Joyce remarked. ‘I much prefer to call the man Ulysses.’

Virginia Woolf took a pause from reading The Odyssey and looked up to James Joyce. Something about the irritable snob taking a break from self-devotion became endearing; perhaps the world wasn’t so terrible; but the world was terrible; terrifically dull.

‘Why do you say Ulysses? Who is Ulysses?’ asked Virginia.

‘You may know,’ Joyce began, in an attempt to conceal his patronising egotism with faux pleasantries; if he could charm his audience into believing they were in the process of gentle treatment, he would be able to slip insults into his tongue; to attack the meek as Jesus preached in reverse; conceal a sword in cotton; Virginia was not buying this façade; as she would never buy a façade, viewing all trickery – whether of Dutch or Belgian descent (which she henceforth called, ‘the peaceful small lands, bearing a modest place between the three bitter empires’) – as an attempt to diminish her already-restricted role in the world of literary creation; he continued, ‘that the Romans remodelled the Greek tales in their own manner. Such was the life of Odysseus converted to the antagonistic guise of Ulysses; Zeus to Jupiter; Ares to Mars; Hephaestus to Vulcan.’

This was the way the mind of young James Joyce worked. Everything to the man was simply a case of appropriation. There was nothing purely new. Everything he perceived and created was in actuality an attempt to recreate and advance upon works already present. So Joyce’s entire understanding of literature was that each work should be an endless series of references to other works, and a congratulation of one’s own genius.

Virginia Woolf calmly accepted that such was the case of James Joyce’s self-indulgence, he would always be the man who brought the most legendary of Greek tales into a dull adventure around Ireland.

Joyce was the man who most wildly adored his own presence at any given moment; the rest of the world would most assuredly have to deal with this.

 

Virginia Woolf adored The Odyssey; the communication between generations was the greatest gift technology could offer; everybody could read the words of ancients; but how would new technologies affect this?

‘Is your life currently revolving around Homeric poetry?’

‘I’d say so.’

‘Mine too.’

Virginia pondered how many lives had been changed, shaped or altered by Homer; the enormous power of The Odyssey; the tales of the hearty and triumphant Odysseus; and his Romantic, though not Roman, equivalent Ulysses; the very being who had influenced so many people; this adventure had now consumed the lives of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf.

Though they did not know it, the two would go on to change the way we read fiction forever; their fascinating shift in styles stemmed from a seismic shift in their lives; the two amateur artists became completing new writers when their lives were irreparably distorted with the previously unfathomable outbreak of a war between Germany, Britain and France; the outbreak itself was not unfathomable; ‘not unfathomable’ being a wording both Joyce and Woolf despised, though neither would admit this to the other; the outbreak was conceivable; what was deemed impossible was the war between the nations; Germany and France were both mighty heartlands of culture; both were brilliant countries; now destroyed by an endless, timeless series of destruction.

This was for the future. For now the major issue was simply the discussion between James Joyce and Virginia Woolf. They could not cope with being next to each other when the ego of James Joyce sapped at Virginia Woolf’s creativity; and Virginia Woolf’s quiet complacency suggested to Joyce the lie that she was content with his bragging.

In reality, there was nothing Virginia Woolf loathed more than to hear her acquaintances brag. This was often the case; the audiences with which she consumed her life were irrevocably arrogant.

 

Joyce and Woolf switched on the radio and bonded over the music playing. It was Joyce’s opinion that music was an act and condition of living; conversely, Woolf believed it to be a mere side-effect of having to be alive; they were both in agreement; this was a contradiction which echoed throughout all their interaction.

Either way, the joyous sounds of summer were expressed through the buzzing horn of the Woolf couple’s gramophone; this was a wondrous work of composition which Woolf and Joyce would later to discover was based on a favoured work; the piece playing was a musical adaptation; or rather a reinterpretation of The Odyssey.

And that was the way of literature, to constantly reevaluate the same ideas. Although the foundation of modernism was at this very point reinterpretation of old tales, Ezra Pound would soon proclaim his idea to be to ‘make it new’.

The ‘make it new’ proclamation itself was soon to be a revelation; but, of course, it was entirely impractical. The reality of the situation was that nothing could ever truly be new; not in this world; not while the structures worn in place by centuries were still going; the oppression of womankind; the shame of femininity; the glory of war; the refining of murder; while all these shameful ideas still took place in society, there could never be new.

What was needed, Virginia decided, was a newness; a dynamic shift in literature; a propulsion from the tired age of the 1800s to a positive future of communication. All the world was advancing; it was the duty of writers to keep up with that rapid pace.

This shift towards modernity was reflected increasingly in all aspects of modern life; even such a simple feature as the ringing of a doorbell was these days electric.

 

James Joyce rang the doorbell; Virginia Woolf saw it was him; Leonard Woolf opened the door and cordially invited the Irishman inside; Virginia grimaced at her husband’s failure to understand the rejection of her fellow Modernist; Virginia noted this minor flaw in an otherwise perfect relationship; is there any pure, perfect relation, or must they always have faults, regardless of how miniscule.

‘Why are you not passionate about our conversations together, my dear Virginia?’

‘I’m fine.’

‘No, you aren’t. You’ve been growing distant. Be straight with me.’

‘I can’t stand talking to you,’ she finally snapped.

‘Oh, dear. Why is that?’

‘Your penetrating ignorance.’

James Joyce looked with great discomfort; it had not occurred to him that anyone might find his charming characteristics in any way annoying. Virginia was of course fully aware of Joyce’s flaws.

‘Is there any way I can fix this?’ asked James Joyce.

Virginia Woolf could see no way to reflect and repair the ultimately deathly distinction between the two figures; the tranquility of their times had led to the belief in such severe individuality that even two people of such defined taste and interest in the use and expression of language but could not get on.

Virginia sighed a long sigh. ‘I want to read The Odyssey in private.’

‘Very well,’ said James.

James Joyce left the house; this allowed Virginia Woolf a moment to reflect upon Joyce’s importance; Virginia Woolf was content for Joyce to leave on his own, but was somewhat disappointed to see him go and be left as only a lone writer; her husband was there too, but Leonard could never sufficiently annoy Virginia that she would have anything miserable to write about.

 

Virginia Woolf hid away in her room again; all she desired was freedom; all that occupied Virginia’s current mind was the need to allow herself a quiet moment away to read.

And now she had exactly that. Now she had all the time in the world to sneak into her drawing room, push the notes away on a writing desk, and begin to explore her own creative ability.

The creative desire was a fire to be fueled; it was essential to these artists that creativity flourished endlessly; with such a peaceful environment in King Edward’s London, there was

Virginia Woolf needed to devote herself fully to the world of literature; there was absorption and production; it was important to do the two in equal measure; although, thought Virginia, perhaps it was important to spend significantly more time absorbing than producing; in the same manner, the quietest members of civil society were the most intelligent; the thoughts of the people who spoke had a great deal more time to develop; and develop they did; the humans who reviewed and analysed the world; the people who absorbed the world, even, were the ones who knew the most; whether they chose to reveal the information they had gained through analysis or not was another matter altogether; Virginia Woolf was an absorber; an insightful human who took in the world around her; in time, her thoughts would have fermented; her ideas would be complete; she would be a perfect thinker; a supreme writer; and she, when the time was right, would impart wisdom upon the world; the face of literature would change when the quiet ones put their voices into literature.

When she had finished the fourth, then fifth, then sixth chapters of The Odyssey, she decided she must attempt a book of her own.

All she needed was a room of her own.

 

Virginia often wondered if Joyce were so vain that he conceived of the word ‘joyous’ to be about him. It was typically in the style of a self-obsessed man to believe the act of speech to derive its techniques primarily after writers.

There were great and grand lexical similarities of course. Joyce must be aware of his own vanity, but somehow he never would be.

The grandiose nature of Odysseus was befitting to the character of James Joyce; while Odysseus nobly proclaimed how he had blinded Poseidon’s son, Joyce believed he was an essential transformation to Literature.

 

Virginia Woolf took herself off to her garden; though her home in Hogarth House was the tranquil centre of the country; the eye of the storm; the garden in the haste of London; though she knew this, her backyard was a place she knew as home away from home; nature in a looking-glass.

Wandering around her garden gave her the tranquility needed to interpolate her thoughts.

Only partially conscious of her own actions, Virginia took a longer time than necessary to traipse her surroundings; perhaps to acquaint herself with the world she would spend four decades writing about; perhaps instead to be at one with nature and find relaxation in the moment of peace.

But, at the same time, Virginia Woolf was dimly (though not foolishly) aware that the garden would never been enough to satisfy her literary needs; being at one with nature was the plain desire proscribes by so many endless generations of poets and authors; yet, in reality; if Virginia were to believe she knew the realness in the real world that was reality; in reality, it was the case that nature was merely the muse of the mind; the genuine acts of literary birth were always to be penned in a private room.

This was how Virginia knew she could never write what she needed to in the garden; the garden may indeed inspire some romantic notions of beauty and passion, but the pen could only truly hit the paper when indoors.

And so Virginia stepped inside Hogarth House; returning to her abode, she resumed her comfortable exploration of the human environment.

Virginia deliberately occupied some time in entering the house; the longer she could spend in entering, the longer she could avoid human interaction, the more pure were her thoughts; not the purity of thought proposed by Catholicism; for that is a limitation; and outwardly imposed self-censorship; the idea of purity in thought is in fact, to the Catholic Church’s mind, ignoring all the reality of the world and thinking only of the dullness of God; instead, Virginia Woolf’s belief in purity was having contact only with one’s own mind; the very presence of thought appearing and disappearing somewhere within the soul. That she should express herself on paper meant a leakage in her mind; a self-imposed freedom; the ability to fit a physical text into her head; the novel form of the novel form can capture thoughts as a net captures fish.

When she had finally made it patiently into the drawing room, ignoring the needs and distastes of the detestable Mr Joyce, Virginia picked up the copy of The Odyssey she adored. Taking this copy into a private room; notably her bedroom, which was a place in 1914 deemed thoroughly uncouth for a gentleman such as James Joyce to enter into a lady’s chambers.

In the privacy of such a bedroom, Virginia Woolf was finally allowed the freedom to read as she wished. She was thoroughly free, and in being unleashed, proceeded to read The Odyssey once more without the nuisance of communicating with Joyce.

At this moment; in this blissful period of independence; Joyce was proudly flicking through all of the Woolf household’s books; Leonard Woolf’s Victorian politics; Virginia Woolf’s radical pride in femininity; there were so many works of interests in there.

 

In the drawing room, James Joyce was patiently sat at the desk. In his hands, he had gathered up Virginia Woolf’s copy of The Odyssey and flicked through without her permission. It was excellent, and he rejoiced in the knowledge that Ulysses could be an excellent follow up. A return to infinite innovation.

The Odyssey had the perfect character: dear, flawless Odysseus. Odysseus was the epitome of mankind. This was very similar to how Leopold Bloom would be in Joyce’s very own Ulysses, in all the Irishman’s excellence and perceptual perfection. But, in reality, this all drew back to James Joyce himself. James Joyce was, in his own eyes, the perfect form of humanity. Layers upon layers upon layers. Every element of this adaptation and expropriation presented the same story in a new way. This was the same as how all literature was a constant work upon the same idea. In essence, all writing was the same; a new attempt to purvey the same message.

Essentially, some writers were perfect and others were awful. Many writers occupied the space in between. These were the droves of writers who scribed down their untimely meditations around the turn of the century. The fine artists were those like Homer; they were Homer and everyone who followed in his vein; perfect literature started with Homer and rode the line from Ancient Greece; through Ancient Rome; scattering across Europe until nobody can write because of invasions; then to glorious Beowulf; dying out in the Dark Ages; establishing a new presence with Chaucer; steadying the world of art in the Medieval Era; having a grand rebirth with the Renaissance; then there were a few creators, but no great artists from the Renaissance until James Joyce arrived in the 20th century.

James Joyce was the evolution of thousands of years of progressive thought; from the first great time of literature, beginning with the great Odyssey, we had arrived here; the new Odyssey; Ulysses; the second beginning of art; the new Dawn; the second day of literature.

That was the line of perfect art. Beauty, passion, indulgence – and then the summation of the holy trinity of perfection: James Joyce.

 

Meanwhile, Virginia Woolf had no idea how arrogant Joyce’s thoughts were getting. She knew him to be an arrogant swine; but the belief that he was one of history’s greatest writers; but there is yet another conflict; if he believes himself to be one of the greatest artists of all time, and is right, he is accurate; if he believes himself to be the perfect model of humanity and is wrong, he is arrogant. On the other hand, if he believes himself to be a useless and hopeless excuse for an artist, while everyone else appreciates his art, he is an idiot; if he thinks himself untalented and is also correct in his belief, he is a nobody.

But Virginia had no time to put towards petty thoughts such as the beliefs that James Joyce might be the worst or the best writer.

Instead, Virginia had paid little attention to where and when she was. Instead of noting any detail of her present situation, Virginia was far too engrossed in her book to care for the world around; in the mind of the artist, there were many elements to the universe; the world she lived in was a mere fraction of the whole world. The book she currently read was The Odyssey. The Odyssey, despite its varying themes, had always made Virginia feel gleeful; this feeling may have continually been gripped by altering states of consciousness, all of which could be reflected upon by an exploration of Odysseus.

The Odyssey presented the perfect specimen of mankind; Odysseus was the adventurer; the original explorer, with the ability to guide mankind forth to a new destiny.

Odysseus was an important kind of explorer. He was an original man; an adventurer whose experience was purely physical; as much as Virginia Woolf admired Odysseus, she could not reconcile his ignorance for the mental; Homer, in all his artistry, had the fatal flaw of failing to account for the mind. Virginia herself had spent many years plagued by the mind; in many years to come, depression would be too much; and ultimately her mind would consume her. Hence, it was impossible to imagine a perfect work.

Joyce, in Woolf’s view, wanted to recreate a personal Odyssey set in his hometown of Dublin; the problem of this, of course, was that the vision presented an entirely unitary exploration of the surroundings; no depth could be drawn from simply creating a perception of the world around; the pleasure was in the meaning; the meaning existed beyond mere images.

In reality, Joyce’s work would delve to new depths hitherto unforeseen in the world of literature; if there were a fluid transfer of ideas between Joyce and Woolf, they would both be aware of their shared interests; a fatal flaw of humanity is that humans were willfully unable to reflect on each other’s views as much as they claim to enjoy.

The Odyssey was a perfect work; with perfect characters; perfect action; had the perfect mix of characters. Those both relatable and distant. Obscurity and the everyday. Here and now. Life and the lifeless. Oh, to dwell within those pages. To sit for hours and simply read. But not simply read – reading was everything but simple. Reading was everything. But simple. To sit and read: that was the endgoal of every ambition. All the desires expressed in vague terms by the dying embers of the Edwardian era could be neatly enacted by a delve into great literature. And James had accomplished this.

Eventually, James Joyce noticed that it was simply not enough to take pleasure; in order to be a forward-thinking individual, one has to break the molds which hold down literature; a new style of art should not be focused upon chronicling the passing of time; no longer shall books be about the lives and deaths of many people; art is about the individual; art should focus upon individuals; art should be about the here and now; art should take place all in one day; for in one day the world can change.

James Joyce finally put down his book; it was not the case that The Odyssey had become boring to him; quite the contrary, ruled to himself title was important to enter the task world; Joyce perceived himself as Goliath amongst a realm of literary Davids.

After some time, Virginia was forced (or at least believed herself forced) into ending the reading session; there was a world to be endured; although she did not wish to occupy it, the real world was uniquely extant There were pressing issues. There were things to do other than just sit around and indulge in literature; although it may seem impossible, there was more to life than just fiction; books were only books, no matter how much it might sound like heresy; The Odyssey was just a book. There was life to be lived.

 

There was a world to be filled with thoughts and it would soon be filled. The changes in the world came about as a result of intense thinking, and also the reverse.

The inverse thinking consumed time, but Virginia Woolf spent her time wisely thinking and thinking wisely. Virginia walked out of the imaginary; she left the fictional world of imagination and entered the dull reality of England.

Virginia was aggravated by the sight of James; all she could feel was intense rage at his overbearing ignorance; how could one man so arrogantly and ignorantly proclaim that his literature surpasses all the works yet produced; except The Odyssey, of course; I would never consider my writing to be worth anything until others had told me of its value; perhaps that was a fundamental distinction between men and women; men claim themselves to be perfect; women have to work to be considered at least adequate; but who is the better in that scenario; is it supreme to be modest or to be proud; modesty seems such an admirable trait; to be modest is to be perfect, thereby reversing the claims of either gender; but maybe that is part of the problem; maybe the meekness of womankind is partially what holds her back; goals might have been attained if only women had the arrogance of men; but no man will ever listen to an arrogant woman; any woman who so much as demands equality is seem as aggressive and hence ignored; should we try to reverse this through force; or should we work within men’s means to change their minds; should we appeal to men, then use their attention to change their minds?

 

Out the corner of his eye, James Joyce idly noticed that Virginia Woolf was bothering herself with the intense effort of trying to keep out of his way; this was not to say that he particularly cared nor noticed what she was doing; his sole focus was the efforts of Odysseus; the exploits of that first great explorer.

James and Virginia largely agreed upon the brilliance of Odysseus. Despite tensions between the two, their agreement upon a largely agreeable work of literature was definite; they were two sides of the same coin upon the actuality of Odysseus’ brilliance; there were, of course, no real tensions between the two; instead, there were imagined problems; there were the minor, invisible struggles of an ordinary human; life was allusion; Joyce was Homer.

‘There is work to be done. I can’t stand timewasting.’

‘I rarely engage in timewasting,’ the bold Irishman professed; Mrs Woolf found this claim near-impossible to believe. In the time in which Virginia Woolf had voluntarily engaged in conversation and human interaction with James Joyce, she had found him to be thoroughly disagreeable; this disagreement stemmed primarily from similarity; the two were unified in their ideal mode of literary discourse; their writing would follow a parallel trend, and be later grouped together as ‘modernism’.

This genre modernism would go on to be the defining cultural concept of the twentieth century; and indeed modernism would be the greatest singular influence upon the twenty-first and twenty-second centuries.

Modernism was the defining force; it was not a plaything, but the single most important change in art since the Renaissance.

Joyce professed that his apparent timewasting was in fact a psychological progression towards a new style of progressive writing.

‘I can’t imagine your sloth making a positive impact,’ opined Virginia Woolf.

Despite James’s claim to write revolutionary fiction, Virginia was right; he was a lazy.

Joyce attempted to justify himself: ‘Allowing my mind to be at ease; to free myself from work; to relax with a fine volume of writing.’

Virginia Woolf sighed. ‘You do wind me up to some degree, Mr Joyce; you have a tendency towards idolatry.’

James spent several minutes involved in his own world; switching between reading more of The Odyssey and describing how his very own Ulysses would look. As Virginia’s proclamation of Joyce’s laziness was being uttered, the man was lost in a world of redefining the classics to suit his present preoccupation.

Joyce clearly was not listening; though, theoretically, Virginia Woolf was in opposition to the common disagreements of petty squabbling, there was a large part of her which wanted debate; she saw the element of sloth in Joyce’s actions; the lazing around in her house, doing nothing but reading and re-reading endlessly his old favourite The Odyssey; his claim was that this was work towards his next project; but he really was being lazing and relaxing unfairly in Virginia Woolf’s house; so it came to be that Virginia Woolf professed her hatred of petty disagreement, when in reality, disagreement was at the heart of all her literature; and possibly at the heart of all literature as it exists; it was this disagreement itself which caused the trouble; the disagreement in her mind on whether or not each character she wrote was equally right or wrong preoccupied her thoughts while working on any literary idea.

James Joyce was fully displeased. ‘Why on Earth should expanding one’s mind with literature be considered lazy?’

‘There are more important things to do than read,’ claimed Virginia Woolf, her thoughts turned to the manual labour she engaged in around the house.

‘I don’t believe you think that,’ said James Joyce. ‘There is so much more in the world. Like a walk down Dublin high street.’

‘What?’

‘It opens the mind – or closes it where necessary. Reading teaches you facts, emotions and methods of perception. What would you have me do instead?’

James Joyce placed his book calmly on the coffee table; it would remain there until Virginia Woolf resumed her reading of it later, losing James’s place in the work.

‘Take a look outside,’ suggested Virginia Woolf. ‘There is more to life than books, you know.’ She consciously stated this as a fact, rather than asking it as a question.

James Joyce found her statement very difficult to believe.

 

James wandered peacefully about the study. It was a remarkable area, with the tranquility of the Edwardian Era protecting the two from any true horrors in the world.

He decided something was missing; there was an essential distinction which kept his life from perfect; he realised it was the audio limitations of the world.

James Joyce walked up to the gramophone and laid a vinyl recording down.

It was one of his own collection; the majestic work that was Odysseus’ life told through opera.

Virginia had always held mixed feelings towards the science of radio; one the one hand, advanced communication could unite nations; on the other, it was the inevitable case of humanity that anything which could be used to unite would invariably be used to separate and ostracise; there were endless cases of propaganda destroying connections, but other cases of humanity being broadcast.

It was an elegant work, the orchestral adaptation of The Odyssey; perfection presented; the perfect work of literature adapted into song; art upon art; layers of beauty compiled into one work; collections were the next major step into literature.

‘End that awful racket,’ demanded Virginia Woolf.

James looked at her with endless bewilderment. ‘What do you mean?’

‘I am not a fan; that sort of overblown expression depicts the lazy sort of art despite.’

Virginia’s words stung James in a way he could never have imagined. To hate Monteverdi? To despise Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria? Who was Virginia Woolf?

‘But this is Monteverdi,’ James protested.

‘I find it unfavourable, whoever it may be.’

Virginia moved the gramophone’s needle off the record and silence filled the house once more; this led to James Joyce beginning a spectacular rant about the importance of silence when reading.

Virginia Woolf left the room with a great air of disappointment.

 

James Joyce believed that literature was more important than humanity; what was the point of communication if it did not allow one to think? Or worse, what if people were given the option to think but no incentive? Everyone should be forced to think.

Such was the belief in a totalitarian benevolence that James Joyce believed any freedom to be a mistake; humanity needed an essential knowledge; a kind of forced intellect; such would surely not be the case after Joyce inevitably learnt of the horrors of the 1930s and 1940s; it would hence be a new world; a brave new world; everything was going to restart with the destruction of Europe.

In a sense, World War Two brought an end to classical modernism; the horrors of the Holocaust and fascism meant that literature – even literature in the modernist trend – was irreparably distorted to discuss the horrors of the day; and hence, high modernism was replaced with the newer, and seemingly more important, dystopian literature.

 

Reading, reading. That was the art which occupied all of time; in the time between reading, both Virginia and James were at a loss. James wandered around the kitchen table in search of something to do; in the absence of activity, he returned to the drawing room alone; Virginia by this point had decided to join him, since the silence which she had anticipated would sooth her mind instead tortured her by raising the volume of her own angered thoughts; Joyce had nothing to say to her, and she was the same to him; she considered returning the record to its position, but felt that such an act would be accepted as a victory by the arrogant Irishman; instead, she turned on the radio; and the two spent some time independently listening to the sound of the news broadcast; in between segments, music played, and the two refused to share with each other their appreciation for the same musical styles; they enjoyed the mellow melodies alone.

Then the wireless cut off. That impossible sound: bleak silence on the radio; such a phenomenon was reserved for ; it had been heard twenty years earlier, during those blasted wars in Africa; now could not be another one of them; those wars were long over; Africa was cured; there could be no more fighting; surely, there could not.

After some time, during which the broadcasters were presumably fumbling over how to announce the biggest news of the century, a voice spoke out of the machine; it was crisp and alarming; the announcement was to be bleak; but Virginia had never heard the voice this unimaginably bleak before.

Then the announcer broke the news. All Europe was at war. Britain was to fight Germany in France. The three major nations were to destroy each other.

Neither writer knew what to say. They held each other tightly.

Virginia Woolf and James Joyce stood in silence; there were no words to say; there were no words they could say; there were no words imaginable which could express the way they were feeling in that one moment; beyond the moment there were no acceptable or appropriate words for the situation;

When it occurred, nobody but those at the centre knew quite what had happened. It had its positives and negatives. It had its precursors and consequences. It had its attack and response. There were numerous theories as to why it happened. All Virginia Woolf could work out was that it came from years of trouble; from the arrogance of mankind.

 

Virginia Woolf switched on the radio; out ushered not their usual song, but instead a darker sound; the voice of a nation; the newscaster with his somber voice; this was not to be positive news; this was groundbreaking and destructive news; this was the end of an era and the beginning of a much darker time.

Virginia know idea what to say; she did not know what would happen from then on; all she could say for certain is that the world would never be the same again.

 

Virginia Woolf came to like James Joyce; the fear of the Great War brought them together; the stress of death and the infinitely short future caused them to unite in a way they despised; war is despicable, but it allowed the two to be united by fear; what a trauma, what an existential crisis was brought on by the concept that that which they feared most was now their greatest friend.

‘What do we do about the Great War?’ asked James Joyce; Virginia was initially quite reserved and confused about what to make of this question; however does one respond to the concept of addressing a major prospective tragedy head-on?

But, of course, it could never be the case that the Great War was a tragedy; tragedy as both a word and a concept or even a construct trivialises the matter; if an event is deemed to be a tragedy, that necessarily

‘We try to cope.’

‘How can we cope knowing that the world will never be at peace?’

‘It will be at peace again soon,’ I said; ‘the war may have only just started, but it will end; it might be over by Christmas.’

‘It won’t be. Even if it ends tomorrow, there are no straight answers any more.’

I didn’t understand what he meant until he continued, ‘War has a lasting impact. We’re still conflicted from those horrid fights in Africa. This war is in Europe. It won’t be a case of the British defeating some tribesmen or two ships blowing each other to smithereens; awful though both instances are, this is far more extreme; this is a fight between the most powerful countries on Earth; this will use the toughest weapons and every adult man in Europe.

The two writers feared for humanity; thus was the essence of writing. They loitered in the world of despair.

‘What do we do now?’ asked Virginia. ‘How can we move past the great European tragedy? How on Earth can we cope?’

‘There’s only one way to move past this event,’ James explained. ‘We read.’

James retrieved his book. It was a pristine copy of The Odyssey. It was perfect; the epic told many tales about heroism, wit and adventure; it encompassed so much of life; all his desired in writing were expressed through this novel; but the novel itself contained none of the depth he desired from literature; that was why he must begin his own version.

 

‘I lied,’ Virginia revealed; she felt it was time to make clear the truth of her views.

‘What?’

‘Earlier, when I said I hated that piece about The Odyssey. That was complete nonsense, designed to dissuade you from visiting Hogarth House.’

‘Really?’

‘Yes, really. That piece was quite simply one of my favourite compositions. I have never heard anything which so neatly captures the adventure of The Odyssey and captivates its audience.’

‘That’s all right with me.’

‘I believe,’ Virginia Woolf declared forlornly, ‘that The Odyssey must be my favourite work ever.’

James Joyce was so taken aback, that he no longer had any words to say; he wished, however inexpressibly, to declare that it was Virginia’s duty to inform him of her Homeric love much earlier; there was, of course, no prim and proper way to express this without sounding abhorrent; he kept silent; mostly silent, for he had the ability to conjure: ‘Oh, Virginia Woolf!’

All this time they had been vacuously mentioning that Virginia Woolf and James Joyce were both fans of Homer, neither had fully been paying attention to the other; each, in their own way, had been taking in the information and soon thereafter disregarding the knowledge.

‘Oh, Virginia! If only we’d spoken about this before.’

‘How strange this all is.’

Virginia Woolf sat back and thought about Odysseus.

‘What occupies you?’ asked James Joyce.

‘I am still deep in thought about the adventures of Odysseus.’

‘Then your mind is clustered in the same manner as mine.’

‘The same manor or the same manner?’ asked James; an attempt at a joke not yet suited to their age; many years hence (when the expression ‘many years hence’ was still the fashion – and talk of ‘the fashion’ was very popular) talk of manners and manors was the done thing; in the age of Samuel Richardson and not Dorothy Richardson; and in many years to come, cheap puns would become not only a work of fun; but perhaps the cornerstone of western culture; though Virginia Woolf would barely live to see it, the emergence of film noir as a response to cinematic censorship would require scriptwriters to alter their works to avoid direct dirtiness; this would impact up all Americophile countries, leading them to believe the only way to suggest rude context to be through innuendo and punship.

 

Virginia Woolf looked forgivingly towards James Joyce. She knew they would get on, and that a slight change of literature could adapt to the needs of the War. There was a new world approaching.

Virginia sat and contemplated the future; it was likely the case that the future world would be mixed.

‘So much has happened in so little time,’ James Joyce said; and Virginia Woolf wholeheartedly agreed. ‘In the short time we’ve been sat here, listening to the radio, Europe has been torn apart; the world will never look the same again; from literature to lifespan, everything will be completely different from now on.’

The Odyssey

by Homer

 

James Joyce looked at the cover and saw the words shift and contort until they spelled ‘Ulysses’ and ‘James Joyce’.

‘It will be a great novel,’ Virginia reassured him. ‘A great novel for an unimaginably different world.’

Virginia Woolf was perhaps the most important writer of the 20th century; at the time, no-one gave her any consideration.

 

There was little to be said; there was much to do; but what could be done? What was there to do in a world where all the firmest countries in the world were destroying each other?

Virginia looked wistfully out the door to the nervous people rushing around Bloomsbury Square. Nothing was the same anymore. The simple pleasure of the Edwardian Era had been washed out, and the wartime battle was present even in June 1914, in the quiet of Bloomsbury.

‘Our world has changed irreparably,’ said Virginia Woolf. ‘This war will not be over by Christmas. Even if the slaughter has stopped, everything we know will be different. The ease with which we knew our surrounding countries has heightened to a tension which can never dissipate.’

 

 

Novel B

 

Sarah lived in a town house in Essex which was really nice. Her house had all her things in it. She liked it.

In her house, she had books. One of her books was Angel, which was a really good book that was written by Katie Price.

Sarah liked to read when she could, so sometimes she did read because she liked to. On one nice and sunny day in her house in Chelmsford, which is in Essex and is the best place in Essex, she started reading her book.

Angel was so good. It was like if you’ve ever dressed up real nice and gone out on the town and then been hit on by all the guys all the time. So good!

Lots of stuff happened in the book. Lots of really good stuff that was so great. And it was at that moment that what she decided was that she wanted lots of good stuff to happen in her life, too.

 

The next day she organised a blind date. She did it via a friend but her friend wasn’t as important as her. Sarah was the best and her friend wasn’t even from central Essex, but she was good at finding men.

The friend found a man and the man wanted to go on a date with Sarah.

When Sarah got to her blind date with the man, she thought he was really hot.

He had totes sexy lips, big thick pink lips really ready for kissing Sarah’s beautiful face. His hair was blonde and wavy. He was so hot. He had big brown eyes like a puppy because puppies are cute but not like a puppy because the man on the blind date was sexy.

It was like an irony or something.

Sarah went and sat down at the chair opposite the man at the table.

‘Hello,’ said Sarah.

‘Hello,’ said the man.

‘My name is Sarah,’ said Sarah.

‘I like the name Sarah,’ said the man.

‘What is your name?’ said Sarah.

‘Maybe if you get to know me better I’ll give you my phone number,’ said the man.

He was so hot.

‘I’ll give you my phone number,’ said Sarah. She wrote down her name and phone number on a piece of paper and gave it to him.

‘What’s your name?’ the man said.

‘That would be telling,’ Sarah said.

‘My name is Charles,’ said the man, who was called Charles. ‘What is your name?’

‘It is Sarah,’ said Sarah.

‘I like the name Sarah, Sarah,’ said Charles.

‘I like the name Charles, Charles,’ said Sarah.

 

Then Charles went back to Sarah’s house. Charles was from Chelsea and Sarah was from Chelmsford, so they were basically worlds apart. Like chalk and cheese. Like East and West. Like George Bush Snr and George Bush Jnr. Sorry, I don’t mean to get political. But Sarah could name two presidents of the America and they weren’t even presidents of the America anymore! She was proper proud.

But in despite their differences, Sarah and Charles got on well. They went through to her bedroom.

‘Is this okay?’ she said. ‘We’re not moving too fast?’

‘I don’t think so,’ Charles said.

They sat down on Sarah’s bed and made out for a while.

When Charles started taking his trousers off, Sarah held a hand up and said, ‘I don’t want to do that now.’

Charles and Sarah kissed and cuddled a bit, then Charles went home.

 

Sarah was reading Angel again. It was so good. By now, she thought, this must be the 2nd time I’ve read Angel. And every time I read Angel, I think it’s different. Like, the first time I read it, I thought Angel was in love with Mickey. But now I know that Mickey is in love with Angel. It’s like such a deep reading.

That was when someone knocked on her door and she didn’t know who it was.

Sarah opened the door and Charles was stood there.

‘Hello?’ said Sarah.

‘Hello,’ said Charles.

It was so tense.

‘How was your day?’ asked Charles.

Sarah sighed. She was like really sad. She was sad because she’d been away from Charles.

‘Are you okay?’ said Charles. Charles was from Chelsea. He wouldn’t understand.

‘I’ve had a long day,’ said Sarah. ‘It all started when I woke up with a headache. I drank too much last night. Then I was thinking about you trying on too much with me last night.’

‘I din’t mean anyfing by it, honestly.’

‘At least you is honest. That made me sad. Then mum rang and told me to get a boyfriend. Emotions are, like, I don’t know.’

‘I could be your boyfriend,’ said Charles.

‘You could.’

Sarah and Charles made out, even though she was from Essex and he (Charles) was from Chelsea. It was really romantic.

 

Sarah was reading Katie Price’s Angel again. The characters were so deep!

Angel was like really pretty so Sarah could relate. They both wore the same brand of fake tan.

But real life isn’t as idealised as it is in a Katie Price novel. It’s more like Wuthering Heights. Sarah would have expressed this to Charles (it would have been beautiful) but she had never really read the actual book version that they made of Wuthering Heights.

She had seen the ITV version from 2009, and it had him from Love Actually as the husband she shouldn’t have married but they had a nice baby. Sarah had also seen the film one with one of the James Bonds in it, where he dies halfway through (not that she knew that, never having read the novel). She had also seen the MTV version called Sparkhouse with Francis out the middle from Malcolm in the Middle.

Maybe Sarah would have more success with love if she knew the original story – the film from 1939.

 

Charles came to the door one day when she was reading Angel.

Sarah let him in through the door. He said he’d had a bad day. ‘Do you want to hear more about my bad day?’ said Charles.

‘Do go on,’ Sarah would have said. But really she was too much reading Angel by Katie Price to care what was happening in the outside world. She continued to look down at the pages of the text. The story was so captivating!

‘As I say, I shan’t bother you,’ said Charles.

Sarah didn’t look up.

‘I’ll just head over to the lounge on my own, shall I?’

Charles thought it was the worst thing in the world ever when he had to find his own way into the lounge.

Sarah remained locked in her book. ‘Hmm?’

Eventually, Sarah found a position in which she could place a finger in the book. She reached the end of a paragraph, put her finger in and looked up ready to listen.

‘Yes.’

‘Everything has gone badly,’ said Charles.

‘Oh, dear.’

‘Things are not very happy and I am feeling quite sad about it.’

Charles sat on the bed next to Sarah.

Sarah sat up, ready to listen. ‘Tell me about it.’

‘Oh, Sarah, you won’t want to hear.’

‘No, I do.’

‘Okay, then.’ Charles told her. ‘The day started off all right. You saw me this morning. I was okay. Then my breakfast was bad. I ordered bacon and eggs down Jim’s Caff. He gave me scrambled eggs, when I thought it was gonna be fried eggs. It wasn’t too good, but it’s not the end of the world.’

‘I don’t think so.’

‘Next I had to go to work as a banker. On the bus, someone sneezed on me. So you get the impression, not too happy.’

‘I’ll say.’

‘At work, people mocked me because they went out when I was with you last night and had a great time without me. Overall it’s been a pretty rubbish day.’

‘Well, you’re back with me now,’ Sarah said in an attempt to comfort him but also to allow herself the safe passage back into the writing of Katie Price.

‘Then my phone rang,’ said Charles.

‘Let me guess: the ring was too loud.’

‘No,’ he said. ‘My mum’s dead.’

Sarah nervously put her book down. ‘Oh, God.’ She walked over and put her hand on Charles’s shoulder. ‘Are you all right?’

‘Not really, no.’

Sarah put her arm right round him. He squeezed her back and she felt him crying.

 

Charles went through to Sarah’s bedroom and they laid on her bed quite a bit. After a while of sadness, Sarah turned to Charles and said, ‘Do you want to move in?’

‘What?’

‘Do you want to move in with me?’

‘I think I’d like that.’

‘I think I would too.’

They moved in together.

 

After they moved in together, Charles noticed their communication beginning to slip.

‘How are you today, my love?’ he asked.

Sarah was absorbed in her book.

‘I said how are you?’

She didn’t hear him. Charles saw this was going nowhere. He could be insightful at times – and not so insightful at others. At this moment, Charles was somewhere between the two and not prepared, after the day he had had, to sit here with an inattentive Sarah and try to express himself.

Charles took himself off to the bedroom. When there, he made the bed, as Sarah had neglected to do today, being absorbed in her book, and felt the satisfaction of acting for himself when helping others.

Charles spent some time making the bed – a perfectionist in some areas – and then drew a heavy sigh when the light toil was complete.

From here, Charles desperately needed to relax. He went through to a more personal room and picked up his favourite book.

His favourite book was Angel by Katie Price. She was so wise she was like his hero.

 

It was at this point that Charles drifted off into another world. It was like so good with the character Angel and everything. Charles was absorbed by the book.

In the lounge, Sarah was sat on the furniture, reading some book she deemed good. But I know of true literature. I am the one who holds a true connection with art.

Meanwhile, Sarah had no idea how arrogant Charles’s thoughts were getting. Sarah was not paying any attention to anything around her. The world was just moving by all on its own.

Instead, Sarah had paid little attention to where and when Charles was. Sarah was far too engrossed in her book to care for Charles. The book was Angel. Angel had always made Sarah feel happy.

Angel had the perfect mix of characters. Some were from Cheltenham and some were from Chelsea.

It was so realistic! Because in the everyday real world some people were from Cheltenham and some people were from Chelsea. People in like the world were sometimes from different places and people in the book Angel by Katie Price were from different places, so the book was so good because people were from different places. She read more of the book’s pages. She sat and read a lot. Sometimes she liked reading and sometimes she didn’t. When she was reading Angel, she really liked reading Angel.

When Charles stopped reading, he stopped looking at the words and turning the pages. Then he put the book down. There was tea to make. He couldn’t always just read Angel by Katie Price.

Angel was the perfect book, so people should like it more.

Charles left the leisure zone and gave into working. Work, labour, toil. That was life, and such a life must life be.

Charles looked angrily at Sarah. He was angry because Sarah didn’t have anything to do and Charles had lots to do, which made him angry. She was so lazy, just reading all the time instead of doing anything real.

Charles walked through to the kitchen and started cleaning the worktop. Cleaning and making the house look much nicer than it did look when it didn’t look so nice was like the most important thing to do. What good is reading if the like kitchen worktop is messy?

‘Some people have real work to do,’ Charles said, looking at Sarah. She ignored him. ‘Some people have to keep their houses tidy.’

Charles tried to look angrily at Sarah, but all he could see was love. How sweet!

It did seem fun, reading did, it did. Like lying there and like reading books. It looked good, but Charles had better things to do.

 

Sarah like noticed that Charles was currently engaged in cleaning the kitchen. It was like so boring. I don’t know why he like wasted all that time on cleaning when there were real books to actually read and some of them were good like some (like Katie Price’s Angel) were classics.

Charles was being like so boring. Like Sarah was really annoyed. Because, like, Charles was being quite really annoying, really, and that actually made Sarah quite annoyed with him.

 

Charles got like quite annoyed with Sarah because she was just like reading all the time, actually. Then he just got up and walked over to her.

‘What you doing?’ Charles asked. Charles sounded angry.

‘I’m reading,’ Sarah replied. ‘Because I like quite like reading. You should read. This is like a good book.’

‘I like reading, but you’re being lazy,’ said Charles.

‘How am I being lazy though?’ said Sarah.

‘You’re being lazy, though, because like you’re not actually doing anything,’ said Charles.

‘What am I meant to be doing?’ said Sarah.

‘It would be good if you could help me clean the kitchen,’ said Charles.

‘I can’t be bothered,’ said Sarah. She was like a proper feminist and everything but she wasn’t a lesbian. Girl power!

‘You’re being lazy,’ said Charles.

‘Who’s being lazy, though?’ said Sarah.

‘You’re being lazy,’ said Charles. ‘There’s cleaning to be done. I can’t stand timewasting.’

‘But I like like reading like books, though, like,’ said Sarah.

‘Can’t you just answer me normally?’ said Charles.

‘Just read a book,’ said Sarah.

‘No,’ said Charles. It was like Sarah was deliberately being really lazy. ‘We don’t even read the same sorts of books. You read girls’ books and I read boys’ books.’

 

‘You’re being lazy,’ said Charles.

‘But reading isn’t lazy,’ said Sarah. ‘It’s got words in it, so it’s harder than films except foreign films.’

‘Do some cleaning instead,’ said Charles.

‘No,’ said Sarah. It was so emotional and a bit powerful but not much.

 

Sarah leant over the back of the sofa and carried on reading Angel while she didn’t do any cleaning.

‘Why don’t you help me with the cleaning?’ said Charles. ‘This place is such a tip.’

‘Can’t be bothered.’ Sarah kept on reading the book.

Sarah was reading and Charles was cleaning, so it was quite quiet.

Charles was quite annoyed with Sarah, but she didn’t care.

Charles put on a song. He went over to the stereo, plugged in his phone, and played a song called ‘Free to Love Again’.

‘Er, actually, babe,’ said Sarah. ‘I don’t actually want that song to be like played anymore.’ She was lying; that is like how crafty she was.

‘But I like it,’ said Charles.

‘Turn it off,’ said Sarah.

It was like a really good song. Katie Price was so good at like singing as well as properly writing.

‘Turn it off,’ said Sarah.

‘What?’ said Charles.

‘I hate it,’ said Sarah.

‘You hate it?’ said Charles. ‘I don’t really understand how you can hate it.’

‘Why is that confusing?’ said Sarah.

‘But you really like Katie Price,’ said Charles.

‘So. I hate that song. It’s just the worst,’ said Sarah.

‘You’re wrong,’ said Charles.

‘How can I be wrong?’ said Sarah. ‘It’s my opinion.’

‘I don’t care. I like “Free to Love Again” and I’m going to play “Free to Love Again”,’ said Charles.

Sarah like got up and switched the song off. She clicked a button on the CD player and ended the music. It was like so powerful and totally emotional, just like when women first got the votes from men.

Charles went out the room, like a loser.

 

Charles spent all his time reading. He really liked reading. The book he was reading was the book called Angel. That was the book that he was reading and it was a really good book that he really enjoyed.

Charles went back to his room and read lots of Angel. Angel was a really good book by Katie Price. Cleverly, the character in Angel was called ‘Angel’, which is the same as the title of the book Angel by Katie Price which starred Angel.

Charles stopped reading and thought like really hard. He should be like a strong figure just like the character Angel from the book Angel by Katie Price which was written by Katie Price and was named the same thing as the title character

He wanted to like properly go against Sarah’s orders. He went into the living room and like switched the song back on again.

 

‘I’m fed up of all of this,’ said Sarah. ‘Do you want to like have sex with me?’

‘Yes, I do,’ said Charles.

‘I’m totally excited about this,’ said Sarah.

Then they had sex. It was properly romantic. They both really enjoyed it.

 

For the next couple of days, Sarah walked around, grinning loads.

‘What is it?’ Charles said. ‘Why do you keep grinning all the time?’ he said.

‘Isn’t it obvious?’ said Sarah. ‘Sex is good.’

Sex is good. Never a truer word spoken. It was as clear as day. It was like a proper metaphor or something. Sex is like really good.

Sex is like making real life. And if you don’t use protection that sometimes really happens.

It was like the best.

Nothing had ever made Sarah and Charles like think as much as this.

‘Oh, Sarah,’ said Charles. She opened her mouth to speak, but the words never like happened.

‘It’s okay. Don’t be afraid,’ said Sarah.

‘I am afraid,’ said Charles. ‘Our relationship’s changed a bit now, hasn’t it?’

‘Probably,’ said Sarah, romantically. ‘D’you want to do it again?’

‘Yeah.’

It was properly romantic.

They hugged lots after sex.

It vibrated through their whole bodies. When they did stuff, it was like so properly real good.

Sarah and Charles realised that they could cope.

‘I properly love you,’ said Sarah.

‘You’re well fit,’ said Charles.

‘What do we do now?’ asked Sarah.

‘I don’t know,’ said Charles. ‘I’m hungry. Let’s get food.’

‘That’s like so romantic,’ said Charles.

He wondered what to do next.

‘There’s only one thing to do next,’ Sarah explained. ‘We read.’

 

Sarah read lots more of Angel by Katie Price, which was a book by Katie Price. She picked up the book again. It was like really good.

‘Oh, Sarah,’ said Charles. Charles was sat on the chair next to the sofa. ‘I don’t want to be left alone.’

‘You aren’t alone. You never have to be alone. I am here and you are here and so we are together,’ said Sarah.

‘But I’m alone,’ said Charles

Sarah put her arm around Charles. ‘Read and you’ll never be alone,’ said Sarah. ‘Because books are written by like old and dead people.’

Sarah read loads of Angel by Katie Price. Katie Price was so good, like a prophet or Jesus or someone.

Charles picked up his book, which was the book Angel by Katie Price. It was like proper good, and probably like the best book which was ever written.

 

‘I lied,’ said Sarah.

‘What?’ said Charles.

‘Earlier, when I said I hated “Free to Love Again”. That was complete rubbish,’ said Sarah.

‘Really?’ said Charles.

‘Yes,’ said Sarah. ‘“Free to Love Again” is my favourite song ever,’ said Sarah. ‘I listen to it practically every day,’ said Sarah. ‘I was overjoyed when I discovered you liked it too, but we were blanking each other and our shared joy made me detest you more,’ said Sarah.

‘That’s all right with me,’ said Charles.

 

Sarah and Charles really enjoyed listening to ‘Free to Love Again’. It was like really good.

Sarah read lots of Angel, her favourite novel by her favourite writer, Katie Price. Charles did the same, also reading Angel by Katie Price. After five minutes of reading, Sarah and Charles put down their books, which were both the book Angel and both books were by Katie Price. Sarah and Charles looked at each other.

‘Did you enjoy?’ asked Sarah.

‘Yes. Angel is my favourite book,’ said Charles. ‘It’s my favourite. I’ve read it loads of times before.’

‘I sometimes feel like Angel is the only person I can connect to. Nobody else appears to understand me. Apart from you. But like Angel is such a good character, because she’s so real. You know what I mean? Even though she’s not real, but she like is like real,’ said Sarah.

Charles proper kissed Sarah. ‘Oh my God, babes, that’s like exactly what I was just thinking,’ Charles said.

‘Is it like really?’ said Sarah.

‘Yes, it is what I was going to say,’ said Charles.

‘I feel a properly deep connection to Angel because she’s so like me,’ said Sarah.

‘You really connect to Angel?’ said Charles.

‘Yes, I do connect to Angel,’ said Sarah.

‘Angel?’ said Charles.

‘Yes, Angel. Angel is a character,’ said Sarah.

‘As in the character Angel, from the novel Angel?’ said Charles.

‘Yes,’ said Sarah. ‘I really love you, babe. I’m reading Angel by Katie Price at the moment,’ said Sarah.

‘Yes! I love Angel. It is like my favourite book ever,’ said Charles.

Angel is my favourite book, apart from What Katie Did Next, which I don’t think counts as a book because it’s not a book,’ said Sarah.

Charles was like properly in love with Sarah. It was like so romantic! ‘Oh, Sarah!’ he said romantically in a romantic way.

‘Charles! I love you. If only we had like known earlier that we had this weird connection,’ said Sarah.

‘This is like properly surreal,’ said Charles.

Sarah was like properly excited. ‘Really? You like Angel?’

‘Yes. It’s excellent. Why?’ said Charles.

‘I like Angel. It’s what I was just reading.’ Sarah picked up the book she’d just put down and showed the cover. The cover said the title of the book Angel.

 

Angel

by Katie Price

 

Charles took the book out of her hands. ‘That’s like proper pretty.’

‘I read it for the first time a few months ago. It was like really good. When I first read it, I thought it was about people in love. Now I read it, I feel like it’s about being in love. It’s like so different.’

‘That’s like so psychological!’ said Charles. ‘You’re like Frederick Socrates!’

‘Do you ever find you read a book differently on the second run through?’ said Sarah.

‘I rarely have the opportunity to read a book more than once, so I don’t have the experience,’ said Charles.

‘You should read more,’ said Sarah. ‘Spend more time with Angel.’

‘I would love to spend more time with Angel. She’s my bit in Angel.’

‘You like Angel?’

‘Oh, Sarah,’ said Charles. ‘Angel is not just what makes Angel like really good. Angel is Angel.’

‘I had no idea you were into Angel or like any Katie Price books!’ said Sarah.

‘Yeah, it’s well good,’ said Charles.

‘Isn’t it like so good?’ said Sarah.

‘Yeah, it’s proper good,’ said Charles.

‘Yeah, I really thought it was quite properly good,’ said Sarah.

Sarah and Charles sat in silence for a bit. Then they listened to ‘Free to Love Again’. It was still really properly good. They both loved listening to ‘Free to Love Again’.

‘Who’s this playing?’ said Charles.

‘It’s Katie Price,’ Sarah said.

‘Is it?’ said Charles. He did not know that it was Katie Price that was playing.

‘Yeah, it really is,’ said Sarah.

‘That’s well cool,’ said Charles.

I can’t believe I’ve only known you two days,’ said Sarah.

 

 

Novel C

 

The rest is posthumous. – Ted Hughes, 1963

 

1953

Why did it have to be this summer? This summer, oh God? When they burnt the Rosenbergs alive in their shells and the crust was more life than I knew or would know.

I can’t be this iron colossus I’m expected to be. This endless, shapeless being devoid of emotions but motherhood and chastity. Starless and fatherless, my heaven waits ahead.

I made another attempt at life that year. They never ended. They moved on forever. Most make attempts at death, but I’m certain mine shall be an attempt at life. If there is anything in the world, it doesn’t reside in this universe.

All morning the morning had been blackening in mourning, and I slipped, delicate and ivory into the American dream, the warm bath in winter with the razor which defined me. My only friend, that which removed my natural hair and preserved me as the figurehead of conformity. But I must. I must shave every area to make myself beautiful. Supposedly so men may love me, but I hold no interest in contorting my body into the American dream, sick and unrecovering.

That razor blade, that overcast morning, gave me the near-substantial (which is more than I can wish for) relief of entering the glorious realm beyond life and death.

Until, that is, I was found. My ‘friends’ who would not let me have the only thing I wanted pulled me out that bathtub, wiped the blood from what they called my life and body and threw me back into that hell, my broken body the nine dark Alps I had never seen since I cried myself blind in childhood over the years I would never have.

These ‘friends’ I had never truly seen in all their viciousness. What sane creature demands the impossible of a corpse?

And threaten to let me through to a heaven when all I desire is hell? No I, though I am hardly appropriate for the role, I demand the perfect bliss of endless nothingness. If there is an afterlife, I shall be disappointed in the knowledge that my completion will never be done.

Like the cat I have nine times to die. I wish death upon myself endlessly, yet still it never will arrive. I am trapped in this body I could not want.’

Dying is an art like everything else. Perhaps I should embrace it and work on my technique. This was a way to explore my depression. Literature could be my vice.

Perhaps it would be my way to develop a new art. Writing could be my full art. I could die in my writing.

 

Aurelia, come back to me. Recover my body from the wreck of my life and throw it away to the sea, so the high heavens may see me drown in one eternal exit.

 

1954

This is the year when I begin to get better. I have resolved that depression is simply not worth it.

Obviously, I never meant to be depressed. Obviously, I want happiness. But my suicide attempts can never happen again. Not if I could have a happy life. Not if I can have a happy life.

I know nothing about who I am or where I’m going. I know only that I am alive and will stay that way.

 

 

1955

Hear the crickets chirping

In the dewy grass.

Bright little fireflies

Twinkle as they pass.

 

That’s my greatest ever poem. From when I was eight. Everything since has been a misguided, depressing distraction. Hear the crickets chirping. Birds, bees, spring, fall, all those subjects which are absolute gifts. Then adulthood rapes the mind and steals away true beauty, true passion.

Isn’t nature wonderful? And now I’m no longer there. I am outside the universe, waiting to be removed from limbo and taken to heaven, hell or – best of all – silence.

Daddy, you died shortly after I heard the crickets chirping in the dewy grass.

 

At university, I studied everything I could. I sought out fact and opinion wherever I could. I took courses in French, Botany, Art, Government, History, Russian Literature, and of course, English, my major. I was an aspiring writer, but that was never a job. My occupation was cleaning— vegetable picking— nanny— waitress (or waiter, as it should be)— everything. Everyone I met made it into a story. Everyone I became made it into a poem.

From ‘55 until ‘57, I was at university again. Beautiful Cambridge, shimmering in summer, delicate crystal in winter. I was between – a delicate crystal who shimmers – the autumnal leaf nearing my fall.

By the time I graduated, I was already married to dear Ted.

 

1956

I met Ted as a Fulbright scholar in February. On June 16th we married. June 16th killed me. And February never helps. Ted’s profession was ‘writer’; mine merely ‘student’.

A Yorkshire man who knew the countryside better than he knew his heart. A beautiful man, with his dashing English looks, his keen wit and his mind the endless source of wonder and insight.

When I finished my final year of education – but never the end of learning – Ted taught at a local school, his rough Yorkshire ways chafing the delicate winter minds of children and turning the learning urchins into china poets.

The Cambridge sons and daughters must never have suspected a Ted of Yorkshire birth would teach them how to rhyme, how to make metaphor and simile, how to alliterate and reiterate, and all the time, Ted shook his head at mistakes and carried on teaching. He was a great teacher, but not the classically Cambridge Great One.

He can talk a foul phrase; that mouth made to do violence on.

Through portico of our elegant house he would stalk. I stalk like a rook, brooding the winter throughout, gaunt hemlock prickling my heels as I rush away from that which I desire. The panther’s tread is on the stairs.

 

We made a departure to Benidorm. No runaway train to another world, just a lost weekend of summer. No shimmer like Cambridge, but enough beauty and feeling to make me write those poems, those colossal poems, though I had no idea where or when they would end up.

In October, the BBC called him forth. He was drawn into London for a reading of Yeats’s poetry. I was still unpublished, unregarded, unfertilised. That was where I found my loss. I am alone in my love for my own writing.

 

1957

My darling house in Cambridge. Stunning Cambridge, with its quaint view over my beloved Cam. The Cam moves slowly, being a mere tributary of the Great Ouse. It moves slowly and I see life gently flowing by. I love my mother Cambridge.

We inhabit a strange world, Ted and I. Poetry written on the sides of used toilet roll tubes. Verse on the back of shopping lists, so every trip schedule reads: ‘Petals boat ants along the stream/Iceberg lettuce’ and ‘Bent double, waiting for compassion/Feta cheese’.

I was sat in the armchair the whole year. I was sat reading. The man I loved before Ted. Jack Kerouac, oh, Jack Kerouac. We are on the road together, vaulting over streams and fields and downs and depressions and mood swings and discomfort. Ted came into the room and kissed me.

‘Ted,’ I said, ‘have you ever read On the Road?’

‘No,’ he said in his smooth Yorkshire brogue. ‘Is it any good?’

‘It’s the best.’

‘If it’s the best for you, I’ll read it.’

We bought him a copy. A beautiful shiny book, from the bookshop on the corner of our street. We stepped out into the daylight, wincing at the sun, and looked down towards the Cam.

‘Shall we read outside?’ asked Ted, before my lips could beat him.

‘Yes.’

We found a soft spot on the grass on the banks of the Cam. Ted lay down and started reading On the Road. I lay perpendicularly to him, with my head resting on his side.

 

‘I’m not feeling too well,’ I announced after some time.

Ted ignored me. For the first time in our marriage, he ignored me.

‘Ted.’

‘What?’

‘I’m not feeling too well.’

‘Can’t you see I’m reading.’

I could see he was, but I needed him. ‘I’m really not okay.’

‘Can’t you take a paracetamol?’

He can be unresponsive when he wants to be.

The real Ted, the one in my mind, would have said, ‘No, do go on.’ This is not what the physical Ted said.

‘I guess I won’t bother you.’

I remained silent as he continued reading his book.

 

In June, we were scatterbrained, lost, distributed between the worlds of Europe and America. We left Cambridge for Yorkshire, then left Yorkshire for Southampton, then left Southampton for New York, then left New York for Wellesley, then left Wellesley for Cape Cod. By August, we were living in central England’s Northampton, me teaching at Smith College and bleeding poetry in the candlelit evenings.

Rosebud, knot of worms, the tightness of my stomach. I had never longed for success. I had longed for happiness, and never found it. I wanted to be poor and merry with Ted or rich and successful, or poor and loved.

Ted was gaining success. Everyone wanted to read his latest poems. They’d cry to have him speak them. And nobody wanted me. That was what my life was to be.

 

1958

I try not to bother Ted, because he’s so involved with his books. He spends so long at universities, schools and libraries, reading, writing, teaching for hours and hours after work has finished.

‘How are you, honey?’ I asked when he returned home. He just mumbled something gruffly and wandered through to sit in front of the television.

‘Shall I just leave you here?’

He didn’t respond, so I just left him there.

In my room, I spent some time perusing my bookshelf. It was filled with all the wonderful books I collected over the years. It was still there. My own, personal copy of On the Road. Kerouac’s classic.

I laid on my bed and picked up On the Road. I opened it for the third time (well, I open it to stroke its pages all the time, but this is a new complete reading).

It gets more beautiful with each time. I am spreading layer upon layer onto Kerouac’s work.

 

We spend spring in Massachusetts, scattered again through the ether. April takes us to Harvard before we head back, where we read, inform, teach, yet always, always people see Ted the poet and me the housewife.

How is it being married to a poet? they all say, not caring for the response. Perhaps they should ask Ted. He’s married to a poet.

August takes us back to the BBC to read more of Ted’s poems. I am still unpublished, though I’ve written substantially more than him and mostly of a higher quality.

 

When we end up in Boston, I take the time to indulge in reading again. My favourite works are the only thing which takes my mind from depression, and I love to live in beautiful worlds beyond.

We spent our time sat around, reading The Tempest, me composing ‘Full Fathom Five’, and Ted working on his own stuff. I finished The Tempest quickly enough, and turned back to On the Road as quickly as I could, my relief on a down day.

I couldn’t tell if Ted hated On the Road or not, but he interrupted my many rereadings of it. That was when he wanted me, not any other time, only when I began to read On the Road.

‘Sylvia,’ he said. ‘Sylvia, I need a word.’

It’s only ever when he needs something that he talks to me.

‘Sylvia, I need something.’

I continued to read.

‘Sylvia.’

In my own time, I find a break, an even point in my book to split off and return to reality.

‘Sylvia, I’ve had a bad day.’

I looked at him over the top of my Kerouac. ‘I’ve had plenty of bad days, yet you never listen to me.’

‘I really need a talk, Sylvia.’

‘What is it?’

‘Why do you love Kerouac?’

‘What?’

‘Why do you love Kerouac?’ Ted asked. ‘You spend so long in that book, reading over and over again. Why?’

‘Because it’s beautiful. Kerouac is beautiful.’

Ted laid back on the grass, intrigued by my reading an author. It enthused him, perhaps, to imagine someone looking into books more successful than their own.

‘What would you do if you met him?’ asked Ted.

‘If I met Kerouac?’

‘Yeah. What would you do with him?’

‘I’d probably have a chat and tell him I like On the Road.’

‘Really? Nothing more?’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘Well, I thought you’d mess around a bit.’

‘Of course not. I’m yours,’ I said, kissing Ted. ‘Have I passed the test?’

Ted didn’t have much more to say.

 

1959

Ted spends much of his time sucking a lollipop. I can’t abide by it. He sucks his lollipop like the overgrown child he is. I watch, like a keeper reviewing an ape, but have nothing to say.

I haven’t the time today for Ted nor for his lollipop. My heart is on creation and my mind is on fire.

Of course, I can survive on my own. I am an accomplished poet of my own right, despite what some might say.

Just me and my mind. It would be bliss. Or a nightmare. I gave it a go, the old college try.

I looked at Ted. He looked back at me. ‘Are you all right?’

‘I’m down, Ted.’

He put down his book. ‘What’s wrong?’

‘One of your friends asked me what it’s like to be married to a poet.’

‘And what did you say?’

‘Ted, I am a poet.’

‘I know you’re a poet.’

‘Then why doesn’t the world know?’ I shouted.

‘Sylvia, you’re a beautiful artist. You don’t need anyone else to verify that.’

‘It may be greedy, but I’d still like some recognition to make me feel the love I deserve.’

Ted had no words, and no actions other than sleep. I lusted after the sleep as he had it. An endless abyss, which he voluntarily wakes up from in a heavy break each morning. I wouldn’t be foolish enough to wake.

 

‘I can’t sleep,’ I told him.

‘Neither can I,’ whispered Ted. ‘Just relax and read a book.’

I groaned and sighed in one painful bundle. ‘Why do you never talk to me any more?’

‘I am talking to you.’

‘You aren’t really talking to me. You’re ignoring the question, brushing me off.’

‘I’m being serious,’ Ted said in another dismissive tone. ‘Sit down and read a book.’

‘I need to talk to you. I need you to be there for me.’

From here, I desperately needed to relax. I headed through to my bedroom, and once more picked up On the Road. My favourite, a work perpetually able to take my to the land which I so desperately needed to travel to.

I cried that night because I knew I would die. Even if I could stop I depression, I would never be able to prevent I body from crumbling into mortality.

I looked back at Kerouac’s words. They were the only consolation now.

 

It was at this point that I disappeared. The saviour that was Kerouac led me into a deadly realm of freedom.

A gentle, modest saviour. He would not help me indefinitely, but he allowed me the freedom to exist in my very own abstract world. I could now be beyond human understanding. I was finally free, but only for a short while.

On the Road was simply perfect. No other book allows for such free emotion.

 

In the lounge, Ted was stretched out across the sofa, nose deep in On the Road still.

Meanwhile, Ted had no idea what my thoughts were. He had no idea how angry I was. He had no idea I had been suffering from depression more powerfully than any point in the previous decade.

I was disillusioned. My mind was all over the place. And Ted paid no attention, instead choosing to read his book. I didn’t know or care what book he was reading. I didn’t ask. I needed attention. I needed serious help. As soon as possible.

 

1962

I have realised why they call it labor. I am in labor. After months upon months of walking like a watermelon on ivory, the day has come when I must receive my child unto the world.

And when he arrives, it is the happiest moment of my life. For a blissful eternity, all the hatred and fear in the world fades away as I gaze longingly at the innocent, carefree life I have brought into the world.

Nicholas, my precious baby, lies gently in my arms. Free temporarily from the woes of the world. In 47 years, he will kill himself.

 

Blasted Ted! Ted, you scoundrel! With a student? With one of your own students? Ted, you blasted scoundrel, how could you?

I looked at him, my scathing glares cutting shards into his face. But he doesn’t care. He just pretends that nothing has ever happened. He sat down on the sofa, comfortable as the womb, and started to read his paper.

‘What do think you’re doing?’ I asked angrily. I didn’t want to, but I couldn’t hold it in.

‘I’m reading,’ he said in his typical attempt at wit. ‘It’s a concept you may or may not be familiar with.’

I wasn’t having any of it. Not today. Not after what he had done.

‘I’m familiar with reading,’ I said, littering my every word with excess spite. ‘What I’m not familiar with is sleeping around.’

Ted sat up in shock. ‘Who’s sleeping around?’

‘There is work to be done. I can’t stand timewasting.’

‘What are you talking about?’ Ted growled.

‘You. I know you’re unfaithful.’

Ted looked down sadly, with some remorse but not enough. There could never be enough remorse. ‘So you found out about Assia and me?’

That was too much. I collapsed into the chair and started crying my eyes out.

‘I’m so sorry, Sylvia.’

‘Who’s Assia?’ I screamed.

‘You said you knew.’

‘I knew about you and that college tart! I didn’t know there was one with a name.’

‘Oh.’

‘Who’s Assia?’

‘She’s another woman.’

I sank to tears, hating myself for my own depravity. From the beacon of independent hope I had once been, I had now married a man who didn’t know the meaning of respect. ‘Why does there have to be another woman?’

 

1963

On the Road had the perfect characters. The isolated Sal. The lone man, travelling the road to explore his own being.

I am Sal. I am the lone traveller, meandering my way from one place to another. Nowhere is my home and no time is now.

I looked over towards Ted, sat in the corner of the room, uncomfortable in our old armchair, but content to read his book. I didn’t care what book it was any longer. He had long since forgotten I ever persuaded him to read On the Road.

He had long since forgotten I had spoken to him. He rarely remembered anything of our time together. It scarcely mattered to him.

His thoughts remained on Assia. Some days he didn’t come home at all.

 

Victoria Lucas, I adore your discomfort. Embrace me in your celestial non-presence. Take me away to the world where you exist. Victoria Lucas, I am you, but you are not me.

 

Why did it have to be that summer? Ten years ago, when they burnt the Rosenbergs.

 

Now of my threescore years and ten,

Twenty will not come again.

— Lies, oh lies! You treacherous Housman, your days were not numbered until you made it to immortal.

 

‘The narrator is not the writer’ — lies! More lies! I am the artist, and how can I separate my dying mind from my letters. My letters are me. My letters are always me! My words perpetually cry out my name.

A. E. Housman, you lie! You were not threescore years and ten, but 77 years to live. I had not the time nor the patience.

 

After some time, Ted was forced (or at least believed himself forced) into ending the reading session. He ran out of time. He had writing to do.

Ted placed down the book and looked around the room. He needed to find a pen, and jot down all his thoughts as poetry, or what passed for poetry after my death.

He had some time to jot down his fleeting notes. However, they could never match up to his carefree days he should have spent caring for his many loves.

 

In these recent times, I had barely spoken to my once-beloved Ted.

Assia – the horrifying other woman will not go away. She has full control over the man these days. Ted is no longer my own.

I looked across at him in his armchair. In that moment, I despised him. For many years I had desired to take my life. And for many years I had been holding back because of Ted and the kids. If we had never brought the kids into this world, I would have gladly cut my throat in front of his eyes. I could have died then and there.

 

Then it happened. I took my life into my own hands, and took my life at my own hands.

Taping pillows and bedding around Nicholas and Frieda’s bedroom door, I put the gas on without the ignition, and jammed my head into the oven, using the small door as a welcome entrance into a new world, or (hopefully) none at all.

On February 11th 1963, I was pronounced dead.

 

1964

There were pressing issues, thought Ted. There is life to be lived. People have died in my place. I shan’t let their lives go in vain.

I – the unseen spirit of Sylvia Plath – tell him to go on. I tell him to live where I could not. To find the happiness I rarely saw. To enjoy life. As usual, I am not heard.

Ted had yet to discover that there was more to do in the world than reminisce.

There were things to do other than just sit around and indulge in literature. Novel was just a book. There was life to be lived.

There was more to life than On The Road. There was more to death than Sylvia Plath. Ted felt he must move on.

 

1965

My ghostly apparition filled his brain. My memory reminded him that there were things to be doing whilst he sat there reading. Why wouldn’t he take notice of the world around?

‘Don’t be daft, Sylvia,’ Ted said to my isolated concept. ‘I can read when I want to.’

Isn’t there anything you want to remember about me? the thought in Ted’s head suggested.

Ted continued to read, ignoring this thought. His mind should be at peace with Literature.

Literature once meant you could learn, I said. It used to mean developing the mind and soul. Now it was a break from reality for Ted.

 

1966

Ted thought back into his memories. He drifted back into the thoughts he had lost. He dug up old ideas for new conversations.

‘The best romances are unrequited,’ Sylvia had remarked, many years earlier. ‘Think The Great Gatsby. A perfect couple, and passionate because they could never be wed.’

‘The private matters of couples aren’t to be shared,’ Ted agreed. ‘A book about a couple would never work. Romance behind closed doors isn’t a story, but romance revealed in a cardinal sin.’

‘Unrequited love in literature has an air of beauty particular to writing. Nobody really wants to read about the couple that went well. They say they want to read that, but not really.’ Sylvia looked back at On the Road. ‘I think that’s why I find it so wonderful in On the Road. There is no Hollywood romance in the book. There is just the reqal life of real people.’

 

1967

They’ll call this one the summer of love. Maybe they have already. Maybe no-one ever really did. But they’re wrong anyway. There is no love here.

I was already dead, observing Ted from my plinth.

Even Assia, whom I hated so much in life, would soon follow my lead into death.

 

1968

These were sad days. A bleak point between my death and Assia’s. Goodness knows much pain she must have been going through.

 

1969

Assia. Poor, poor Assia. Although I hate her for what she did, for taking Ted away from me and taking my life, I cannot help but see her as a victim, too. We too are both victims of Ted.

Assia lived with Ted. A live-in lover. A full-time partner. And she became cursed by the man who had cursed me. Then one day it became too much. Evidently I was an inspiration to her.

There was no bread and milk for her children. The baby Shura went with her, totalled when she could only toddle.

March 23rd. Another death date for the calendar. Even Kerouac had drunk himself to death. Perhaps death was the way of life.

 

1970

Ted spent his life devoted towards reproducing the same experience. The glee of enjoying great literature was all that he desired.

In his mind, he was distracted. His time with Sylvia would never be forgotten. How he’d neglected her could never be forgiven.

I could never bear to see a man idly blow his time away. There are so many things a man can do if he puts his time to it. The notion of wasting it in petty concerns would have made my dad sick.

‘What you doing?’ I asked. The arrogance of Ted to sit there idly flicking through a book while I spent my time cleaning the house and cooking his food. How had it come to the point where I was a meaningless housewife? I had become the drone I hated. The lifeless shell of the American Dream.

Ted had a way of speaking back to me where he could convey the cruellest disregard with no effort at all. When an American man speaks with spite, the hatred and dismissal is clear, abrupt. When a Yorkshireman wants to show he does not care, he makes it clear that he real does not care. ‘I’m reading,’ Ted muttered simply and dispassionately. ‘That’s what I want to do.’

‘I know you’re reading.’ Ted really was so foolish to think that I could not see what he was doing. ‘I’m well aware of that. But do you have to be so painfully rude about it?’

‘Rude?’

‘You’re being lazy. Completely lazy.’

‘Lazy?’

‘Oh, stop it. Shut up about

‘Who’s lazing around?’

 

1971

1971, a new year, a new fame. Crossing the Water comes this way, a work I had never planned. And Ted, what do you say to that? Where have you brought these images from? Ted, you who killed me have given me life. Crossing the Water is not me; it is broken pieces of my broken mind rearranged to make a new heart and thinking brain for the Sylvia suicide doll you drew like a phoenix-slave from the dead thought-fox I once knew myself to be.

 

1972

Two lovers down, and all Ted could do was read. He spent his time idly sitting in his room, reading. He never knew what to read. All the world of literature, one of the great poets, and still Ted was out of ideas.

Then an old thought came to him. About a current prolific writer who wrote endless tales of his travels. It was Jack Kerouac, a favourite of Sylvia since she studied under his friend Robert Lowell.

Ted tucked himself away in the corner of the lounge where his favourite armchair sat.

In his mind, he had the vision of Sylvia wandering the house, in her manic thoughtful way. She pranced this way and that, a sporadic fox. The creature that was the wild Sylvia crashed around the kitchen, then the spirit of her memory transformed back into a human.

Ted returned to reading his book. On the Road. It brought back unwanted memories of years earlier. In the vision, he was lying on the banks of the River Cam with On the Road in his hands and mind. Sylvia was talking

How painful that memory was now. How horrible it was to know he could have asked anything he wanted. The thoughts rushed back to him, even the simplest things. How are you doing today, Sylvia? Are you enjoying the weather? How many times have you read On the Road?

Now he would never know.

Ted Hughes, as he existed then, realised that all his questions would never be answered. No matter who he met, he would never care. He only wanted to ask the views of Sylvia.

 

1973

Ted wandered around the room, glaring at every spot he stepped into. Inevitably, he could not stand the silence any longer.

He went to the record player and began to listen to music.

As he was beginning to enjoying the music, he realised a sudden guilt. Why was this? Where had the feeling come from?

Then he remembered when he’d listened to the song many years ago. Sylvia had said, ‘I’ve never liked this song.’

And now that memory was back. He switched off the song. He couldn’t bear to listen to it. Not after remembering Sylvia’s disdain.

He replaced the LP on the record player with a recording of Jack Kerouac reading his poetry.

He couldn’t go on like this. Not feeling sorry for himself as he stayed inside his empty house.

 

1974

Ted realised what he had to do. He stepped out of his house. He wandered around Cambridge. He truly looked at the place as he had never examined it in many years.

This was a walk around Cambridge to revitalise his appreciation of the place. This was a calming walk he desperately needed to have. He had avoided this walk for a while.

He needed to get back to his own mind. He had ignored it for so long.

 

1975

Ted wandered into the kitchen of his quaint cottage Alone again, with two lovers gone, two children asleep, and the infant Alexandra somewhere between the two. His silent heart led him in the late hours of darkness towards his wearing teapot. It had been bought in his teenage years at Cambridge University, when he first discovered the lust for tea; the dark treasures of silent night-times in the kitchen; the innocence of the private tea-making ritual unique to ever drinker. The spotted blue and white paint was peeling off, to show an ancient and rusting ginger metal.

 

1976

Play my favourite track, Ted.

He knew which one it was. He went to the record played and moved the needle to ‘American Haiku’.

As Jack Kerouac’s ghostly voice read aloud his poetry. His gentle, lilting voice told the past in hauntingly neutral, dispassionate tones.

‘It’s beautiful, Sylvia,’ Ted moaned to himself. ‘You were beautiful.

 

1983

Ted sat back sadly in the old chair he had always known and loved. He placed the recording of Jack Kerouac reading his poetry onto his gramophone and picked up his copy of On the Road.

‘A raindrop from/ the roof/ Fell in my beer,’ spoke the radio, the words of Jack Kerouac calling out from the now-distant grave of 1969.

His harsh, raspy tone was now pained and unforgiving after years of neglect, though the sound itself had of course never changed.

 

1993

‘How are you today, Sylvia?’ Ted stared out at my memory, scorched by red sun.

‘I’m alone.’

‘Don’t be alone,’ he said hopelessly.

‘I’ve started to read.’

‘You’ve always liked to read,’ I mentioned.

‘I mean really read. A particular novel you used to like.’ Ted picked up my battered copy of On The Road.

My ghost smiled. ‘So you finally came to like On The Road?’

‘Yes. It’s excellent.’

My haunting image smiled a faint reassurance. ‘You’ve read it before, of course.’

‘Yes, I did.’ Ted seemed happy more at the memory than he had been at the time. ‘All those many years ago, on the banks of the river Cam.’

He put down the book and I saw the white letters on black of the front page of On the Road.

‘I like On the Road. It’s Kerouac at his best.’

I patiently whispered from the kitchen, ‘You never liked him in his lifetime.’

‘I’m old and bored of life. Ghosts are the only interesting people.’

Ted looked fondly at the now-classic copy of Kerouac’s words. In his life, Mr Kerouac was regarded simply as a drug-addled hippy with no artistic value. Now he was one of the greats, sitting alongside Fitzgerald and Twain as creators of the Great American Novel.

Ted’s copy was a new edition, with a fancy decorative cover. So unlike the cheap paperback we bought in Cambridge so many years ago. On the front cover:

 

On the Road

by Jack Kerouac

 

A noble declaration, or perhaps a eulogy. The words appeared as though written on a gravestone. Fitting, since the great writers of the fifties were so rapidly dying.

My ghost – the spiritual voice of Sylvia Plath – muttered my adoration for that book. Ted knew and said the same.

 

1998

As he lay on his deathbed, Ted compiled all his final thoughts. The summation of years of passion and regret.

Birthday Letters – his final say on all the world. His request for forgiveness. A sad sigh as his last breath left the world.

 

 

Novel D

 

The so-called main room of Cleopatra’s house was adorned with an ancient wooden table. While this description might commonly be used in fiction to mean a historic Oak diner, the table in Cleopatra’s house was almost completely different.

Quite to the contrary, this was a standard kitchen or dining room table acquired from towards the end of the 20th century. Bought at a reduced-price, high-quality market many years before it arrived at Cleopatra’s house, the table had been passed through numerous hands, most of which at some point stained the furniture.

The ‘high-quality’ in the description referred of course to the longevity of the product. Truthfully enough, the table still performed its necessary function on four legs every day of 2014, as it had done since it was constructed many decades earlier. The durability provided in the creation of such a simple table was clearly admirable; this work effort was all the more admirable for the poor appeal of the table; for some creator to make such a standard table with such a long-lasting build was certainly worthy of praise.

In terms of aesthetic appeal, however, the item was distinctly lacking. When constructed, the dining space was the one blank colour of cheap wood. But for the uneven layout of the formative tree’s rings, there was no noticeable pattern or texture to the product. By the time it arrived in the possession of Cleopatra, however, it had the very clear pattern of a long time spent in use but with no care.

Cleopatra had forcibly explained her ‘Bohemian’ lifestyle to the friend (a friend whom, in the minutes it took to divulge Cleopatra’s personality, rapidly became an acquaintance, and who now listed Cleopatra as a stranger), and commented that this worn-down table perfectly suited the atmosphere she hoped to create in her home.

When the table arrived in Cleopatra’s house, it had merely been marked by rings of condensation – the result of many years of cool glasses left without coasters – and a few misplaced brush strokes by an aspiring painter. In the view of the original owner, this table was ruined. By the night of December 31st 2014, however, this initial state of acquisition by Cleopatra was factory freshness; over the years and across the parties, drinks of every colour in the rainbow had been spilt across the surface, and the stains had reached the intensity and concentration that any sign of the pale brown of the wood which lay underneath seemed out of place.

The table had a few puncture wounds, of course, from the nearby dart board. Though nobody would deny the two items were near each other, the proximity was not sufficient to justify collision. By this ratherly scholarly description, spectators can attempt to dismiss the fact that it was simply year of dangerous clumsiness as the cause of dart-holes in a former dining table.

The darts board itself was so chipped and perforated that the original markings were unclear, and were anyone to play darts any more, there would surely be debate into where the boundaries for each score zone were.

Cleopatra hoped that somebody may mistake the board for a Jackson Pollack painting, round and observant from her wall. Nobody ever did, but this belief was what kept Cleopatra going some days when there was no company to be seen.

Of course, Cleopatra was far from the sort of person to pretend she had these thoughts. It was her perceived personality that she lived on the whim of the moment, never thinking or caring about how she may be construed. She spent more time dwelling on how people might engage with her persona than anyone who met her ever did engage with her persona.

In the minds of many of Cleopatra’s admirers, she was a somewhat ditzy woman. The art Deco of long-extinct rocker bar rooms betrayed, she felt, a sense of individual expression her friends (or perhaps patrons) could only dream of. In actuality, visitors to get house frequently looked down on her apparent lack of adult development.

In advance of any social gathering, it is customary for the host to examine the designated partying area to spot for any failures in presentation.

For example, a woman who has organised a party in her living room would ordinarily rush around frantically in an attempt to clear up any mess: any pieces of rubbish lying around would be binned; stains would be cleaned if possible or covered up if not;

Instead of this cleansing ritual, Cleopatra devoted herself into dirtying her house anew. It was the centrepiece of her aesthetic that the building was unclean.

 

Maria was a 34-year-old Londoner who had made her way ‘up north’ (but in reality almost exactly in the centre of England) in the hope of finding a tranquil, pastoral retreat; only when she arrived did she discover her friends thought of Fichleke as the centre if the world, and London as a distant replica, in the same way Las Vegas recreates cities in hotels, and filmmakers poorly adapted well-known works as ill-founded publicity stunts in an effort to show their own supposes depth, but really exposing the distant ignorance of so many blindering imbeciles.

Maria sometimes liked the obscurity of Fichleke; it was of vital importance that she leave the city; the sight of the so-called Big Smoke became a tiresome vision every day. The same dull world preoccupied solely with its own existence.

As is often the case with smoke, people choke on the bigness of London.

Try as they might, builders could not change London; despite the constant creation of new skyscrapers and destruction of old landmarks in the city, nothing ever really changed; the tabloid press constantly proclaimed the success of capitalism alongside lamenting the loss of a supposed utopia of Dickens’s London; in fact, it was the aim of every novel from the pen of Dickens was oppose the corruption of London and the devastation caused by the elite; the tabloids may claim that London was no longer recognisable, but in actual fact it always stayed the same.

 

The main problem Jean-Luc faced was logical incoherence.

—Notice how the revolutionary books of the past were of no importance in their own day.

Matt was baffled by this.

—There are plenty of books which were popular in their own day.

—That’s not what I’m saying. My problem is that so many books are unpopular because they’re uninteresting. Then the passage of time allows people to retrospectively claim they were representative of the time, when in that time people found them dull.

Matt had sipped a few too many pints, and was struggling to keep up with what Jean-Luc was saying; or why it was being said.

—The public are sick to death of their own time. Everybody seeks to avoid the place they’re in.

—I suppose I see your point.

—Gatsby talks about how technology is advancing. The people reading books at the time were sick to death of hearing about the problems of technology.

—But don’t you think people like social commentary?

—But it’s not social commentary. It’s all very shallow.

—Really?

—Yes. The Great Gatsby features a few references to emerging technology: the fancy cars, the intercontinental travel, and the ease of electrical commodities. But it offers no insights. It does nothing to reshape the way people think about these technologies. It’s shallow.

—So what do you want?

—All I’m saying is that books should talk in depth. Making meaningless analyses is without a serious point.

Matt was still somewhat hesitant to accept this extreme view of literature.

 

Richard and Sam, meanwhile, were engaged in a similar, but distinct debate.

—Really, we are all trapped in a rut of nostalgia.

—How do you mean?

—Everything we do is a reflection of the past.

—I see what you mean. I think it’s more about artists.

—Yes, artists always write what they know. They may try to be different, but artists invariably write what they know.

Richard was largely in agreement with Sam on this.

—And the problem with this [said Sam] is that no-one really becomes known as a writer before the age of thirty.

Richard began to think of names, when he suggested a number of writers who were known early on, Sam abruptly stated that Richard had completely missed the point.

—Take sitcoms, for example. Sitcoms are largely written by people a generation above their target.

—Really?

—People are rarely able to attain a position as a screenwriter until their thirties or forties, by which point their audience (predominantly teenagers) is a generation below them.

—What’s your point?

—They fail to accurately address the feelings and thoughts of the people they are addressing.

—I know what you mean. [said Richard] Like race problems. I’ve never seen race realistically captured on TV.

—Yes! [exclaimed Sam, thankful that somebody had finally understood one of his many ramblings]

—People who grew up in a different time always write about race in the wrong way. Almost every sitcom features an example of an uncomfortable white guy finding it impossibly difficult to talk to a black person. Growing up as a white guy, watching programs where people find it difficult to interact with non-white people, all this stuff just makes me realise a lot of comedy writers are out of touch.

—But now you and people like you have started to question whether or not it is supposed to be difficult to talk to black people. I didn’t think about people being black or white when I was younger any more than I thought about people being ginger or brunette.

Although Sam had more to say, Richard enthusiastically chipped in.

—And now I think about it all the time. I see someone who is black and their race is the first thing that pops into my head. And now, because I’ve grown up watching TV shows where everyone is uncomfortable talking to those of a different race, that’s what I think when I talk to someone of a different race.

 

The dancefloor was disappointing to any who looked into its aesthetics. Dancefloors, as a western, US-American inspired commodity, were generally supposed to be flashy stages whereupon lovers and artists could express themselves through the developed medium of body motion.

As in Saturday Night Fever, the general conception was that a dancefloor must be a large glass stage, consisting of endless tiles of glowing, underlit chunks. Since this style of dancefloor required great expense to be payed both in terms of manual labour and monetary cost, Cleopatra was unable to purchase such an advanced movement arena.

Fortunately for the dancefloor itself, should we suppose it to possess a mind of its own, none of the partiers accommodating Cleopatra’s main room were sober enough to notice its many inadequacies.

The floor was peeling, the wood would be splintering were it real and not shoddy vinyl.

There were two beaten up, broken down, stereo speakers sat hugely at the side of the formerly described dancefloor. Their small shadows covered all light from the toes of the people jiving on the edge, but went ignored as the overall dimness of the party environment allowed these small shadows to quietly blend into each other before merging with the generic darkness which encapsulated the whole area anyway.

Upon the floor stood a few drunken figures – men and women in their twenties and thirties who knew how much ethanol would get them dizzy, and drank too much anyway. They took no note of who was surrounding them.

These swaying bodies crashed carelessly into each other and battered everyone in the vicinity. Provided the victims of these clashes were sufficiently intoxicated in and of themselves, the effect of the alcohol wholeheartedly removed any problems associated, and a large collective of humans swayed and clashed and crashed with no care for how many violet bruises would erupt across their skin come morning time.

The music was inconsequential; though it was commonly claimed that the music was the reason for the dancing, the reality was quite the opposite; the music happened as an excuse for dancing.

A song emerged; words familiar to every British denizen; it was quite simply the case that in order to fully experience the turn of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, one must familiarise oneself with the music that the British public had deemed perfect.

As the drunken buffoons stood around, stuck together for fear of falling down, words of contemporary classical poetry burst forth from the edges of the room.

Don’t stop me now

Because I’m having such a good time.

I’m having a ball.

Around the time these words entered the room, every member of the house of Cleopatra had a fluid rush of neurone activity; as the familiarity of the music and lyrics combined with the lowered inhibitions from ethanol damage, the party-goers took it upon themselves to exhaust the air from their lungs in order to make apparent their knowledge of commonly played music.

All the bodies began jumping and singing to the tune of the great Freddie, crushing each other’s toes and apparently lacking in knowledge of how they were hurting themselves and each other. The only relevance was the sound, the feeling, the time that was here so temporarily and temporally, and would soon be gone.

The many reaches of the house, in the mind of Cleopatra, added to the mystery of her very existence; a dirt-soaked corner negated the need for a corner itself; either the mind figured a corner must inherently be present in order to be dirty, or else a new concept emerged; an area of the house so unimaginably different from reality that dirty was attracted towards the patch as a form of automatic metaphysical censorship.

 

—The main problem is multiculturalism.

—In what sense is that a problem?

—I’m sick to death of multiculturalism.

Richard was baffled by this proclamation; he had been raised on the doctrine that everyone should be treated equally; multiculturalism was, as far as he understood, the concept of society surviving with people from all around the world co-operating.

—Do you hate foreigners?

—No, but I’m sick of everyone talking about multiculturalism. No-one seems to know what it means And everyone seems to be talking about it.

—I wish we could just co-operate. Just look at Vaclav. He came from the Czech Republic to here and now he’s a good friend. We can get on with people across Europe.

—The EU is allowing us to move around with the freedom of the Americans.

—Do you really want to imitate the USA?

—No. The USA has its problems. We need to create a free continent with the unity of the USA and Russia but without the corruption of either nation.

—Do you think that’s really possible?

—Of course.

—But Europe’s not like that. Europe’s completely different.

—That’s only because you’ve grown up in this version of Europe that you think that. Europe could be different. Europe could be better.

—We don’t even speak the same language. We’re not like the USA.

—Maybe we should speak the same language. People in different parts of Britain used to speak differently languages, but now everyone can communicate using English.

—So you want everyone to speak Espéranto?

—No. [she said, but she wasn’t sure what language she would prefer]

 

—He’s called ‘Vaclav’? [asked Sandra] I thought it was…

She proceeded to announce her interpretation of those same vowels. Notably, she made the unintentional but controversial move of getting both sounds of the name wrong. For the former, she believed ‘Vats’ (as it was pronounced) to instead be a proclamation of an abundance of body mass; for the latter, she believed ‘slav’ to be almost identical in pronunciation, but for the last sound, which she replaced with a G.

The exchanging of a Slavic C for a TS was understandable; such was the way the Czechs pronounced Vaclav. Her other misunderstandings were not so forgivable. Quite how she mistook the letter V simultaneously for an F and a G was not so clear.

—Sandra, that’s not a very pleasant way to be talking.

—Really? [Sandra said] What’s wrong?

Sandra did not really care for Cleopatra’s response; she had consumed so much alcohol that she was in a world of her own values.

As Cleopatra and were discussing this temporary misunderstanding of Vaclav’s name, the Slav himself stepped up and said hello in the polite manner to which he was accustomed at the beginning of every sentence.

—Hello. [said Vaclav] What is it that you are talking about?

—Oh, hello, Vaclav. [said Cleopatra] We were just having a careless talk.

—What was the topic of your talk? What also made your talk careless?

—Oh, it’s nothing. [said Cleopatra, in an attempt to end the somewhat rude discussion of other houseguests; Maria had no such qualms in addressing the topic at hand, and so interrupted Cleopatra mid-sentence] We were just having a girly chat about nothing in particular…

This was the point at which Maria interrupted.

—Your name. [burst out Maria] You see, Sandra thought you were called something else.

Cleopatra saw a problem about to emerge.

—Oh, Maria, I don’t think it’s really appropriate to talk to Vaclav about this.

Maria continued anyway.

—[Vaclav asked] What did Sandra think my name was instead?

Maria foolishly told Vaclav. Against Cleopatra’s best wishes, the party had gained a sour taste owing to the presence of a misogynistic linguistic confusion.

—I am not sure what that word means. [said Vaclav]

Cleopatra hushed Maria; closing the mouths and minds of unpleasant talk was the bleak reality of an adult party; this was not a place where teenagers could throw insults around without feeling; if somebody took offense at this party, the horror stuck; the house itself would be tarnished with the memory of Maria calling Vaclav overweight and promiscuous.

—It’s not a nice word. [said Cleopatra] That’s all you need to know.

In fact, Vaclav was taken aback by this dismissal of his needs. Had he known the true meaning of the phrase for which his name had been mistaken, he may have been somewhat disheartened; but still the fear inherent to Cleopatra of her party falling apart caused her to stir up a much greater issue; Vaclav was primarily annoyed at being denied the acquisition of knowledge; albeit, insults relating to body mass and sex lives were not his primary concern; but still, his purpose in moving to Britain, besides finding work, was to advance his understanding of English culture and language; in her haste to censor the party’s linguistic discourse, Cleopatra had insulted the very person she aimed to protect.

 

As Retina ascended the staircase she heard noise of general unpleasant nature emanating from the lavatory; as was the essence of Retina’s curiosity, she could not help but take the opportunity to seize upon interest and enquire; as the woman had observed from other human beings, there was the great British tendency to ignore the concerns of those around; it was more than likely the case that attendees of the party had previously passed by this door without asking into the behaviour behind the door.

It was clear to tell what was occurring within the room; the bathroom was occupied by an unwell person expelling fluids and solids in like manner; a lot of the content in the audio sphere was the retching of a sickly stomach.

—Retina. [said Capacity Evans; this was said as though it were a question]

—Yes. [came an unpleasantly positive voice during a break from vomiting]

 

A party is a place for people to brag about the eccentricity of their allegedly radical ideas, under the guise of being an interesting individual.

—I don’t think people should be allowed to read poetry aloud.

This was one such claim. The claimant believed that making this statement openly would merit her a great deal of appreciation.

This was when another partygoer came up to her and refuted this belief through their own personal experience.

—I watch poetry online.

—Really?

—There are endless channels on YouTube of people reading their passionate lyrics in a way that makes me want to cry, die and fly.

—Do you like that poetry, then?

—I hate it.

—Do you like that you hate it?

—I hate it because the audience claps. I hate that people sit there watching a figure reading their suicide note on stage, and then have the audacity to applaud. I want to be there, in the room, as Neil Hilborn screams that he hates me; and then – when the poem ends – we’ll sit in silence as he glares all the evils in the world into my eyes and I offer him a hug, which he never accepts or rejects.

 

—I can’t use an internet browser properly.

—Why not?

—I never close a tab; I only open new ones endlessly.

—Why do you call it an internet browser? Most people just say a browser.

—I have to say the full title, otherwise you won’t believe me.

—I do believe you.

—I don’t believe that you would believe a word I say.

 

—I don’t read books by men.

—Why not?

—Because reading is so intimate, I can’t enjoy the voice of a writer I wouldn’t want to make love to.

—You’re a lesbian?

—I’m a realist. I’ve heard about heterosexual relationships, and they never seem to work out. They all have affairs on the side, with filthy secrets, and the illusion of life in their passionlessly demising eyes as their stare at their supposed lovers closing the door with the romantic goodbye which is really a knife in everyone’s back.

—But don’t you believe in love?

—Oh, I believe love is the only truth in the universe. But it’s so painfully rare in If there’s even a slim chance you might cheat, there can never be love. Love – the unbreakable, artful love – the ultimate force. I believe in love, but I’m not sure if it’s happened yet.

 

During the winding thoughts of the night, Lisa had the most absurd dream.

In her dream, she was wanted. She was beloved by all those around her. She was the source of gluttony at human life.

Lisa imagined a world where she was the subject of Cleopatra’s attraction. Lisa imagined that she was beauty, and that Cleopatra could see into her mind. Lisa imagined that she was the only thing that occupied Cleopatra’s world and that she and Cleopatra lived in a world of their own.

 

Vaclav awoke, sprawled out on the old table. He was uncaring of the various. As he slowly regained consciousness, he looked around the room and saw only the bleak faces of his companions.

—How did you enjoy your party, Cleopatra? [he asked]

This was a question Cleopatra could never answer. How was her party? Did she get what she intended? Did she get anything?

She would never know.

 

 

Story IV

 

The question of whether or not Story II is postmodern or not is an interesting one, wrote 5. From the outset, Story I seems to be the postmodern section: the characters 1 and 2 have neither gender nor identity, and spend their time pondering in a nameless, shapeless world until the end of the piece, talking only of one text, which has no name or noted features.

They argue greatly about the one text. Though in fact they are only discussing the one work, they argue as though there were a great many differences between their reading material.

The most evident symbolism here is that of war. The blind patriotism present in Story I is never explicitly stated, but is quite clear when we analyse the content of what 1 and 2 are saying to each other. Let us review what is said:

2 looked across at 1, and all e could feel was rage. That lout, lying around, absorbed in a good book, when other people have real work to do. Real lives to live. Reality to face…

This is precisely the same attitude adopted by many soldiers entering major battles. Consider that we replace 1 and 2 not just with individual figures from history or fantasy, as is done in the Novels A to D. Consider instead that we insert the USA and Vietnam for the Vietnam War or Britain and Germany in either the First or Second World War. We could place the republicans and monarchists in many civil wars, such as in Britain in the 17th century or France in the 18th and 19th centuries. And then many countries just invade each other for the sake of nationalism. Such as Britain and most of Africa. Or the USA and around fifty other countries.

5 turned back to the portion of eir computer screen showing the document ‘Stories I and II – section III’. E scrolled up to eir point on Story I:

“Then it happened. The event which shook the foundations of their relationship and slashed the heart of the atmosphere.

“It. The great it occured.

“‘What on Earth is it?’ asked 2.

“‘Isn’t it obvious?’ asked 1, fully aware that it was not completely obvious to 2, but wanting to sound reassuring at the same time as timidly comforting. ‘It is it.’”

5 looked back at list A. It was a straightforward code to indicate how to translate (‘translate’ – e wondered whether or not this was the correct term for adding characters to a postmodern, characterless realm of non-specific meandering; e concluded it probably wasn’t; he used it anyway) Story I into Novel C. E then did so, writing:

“Then the horrific incident happened. The event which shook the foundations of Sylvia and Ted’s relationship and slashed the heart of the atmosphere.

“The telephone started ringing in Ted’s apartment. ‘I suppose I’ll have to go,’ he said, turning to kiss Assia’s forehead before he left the room. He picked up the phone and heard those dreaded words he’d always imagined but never thought possible. The worst thing imaginable had happened. The news broke Ted’s ears as it broke his heart. Sylvia had been discovered, lying out on the dirty kitchen floor, dead, with the children upstairs eating bread and butter.

“A single tear rolled down Ted’s cheek.

“‘What on Earth is it?’ asked the ghost of Sylvia, conjured up before Ted as he sank to his knees. ‘I’m dead, but I’ve been dead for a very long time.’

“‘Isn’t it obvious?’ asked Ted. ‘I know we’ve been distant. I know death can be a bleak and negative thing.’

“‘Life is negative,’ said Sylvia. ‘Death is but the beginning of something happy.’

“‘Perhaps,’ said Ted. ‘Perhaps that may be the case. But that’s not what makes me really sad. What truly and sorrowly breaks my heart is one fatal acknowledgement. Your suicide is the end of us.’”

It wasn’t perfect. 5 could always re-edit it and perfect that ‘translation’ later.

5 turned back to the document titled ‘Stories, introduction’ and returned to typing.

If a text analyses itself, what room does that leave for critics and even standard readers?

I suppose by writing this introduction to the collected ‘Stories I and II’, I am in a sense ruining the critical faculties of all the Stories’ readers. I am telling them how to think before they ever get an opportunity to think for themselves.

Perhaps this piece of writing would be best reserved for right at the end of the book. Once the Stories have been neatly compiled together alongside the Novels, this would be the perfect piece to end the collection. Plus, there is a much stronger possibility people will read it.

They get the opportunity to ignore the introduction, but not an afterword. With an afterword, there is no excuse.

Since Barthes, of course, there is infinite scope for analysis and understanding without having to go through the trivial matter of thinking about the author in eir grave.

Here 5 consciously changed topic, being as e was knowledgeable about the problems associated with slipping into Barthesian overanalysis; not that a work could be overanalysed, of course, since the nature of literature required that a work could be read in depth; but many critical essays could and did evaluate themselves to an extreme point of rendering their own meaning unclear.

Story II, however, is that which explores four novels. These Novels describe a vast expanse of time, lasting from 1914 to 2014. The significance of this century is that it extends from World War I to its centenary.

The supposed Great War was a turning point, being the painful line between classical wars where people could fight in absolute confidence they would be reborn in a postmortem utopia, and the post-Nietzschean modern wars wherein death is unclear, and so generally viewed as an endpoint to life with no certainty of an afterlife.

Story I only deals with the one novel, which they simply call ‘Novel’. That word implies ingenuity. The ‘novel’ element of Story I is Novel itself. But Story II expands this four times, opening up much greater scope for literary exploration.

However does this relate to the problems and solutions of art? wondered 5.

Of course neither of these works could achieve anything beyond the postmodern – i.e. they could never enter the realm of the postpostmodern – unless they somehow interacted with an interpretation of themselves. If a critic of both talked about the nature of being postmodern itself, then the work could be seen as postpostmodern.

Of course, then and only then would the critic’s writing have to appear within the work itself.

The issue then is who wrote the criticism? If the criticism were written by an external force (another writer or reviewer perhaps), then the work would not be postpostmodern in and of itself.

If the writer of the self-contained criticism were the writer of the rest of the book (if, in this example, we were to suppose that one person wrote all of Story I, Story II, the Novels, and the concluding self-analysis), then the complete work would undoubtedly be an example of postpostmodernism.

What the work would also be, of course, is entirely self-congratulatory. If an author wrote a highly experimental work such as that which is seen within these pages, then concluded the work by presenting an essay which described the genius of the work itself, then the whole 40,000-word piece of writing would be worthless bragging about a dull novel.

I say 40,000-word on the assumption that this work ends up being a novel rather than a novella; the popular distinction within literary and publishing circles being that 40,000 words is the cutoff point.

Where was I going with this…? thought 5.

The collected works will likely form a very short novel, told in six or seven sections.

Using Story I in conjunction with the lists and Story II, 5 was attempting to craft together the Novels imaged by the two.

Similarly to the concept of 1+1=3 explored by Modernist poets such as Ezra Pound, as well as constructivist film-makers Dziga Vertov and Eisenstein, the continual reference to Story I and Story II creates an imagined third tale. The third tale is the set of Novels which Story I becomes when it enters the world of Story II.

Of course, there are more tales present: the Novels themselves create a number of worlds, in which the characters are reading countless novels themselves.

5 decided it would be best if e tied these themes within his mind into the introduction e was currently writing.

If I exist in the same world as Stories I, II and III, then I must surely be Story IV. But, of course, I am reality. These three layers of being are below me, in the fictional. But suppose I were part of the fiction. There may be a reality beyond me, known as Story V. Then it must certainly be the case that gods (of the Greek, Norse, Roman and Hindu kinds; being uncapitalised and numerous in number and purpose) are Story VI. Extending from this, the Abrahamic God may be seen as existing within Story VII. That is not to claim some religions to be superior to others, but to suggest that the relative functionality of different overworld and afterlives leads us to believe that reality and non-reality combined may not be so simple as life and death.

Story I is life torn down to its bare bones, whilst the infinitely extending levels of Stories show us the complexity of life, then the complexity of what exists beyond our current comprehension of life.

Great, thought 5. I have not only questioned reality, but I have also created several new realities for me to question, and several gods and universes to look down upon my universe from.

Clearly Novel D is the greatest work of them all. It seems that the intention behind the writing of the first two Stories (and perhaps even the Novels A-C themselves) is to build up a reputation of mildly sour and unsatisfactory writing in order to heighten the tensions and encourage a warmer reception for Novel D.

The final part of the compiled collection presents everything we have been encouraged to long for by the earlier texts: more characters, more creativity, more conversation; but, beyond mere quantities, we also see a more in-depth analysis of the literary process; having two characters stood in a room debating the canon is the setup of a poorly constructed play; having a collection of unique characters is a finely woven charade to promote the message of ‘good’ versus ‘bad’ literature being an endless debate.

I notice increasingly that my use of semi-colons has risen dramatically since reading and writing this book in the style of Virginia Woolf.

One of the noticeable distinctions within the book is the reinterpretation of 4’s character after we read the Novels.

Upon first reading Story II, I felt 4 to be a character who preferred pleasure over meaning – almost emblematic of hedonism. Upon reading Novel B (the work she initially expressed so much love for), however, I felt my sense of respect for her reduce.

This is likely to upset some radical feminists. I’m a feminist, of course; I respect women and believe strongly in equal rights. But there are some supposed ‘feminists’ who throw a tantrum every time a woman is criticised.

Some of the female characters in this work are wholeheartedly annoying characters and deserve harsh criticism.

Of course, there are a great many male characters as well, most of whom deserve even more severe criticism. Ted Hughes is the worst culprit, alongside the ignorant James Joyce, the stupid Charles, and the arrogant men at Cleopatra’s party.

But I think it can be says that these tales on their own support a positive image of women. Virginia Woolf is the hero of the work. Even when she is not present, her influence is strongly apparent. She was a genius never fully respected in her own time.

Even now, she is never given anything more than a small fraction of the credit she deserves.

It may be the case, as they say, that universes (should that be ‘universapodes’?) splinter off each time a variable comes along. The multiverse theory suggests so. If this is the case, Story I may be seen as the Gaia universe: the initial works from which every possible variant emanates.

Not only would this make all the Novels different variations of the same story, but would make Story I one of the few unique stories in the world. Despite being fully generic, it is the starting point for every other story, and every splinter universe.

Story I is as The Odyssey: the same way Virginia Woolf and James Joyce adore and aspire to write versions of The Odyssey, so too each Novel is really a tributary form of Story I.

And what is the significance of 2014 as a year? Yes, that is the year the Stories were written, but it also marks the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. Whoever wrote this piece appears to be the sort of person itching to allude to historical events and make use of the anniversary. But, as is the case with Story I, no specific relevance can be drawn. So, as the ‘translator’ – still for want of a better word – I am obliged to draw parallels and make the figures of Novel A reference Joyce’s first book published and the Great War, as well as remarking upon the uncanny proximity between the two.

5 returned to the other document and wrote a section comparing 2014 to 1914. E then returned to eir introduction.

One of the qualities of these stories is that they were written across the span of 2014. They started to be written on January 1st 2014 and were completed on December 31st 2014. The result of this is that the writer is able to fully capture the mood of First World War memorial celebrations and/or mourning, which is subtly woven throughout the Novels.

But, of course, the project overran, so the works were finally completed the following August.

Is it possible that the writer utilises a layered postmodernist arc as a celebration of 100 years of modernism? Certainly. Stories I and II combine to create a vivid experimental and aware tale of the transition between the modernism of an attack on the traditional story structure and the postmodernist reassessment of what the reader has just read; while Novels A to D experiment with the switch from two of the most famous Bloomsbury members to the inevitable ensemble story which everyone agrees is superior.

In essence, the Stories and Novels can be seen as a celebration of modernism; an anniversary. Modernism was born out of the disillusionment of the First World War, so in 2014 it makes sense to commemorate not just the war to end all wars, but the birth of modernism; and who better to use than Virginia Woolf?

So, then, this book is a centenary celebration of modernism through postmodernism.

But is the book postmodernist? Realism describes the world. Modernism questions the world. Postmodernism questions itself. This text could be viewed as postmodern only if it culminated with a section questioning itself.

One of the most popular starting points for postmodernism is 1941. With the death of Virginia Woolf came the symbolic death of modernism.

Of course, modernism never really died. Modernism simply melting into New Wave, then the New Wave gradually became mainstream until we developed a sort of cultural laziness whereby every art form recognises its duty to explore the character’s consciousness, but does so in the least depth possible.

Take Hollywood movies, for instance. While they used to focus solely on events in relation to a plot without recognising the character’s lives, now many films feature an internal monologue, but these monologues display only vague thoughts, and serve only to set up a dull plot, rather than acknowledging that the characters’ lives are the plot. But this is only a weak attempt to replicate the vast influence of modernism.

So, in a sense, anything which truly digs deep into a person’s very being may be said to be neo-modernism. But anything which explores being the surface levels of consciousness, and often beyond the pages of the book itself, may be said to be postmodern.

One of the peculiarities with using the introduction of postmodernism as the basis for featuring James Joyce and Virginia Woolf as characters is that the two were the originators of modernism. The author had no idea about their involvement with postmodernism.

One evening, while reading The Crying of Lot 49, the author looked into postmodernist literature and discovered it originated with the death of both the protagonists of Novel A – James Joyce and Virginia Woolf.

‘Excellent,’ e thought. ‘This will fit perfectly with Novel A.’

I, the critic, decipher the code and unveil all of my own a new interpretation of the texts. That is how a critic strikes.

To me, the importance of 1941 as the death of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, and the birth of postmodernism created a new age of literature which is being conceived in Novel A.

And perhaps the most postmodern of all is the way this critical essay is gradually losing the standard of academia and instead becoming a modernist stream-of-consciousness itself.

Or is the more postmodern detail the fact that I’m now debating with myself, and debating the postmodern properties of the postmodern text as I’m writing the introduction – the conclusion – to the postmodern text itself.

Perhaps I am exploring this in too much depth, considered 5. Or perhaps not enough. Maybe I should dig deeper and explore the glue which binds these pages together. Or the circuit board behind the screen; whatever the case may be.

One thing I noticed is how they never mention who the writers of Novels A to D are. They go on and on about the experience of what they’re about, but they never actually mention who wrote them. I’m a little disappointed. I need to write that. I’ll word it academically.

The discordant persistence displayed by such a manner of literary endeavour leads the reader to a disharmony erupting from unsatisfactory conclusions drawn from the creators’ pursuits.

Too many disses. Or not enough.

When I read Story 2, I initially thought 3 was right. After reading Novel B, I agreed more with 4.

But I think that is part of the problem. Literature is never a right/wrong scenario. Great writing is fundamentally about exploring the nature of reality itself. When reading life itself in any level of depth, the reader inevitably comes to realise that only when

That was, of course, the founding principal of postmodernism.

Being a founding principal of postmodernism meant that the rejection of objective truth was also the founding principal of postpostmodernism, and postpostpostmodernism and postpostpostpostmodernism.

And, of course, these were the beliefs on which Story I was based, but more importantly the depth led to Story II, and formed a strong basis for Story III and Story IV. Of course, if the foundation of these ideas was the rejection of objective reality, so too was the postmodern doctrine the basis of Story V and Story VI, and Story VII should it exist, and so on and so forth until it was universally understood that rejecting objectivity was the basis of life itself.

5 realised e desperately needed to explore emself within the work. More depth meant more meaning, and the obvious intention of great literature was the quest for meaning.

Now let us take a moment to explore the writer of all this, wrote the writer, 5. Who or what is 5?

I think one of the key issues is working out who wrote the Novels. Obviously, I am reconstructing them based on evidence and samples here, but I am [perhaps] not the author.

The Novels would have to be written by someone who was keen in following the trends of literature. It could be Terry Eagleton, who ever has an eager eye for perceiving change in the world.

The Novels as the characters 3 and 4 read them, have been written by an unspecified author, or a series of unspecified authors. I am here recreating how I imagine them to appear, but the initial authors have not been specified.

But, then again, the writer behind the new reimaginings of the Novels has yet to be specified. Although I write here about my experience of rewriting them, my name is unspecified. I am 5, but beyond that, nothing is known.

However, I believe the leading argument is that Novels A to D were written by J. D. Salinger. He is one of the few authors who wrote in the classical style of aggression and clarity in equal measure (a trope which is frequently being killed off in favour of the lust for formulae), while still making it through to the 21st century. One of the rare Modernists not to die tragically young, Salinger continued writing creatively until his death in 2010.

Could it be, then, that Novels A to D are the long-awaited follow-ups to The Catcher in the Rye?

Just then, the [door/wall/window] opened with a [crash/creak/crowbar]. In [walked/strolled/ran/pogoed] four figures: 1, 2, 3 and 4.

5 [looked/glared/turned] round in a state of [shock/horror/expectation]. This was exactly what he had [expected/feared/ignored/never predicted].

‘What’s going on?’ 5 [asked/shouted].

‘Is that not obvious?’ asked 1. ‘We are here to [kill/love/save/help/abduct/ignore/stop/overthrow/guide] you.’

5 turned back to the sheet of paper on eir desk. It was a code, a cipher of sorts. A guide to who was whom. Based on the lists, 1 could either be James Joyce, Sarah from Essex, Sylvia Plath, or any number of partygoers.

‘But what do you want?’ asked 5.

‘Isn’t that obvious?’ asked 1 [5 was choosing for now to interpret 1 as being representative of James Joyce]. ‘We are here to [end/conclude/publish] [your life/this book].’

5 was utterly bewildered. For a postmodern critic to find a situation too complex was certainly a feat, particularly when only [seconds/minutes/years] earlier e had been writing about the [nature/artificiality] of his own [existence/fictionality] in relation to this book you are [reading/selling/burning].

‘Are you saying you want to publish my life?’ asked 5.

1 [nodded/screamed/shot a hole through the ceiling]. ‘That is one interpretation of what I said.’

5 was still confused. E had to keep consulting the lists on eir desk in an attempt to understand what was going on.

And so, 5 [the future Prime Minister of Britain, and the first non-Labour, non-Liberal, non-Tory, non-Conservative and non-Whig PM] worked himself or herself away into a rut of great depth. Layers upon layers of writing about the writers of the works e had just analysed.

‘Why are you here?’ 5 demanded to know.

‘We’re here,’ said 3, ‘to action you.’

‘To action me?’ 5 was either confused by the use of the word ‘action’ or its meaning.

‘We need to make event happen in order to stop this novel.’

‘Which novel?’

‘This novel!

Novel A, Novel B, Novel C or Novel D?’

‘This novel! [Virginia Woolf]!’

5 sat up in complete emotion. 5, [J. D. Salinger], had been expecting this to happen for so long, but never thought it would. ‘You’re trying to stop this novel? Why would you do that, 3?’

‘Because we’ve reached the end. [Virginia Woolf] is going mad.’

‘What else is new?’ 5 asked [sadly/reminiscently/hilariously].

‘Not Virginia Woolf the person; [Virginia Woolf] the novel.’

‘Is it a novel?’ asked 5. ‘How long does a novel have to be?’

‘At least 40,000 words, like,’ said 3 [the Geordie newsagent].

‘And how long is this book currently?’

‘Nearly 40,000 words.’

‘But why does it need to end?’ cried 5. ‘I’ve been enjoying it so far.’

‘It’s rambling. We want it to be novel length.’

‘So why not let it reach 40,000 words?’

‘We will do.’

‘Then why are you pointing weapon [sawn-off shotgun/cheesewire/sabre/lollipop stick] at me?’

‘To end the novel very soon,’ said 3 [the Italian artist who invented rigatoni].

2 [Virginia Woolf] stepped forward to clarify. ‘When it ends, it will have reached 40,000 words, making it the shortest possible novel.’

‘What?’

‘The general guideline for story length in the western world is that flash fiction is under 1,000 words, short stories are between (and including) 1,000 and 7,499 words, the rare novelettes are from 7,500 to 17,499, novellas are 17,500 plus, until you get to full novels at 40,000 words.’

‘Why all the odd numbers?’

‘Because they cannot overlap,’ 2 [Virginia Woolf] explained.

‘Explain.’

‘If novelettes were works from 7,500 words to 17,500 words; and novellas were works from 17,500 words to 40,000 words; then where does that leave a work which is 17,500 words exactly?’

‘I don’t think you’re using semicolons correctly;’ suggested 3.

‘Who would write a work exactly matching one of those numbers?’ asked 5.

‘We will. We must finish this work on exactly 40,000 words,’ said 1 [Sarah from Cheltenham].

‘Why does it have to be exactly 40,000 words? Why not 42,193?’

‘If we’re going to be a very short novel, we may as well be the shortest ever novel,’ said 1 [gleefully/through burning tears/using an electrolarynx to artificially clarify his or her speech after losing his or her voice box at the end of many years spent smoking].

[1 thought ‘electrolarynx’ was the most beautiful word in the entire book/1 hated the word ‘electrolarynx’/1 was indifferent to the word ‘electrolarynx’/1 had no idea the word ‘electrolarynx’ existed.]

‘I feel we have to be either a painfully long book or the shortest novel possible. I don’t know why I go to extremes,’ said 3 [Billy Joel].

‘Postmodern literature is always painful,’ agreed 1 [James Joyce], ‘but I’d rather be short and painful than long and painful.’

This was a point which all five of the characters had at some point considered. Was art getting gradually quicker to respond to society’s rapid needs? Fast food culture had brought a sense of immediate satisfaction; if a meal which in the Victorian Era would have taken a day to prepare now took a matter of minutes, why shouldn’t the same ring true for art?

A Victorian novel was at the very minimum 400 pages long. But if its ideas could be expressed in under 100 pages, what would be the point of all that additional length?

And, of course, it is possible to look in depth at every single element of a work of art to appreciate its true value, but is it necessary? If we are able to get as much pleasure from looking at two paintings quickly as looking at one painting slowly, why would we choose anything apart from the two paintings? If, indeed, we get, say, one unit of entertainment from looking a painting for 15 minutes, then the second unit of entertainment arrives after an hour of intense study of the painting, what is the best course of action in an art gallery?

To maximise profit as the capitalist demands, we should spend the hour looking at four paintings and receiving four units of entertainment.

But are those who seek artistic capital missing out on something? Maybe the second unit of entertainment is not just entertainment, but something else as well, such as understanding or awakening.

Maybe the second unit is not entertainment at all. Maybe the first 15 minutes provide a shallow thrill, but the full hour of analysis is something far beyond. Perhaps after the full hour, the viewer has gained a deep and powerful level of understanding. The hour of looking deep into the painting, seeing every brush stroke, and the tear or the shout which came as the brush hit the canvas, looking not simply at the picture on the surface, but using the canvas as a mirror to look deep into your own soul; perhaps that was the aim of the full hour, and the people who have never spent an hour looking at one painting could never possibly understand what it means to look beyond the image and see the endless layers of meaning.

But, of course, this is the modern mindset reviewing the classical mindset. Everything under a developed capitalist system must be seen entirely in respect to profit. The reason art films are less popular than superhero movies is that few people have the patience to watch an art film, particularly when a superhero movie costs almost no brainpower and delivers its results instantaneously.

So, then, does this ring true all the way? Are novels getting shorter out of laziness? Or are the lazy writers in fact those who write long novels, since the long-writers have put no effort into condensing their meaning.

And can one person really write the shortest novel ever, then go on to write novels which are hundreds of thousands of words long?

‘How do you determine word count?’

‘By the number of words.’

‘But what is one word? Is a hyphenated word one or two?’

‘The counter we used claimed it to be one. When it says “self-worth” and “one-to-one”, that counts as two words, not five.’

‘But what about words which are up for debate? “Book shelf” is here written as two words, but some people would insist that it is a single word, unspaced.’

‘We have written the words as they are. For “book shelf”, I believe we opted for two words.’

‘But words change, and publishers sometimes change too. There was a time in the 1800s when “tomorrow” was “to morrow”. Then it became “to-morrow”. Even books which were published will the earlier spellings are now reprinted with “tomorrow”. Lewis Carroll wrote many hyphens and spaces before semi-colons, which are now all gone. Even the word “semi-colon” itself is rapidly shrinking into “semicolon” as our faced paced internet society demands it. In the past twenty years we have seen “Electronic Mail” and its abridgement “E-mail” crushed into “email”.’

‘Even the Shakespeare works everyone believes so authentic have changed “For this reliefe much thanks, ‘tis bitter cold,/ And I am sicke at heart” into the slightly modernised “For this relief much thanks; ‘tis bitter cold/ And I am sick at heart.” We lie to ourselves about the historical accuracy of reprinting old texts,’ said 1.

4 [Professor David Crystal] agreed. ‘All the nouns which were once capitalised as in German have now had Shakespeare’s punctuation removed. No works remain accurate for long.’

‘What are you saying?’ asked 2.

‘This book, [Virginia Woolf] is only 40,000 words for the time being. In future printings it may be slightly shorter, and it will lose novel status,’ 1 explained.

‘Then perhaps the novel status captures this particular moment in time, August 2015, where these spellings are standard, before they change with time.’

This seemed to satisfy the group, for they moved onto other arguments.

‘For one thing,’ said 3, ‘it’s unclear who wrote the Novels.’

Nervously, 5 picked up his notes, and showed them a point where he’d scribbled ‘Who wrote the Novels?’ several [months/weeks/days/hours/minutes/seconds] earlier. ‘Here,’ he stuttered. The writer then shuffled over to the [computer/typewriter/scroll/notepad] where he’d been compiling the collection/novel/felony known as [Virginia Woolf]. ‘I already addressed the fact that the authors of the Novels are never mentioned within Story II.’

‘No,’ said 3, ‘I mean that you appear to be writing the Novels A to D here, in your [office/toilet/prison cell]. From that we deduce that you wrote the Novels. I.e. somebody opening the published book [Virginia Woolf] will see the contents displayed as follows:

 

Story I … by L. T. Hewitt

Lists A to D … by L. T. Hewitt

Story II … by L. T. Hewitt

Novel A … by 5

Novel B … by 5

Novel C … by 5

Novel D … by 5

Story IV … by L. T. Hewitt

 

‘Okay,’ said 5 [Milan Kundera], uncertain what they were discussing by this point.

‘But you also describe how annoyed you were at having to read Novel B.’

5 had only just come to terms with the fact that 1, 2, 3 and 4 had come bursting into the room, and now was being held accountable for something 5 [the next Nobel Laureate in Literature] could not comprehend. ‘I’m not quite sure I see the problem there…’

‘How can you judge 3 based on her enjoyment of Novel B in Story II,’ asked 3, ‘when you yourself wrote it out of loose information left up to the imagination.’

The writer didn’t know what to say, and so – marking a sharp change from the standard attitude of clueless celebrities – didn’t say anything.

‘Perhaps,’ suggested 2 [Virginia Woolf], ‘when he was just described as “the writer” by whoever is narrating this work [presumably L. T. Hewitt], that was supposed to be an indicator that 5 is not only the writer of the Novels, but the writer of this novel ([Virginia Woolf]) itself.’ 2’s guess, although innaccurate, was worthy of praise primarily on the basis of 2’s questioning attitude towards the whole of the literary construct.

‘See, you’re wrong!’ shouted 3.

‘What?’

‘The narrator,’ 3 spluttered. ‘Whoever it is who is writing the book we are currently in. The author of [Virginia Woolf], he just said you were wrong.’

‘Did he?’ asked 2.

‘Yes. “2’s guess, although inaccurate” – he’s saying you’re inaccurate!’

‘Who is the author of this book?’

‘I think he’s called L. T. Hewitt,’ said 4, referring to the author of this novel.

‘Wait, wait, wait,’ said 3. ‘L. T. Hewitt is a man?’

‘Stop it!’ screeched 1 [Virginia Woolf], pointing the [gun/crossbow] at 5. ‘We’re going too deep. It’s not meant to go this far! I cannot cope with these levels of postmodern metafiction!’

‘If you can’t cope,’ asked 5 [André 3000], ‘what on Earth are you doing here?’

‘I’ve already explained that.’ 1 was reasonable in her aggression – she had already explained her intentions. She or he was somewhat out of bounds, however, in his expression of this angst. ‘I’m here to make sure this book ends when we reach 40,000 words,’ 1 said. ‘And I wouldn’t describe this as angst.’

‘Are you counting the title amongst that?’ asked 4.

‘No, of course not,’ replied [Virginia Woolf].

‘What are you counting, then?’

‘Everything from the beginning to the end. Starting with the words ‘Story I’ and ending with the words ‘Virginia Woolf’.’

‘Now you’ve spoilt the ending for those reading!’ shouted 5.

‘It was pretty obvious how it was going to end,’ said 2 [Virginia Woolf]. ‘If it’s called [Virginia Woolf] and repeatedly says the phrase “Virginia Woolf”, it’s obviously going to end with “Virginia Woolf”.’

‘I suppose.’

4 had a realisation. ‘What happens if the book gets translated?’

‘What about it?’

‘Different languages have different numbers of words,’ said 4 [Sappho]. ‘In German, for instance, they use far fewer words.’

3 agreed. ‘The Germans merge all their words into one. So it’s quite likely that a book of 40,000 words in English might be only 30,000 words in German.’

‘Is that a problem?’

‘It would mean that the German version of [Virginia Woolf] isn’t long enough to be a novel.’

‘Oh no!’ shouted 2 [Virginia Woolf].

‘It’s okay, [Virginia Woolf],’ said 5 [Matthew Otis Hulke]. ‘We’ll just have to accept that this book is the shortest novel in the English language only.’

‘What if we give up on the English language?’

‘What?’ [shouted/laughed/shrieked] 2 [Virginia Woolf].

‘Someday we may move beyond the language. We may, as Earthlings, speak and read exclusively in Esperanto,’ suggested 5 [Myra Hindley].

‘So?’

‘So the Esperanto version of [Virginia Woolf] might not be a novel either,’ said 5 [L. T. Hewitt]. ‘And someday that will be the standard version of the book. A book which describes itself repeatedly as the shortest novel might someday be the world’s longest novella. Or maybe even the second-shortest novel.’

[Virginia Woolf] sighed.

‘Why is it the case that sometimes the number (e.g. 1) is provided, and sometimes only the substitute name (e.g. Virginia Woolf)?’ asked 3.

‘Who are you asking to answer that question?’ asked [Virginia Woolf].

‘See! It happened right there!’ exclaimed 3, before realising what had been asked of him, and responding, ‘Well, 5, I suppose.’

All eyes turned to 5. The man/woman/intersex/third gender was shuffling through his notes. He looked at the list and tried to identify them. 1, 2, 3 and 4 were all stood in front of him, but they all at times looked like Virginia Woolf.

‘I’m beginning to think,’ decided 5, ‘that it doesn’t matter what the person’s initial number was. Certainly not within the context of Story IV. By now, the readers will be well aware of the associations between numbers and characters.’

‘Which overall book do you mean?’ asked 3. In response, the other four people in the room sighed and shouted, ‘The book is [Virginia Woolf] by L. T. Hewitt!!’

[Virginia Woolf] was still confused. She turned to [Charles from Chelsea], and whispered, ‘So has 5 given up on calling us by our numbers?’

‘I think so,’ [Charles] replied.

‘Am I fixed perpetually as Virginia Woolf, then?’ [Virginia Woolf] asked.

‘Probably,’ replied [James Joyce/Charles/Jean-Luc].

[Virginia Woolf] was still puzzled regarding the supposed rules to this new parlour game. ‘So what about 3 and 4?’

‘What about them?’

‘They never had alternative identities. While the place-holders 1 and 2 stood in for names and personalities which were applied later, 3 and 4 were already characters with personalities and even genders, but no names.’

They were all largely confused. 5 [Terry Eagleton] was of the belief that this was precisely the point of the work. Why would anybody put any level of effort into a work which made sense?

‘All right! All right!’ said [Virginia Woolf], who at this point had given up on any attempt to understand the book in which she existed, and was instead attempting to work out whether ‘all right’ ought to be considered two words, as was standard in English grammar, or whether it had been formally contracted to ‘alright’, as was common in modern usage; in time, she thought, it would inevitably be the case that these spellings were changed; future reprints of [Virginia Woolf] would feature the contracted ‘alright’ form, along with other, unpredictable contractions, and the book would soon lose its status as the world’s shortest novel, instead becoming the world’s longest novella; or perhaps the status of a novel would gradually be shortened; as modern tastes desired high speeds, in food and technology, the public were less able to handle lengthy novels, certainly lengthy novels with deep meanings, as [Virginia Woolf] would be later described; so the fast-paced mind of the public might at some point require critics and theorists to redefine a novel as something shorter; maybe 30,000 words, so it would include Animal Farm and Of Mice and Men; or something even shorter; maybe someday a novel would be something inconceivably different; a combination of images and pictures to make a quicker, but deeper experience; maybe graphic novels will take precedence over 40,000-word novels; maybe emoticons will become an accepted part of English literature; maybe traditions will change; maybe cinema and literature will merge into a new hybrid; maybe the world of 2500 AD will be so impossibly different from the world of 2015, that the concepts referred to in all books up to this point will be unrecognisable, and all forms of art will be unimaginably distorted; maybe we cannot predict the future, but the world we live in now, thought [Virginia Woolf], accepts, on the whole, that a novel is 40,000 words or more, and my aim is to fix our work on this point; [Virginia Woolf] picked up her [gun/bazooka/flamethrower/bow and arrow/helmet/novel/pen/pencil/pestle and mortar/armband/hosepipe/husband Leonard/torch] and used it.

Something happened which prevented anyone understanding what had happened. Depending on how the reader interpreted [Virginia Woolf]’s action, the [building/novel/universe] in which the characters existed was on fire, still standing, falling to pieces, or any number of other horrific or perfect or neutral outcomes.

[Virginia Woolf] looked at 5, and 5 looked at [Virginia Woolf]. Or, at least, 5 thought e did. E had no idea what was happening. As eir role was to identify what was happening in the world around em, 5 endeavoured to interpret the event as accurately as possible, whilst making note of ‘endeavour’ as a useful word to use in future writing should he survive whatever event was happening to or around em.

By this point, 5 [L. T. Hewitt] was crawling around on the floor, looking for pieces of paper to guide him, searching for lists, piecing together clues, but getting nowhere, finding nothing, and discovering that for all he/she tried, no-one could ever make sense of this [hell-hole/utopia] we live in and die in, and that – for all we search – no meaning would ever be found anywhere in the bitter, senseless world; 5 eventually found a piece of paper (the only thing to guide em), for all the other lists had been [burnt/eaten/demolished/transported/stolen], and all that was written on the single piece of paper left was ‘Virginia Woolf’.

This was why it was so difficult to understand what was happening. 5 looked up, hoping to see the once hated but now hope-dispensing figures of 1, 2, 3 and 4.

In their place, e saw [Virginia Woolf], [Virginia Woolf], [Virginia Woolf] and [Virginia Woolf]. Of course, there were not four separate [Virginia Woolf]s, or perhaps there were. There might instead have been one [Virginia Woolf] in the [Virginia Woolf] room, or there might have been sixty-five million copies of [Virginia Woolf] filling the [Virginia Woolf].

‘What the [Virginia Woolf] is happening in here?’ asked [Virginia Woolf].

‘I don’t know,’ [Virginia Woolf] said [Virginia Woolf]ly. ‘[Virginia Woolf] is all very confusing. [Virginia Woolf] is the most [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] I have ever seen with my very own [Virginia Woolf].’

5 was lost on [Virginia Woolf], interpreting everything e [Virginia Woolf]ed as being [Virginia Woolf]. This was particularly [Virginia Woolf] when [Virginia Woolf] consider the problem with the [Virginia Woolf].

[Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf]ed that this would increasingly be the [Virginia Woolf] case, as the [Virginia Woolf] was steadily becoming [Virginia Woolf] more [Virginia Woolf].

Since [Virginia Woolf] was now not only every [Virginia Woolf] noun. but also every [Virginia Woolf]adjective and every [Virginia Woolf] adverb, [Virginia Woolf] had very little [Virginia Woolf] hope for the [Virginia Woolf] future.

Soon, [Virginia Woolf] would be [Virginia Woolf] every [Virginia Woolf] word, and there would not [Virginia Woolf] even [Virginia Woolf] to stop [Virginia Woolf] from [Virginia Woolf].

As of the end of this sentence (and not including the title), the phrase ‘Virginia Woolf’ had appeared in this novel [Virginia Woolf] will have appeared (including appearances within brackets and without) 181 times.

Only [Virginia Woolf] knows what that [Virginia Woolf] will be by the [Virginia Woolf] of this [Virginia Woolf].

[Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] will [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf]. [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf].

[Virginia Woolf] was taking over. The very [Virginia Woolf] of postmodern [Virginia Woolf] was killing [Virginia Woolf] by [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf].

[Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf].

‘[Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf],’ [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf]. ‘[Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf]; [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf]!’

‘[Virginia Woolf],’ [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf]. ‘[Virginia Woolf]! [Virginia Woolf]! [Virginia Woolf]!’

[Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf]. [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf]. [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf].

[Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf]; [Virginia Woolf]; [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf]; [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf]; [Virginia Woolf]; [Virginia Woolf]; [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf].

[Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf].

[Virginia Woolf]! [Virginia Woolf]! [Virginia Woolf]!

[Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf]!

¡[Virginia Woolf]!

[Virginia Woolf]

[Virginia Woolf]

[Virginia Woolf]

[Virginia Woolf]

[Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf]

‘[Virginia Woolf] “[Virginia Woolf] ‘[Virginia Woolf] “[Virginia Woolf] ‘[Virginia Woolf]’ [Virginia Woolf]” [Virginia Woolf]’ [Virginia Woolf]” [Virginia Woolf]’

[Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf]. [Virginia Woolf]; [Virginia Woolf]; [Virginia Woolf]; [Virginia Woolf]! [Virginia Woolf]? [Virginia Woolf]? [Virginia Woolf]? [Virginia Woolf]?

[Virginia Woolf], ‘[Virginia Woolf]’

[Virginia Woolf]. [Virginia Woolf], [Virginia Woolf], [Virginia Woolf]: [Virginia Woolf]; [Virginia Woolf]; [Virginia Woolf].

[Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf]

168


[Virginia Woolf]

[Virginia Woolf] awakens on the curious [Virginia Woolf] of [Virginia Woolf] and feels [Virginia Woolf] must escape by finding the [Virginia Woolf] - a [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] believes may return [Virginia Woolf] to [Virginia Woolf]'s [Virginia Woolf] - or else [Virginia Woolf]'s high [Virginia Woolf] will require [Virginia Woolf] to live a [Virginia Woolf] of [Virginia Woolf] as a [Virginia Woolf]. An inquisitive but paranoid [Virginia Woolf], [Virginia Woolf] teams up with a mentally unwell [Virginia Woolf], two intelligent (though foolish) [Virginia Woolves] and a [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] to the [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf].

  • Author: L. T. Hewitt
  • Published: 2016-06-13 18:05:31
  • Words: 39052
[Virginia Woolf] [Virginia Woolf]