Virginia Woolf: Assertive or Introspective?
Virginia Woolf begins her memoir Moments of Being with a conscious attempt to write for her readers. While writing her life story, however, she begins to turn inwards and she becomes enmeshed in her writing. By focusing on her thoughts surrounding the incidents in her life instead of the incidents themselves, she unconsciously loses sight of her outward perspective and writes for herself. Her memoir becomes a loose series of declarations of her beliefs connected only by her wandering train of thought. Although Moments of Being deals largely with her conjectures, she is not trying to convince the reader of these beliefs' validity since she is so absorbed in the act of writing. What begins as an outwardly focused memoir evolves into Virginia Woolf's exploration of her thoughts and feelings.
Mrs. Woolf begins her memoir in an easygoing, conversational manner by deliberately reaching out to her audience. She states in her first paragraph that she knows many different ways to write a memoir but for lack of time cannot begin to sift through them all and so she simply begins by relating her first memory. Stating that she is not deciding upon a set method and formalizing that she will be informal demonstrates a frame of mind directed outward; it is her attempt to involve the reader in her work. The sympathetic reader feels as if he and Woolf are chatting about her life over a cup of tea. After narrating her first memory she returns to the structure of her memoir, explaining that she could never really succeed in conveying the feelings represented by her first memory without first describing herself. She notes: "Here I come to one of the memoir writer's difficulties – one of the reasons why, though I read so many, so many are failures. They leave out the person to whom things happened" (p. 65). By introducing a difficulty that the memoir writer faces and attempting to overcome it, Woolf shows that she is writing for and to her audience. She is still trying to make her memoir a literary success, an interesting and worthwhile read. This focus upon the reader does not last long, however.
The memoir moves towards a more introspective focus as soon as Woolf finishes explicitly talking to the reader and describing the person "to whom things happened." She immediately begins to focus on her thoughts and feelings while writing, causing her style to become much more like a personal diary than a letter to a confidant. Rather than focus upon events in her life as a letter to a confidant might, she focuses upon her thoughts and philosophies using events to explore her beliefs.
For example, she briefly describes the guilt and shame she feels when viewing her reflection. This leads her to hypothesizing that it was her molestation by her step-brother Gerald Duckworth that makes her feel so ashamed of her body. Despite the dramatic possibilities inherent in this remarkable revelation, Virginia Woolf detaches...