More Than Just a London Walk: Woolf’s Moments of Perception

In the memoir Moments of Being, Virginia Woolf reminisces on a sailing trip she experienced when she was younger. She is walking in the boring streets of London when she thinks of something that was more exciting. Afternoon sailing is revealed to be better than the walks she takes, and she begins talking about specific memories of her experience at the sea. The language she uses in this instance allows for the importance of the moment to stand out by utilizing long sentences, describing everything in great detail and imagery, and reflecting on how the experience affects her as she walks through the streets of London. In such language, Woolf writes to remember and capture the feelings she had in her past memories, and to conclusively justify her existence, based on the title of the memoir, Moments of Being.

At many times, Woolf uses long sentences to make the small moments of the memory feel longer than it actually was. The long sentences cause the excerpt to be longer and overall create a feeling of a lasting memory. An example can be found in lines 13-19, “Sometimes lines would be handed us; baited by gobbets cut from fish; and the line thrilled in one’s fingers as the boat tossed and shot through water; and then–how can I convey the excitement?–there was a little leaping tug; then another; up one hauled; up through the water came the white twisting fish; and was slapped on the floor.” This exceptionally long sentence reveals a tone of which one would have when talking about a past experience. Without a pause, and keeping a constant order of short phrases, the author creates a feeling of a fast memory being slowed down in order to capture the whole moment. By slowing the reader down, Woolf is able to emphasize the importance of the moment and does so by forcing the reader to linger in the passage.

Woolf then proceeds to incorporate great details in particular thoughts resulting in imagery for the reader. In doing so, the reader can see how Woolf covers all aspects of her recollection and reveals how strong it lingers in her mind. In lines 6-10, the author describes Thoby as he brings them back to shore, “And Thoby took the fisherman’s place; and steered; flushed and with his blue eyes very blue, and his mouth set, he sat there, bringing us round the point, into the harbour, without letting the sail flag.” She then proceeds to talk about jellyfishes in lines 10-12, “One day the sea was full of pale jelly fish, like lamps, with streaming hair; but they stung you if you touched them.” Both examples acknowledge the strength in Woolf’s mind in remembering a moment significant to her. The imagery allows for the reader to see the moment as well, as if peering into the author’s brain to watch the specific flashback and have it resonate in the mind. Through both comprehension and imagery, the reader allows for a more thorough thought process on what was going on in Woolf’s eyes.

Near the end of the short passage, Woolf transitions to her reflection of what her father said to her during the trip. She believes that from that memory, she remembers what passion feels like, which is something that has the power to change how a person’s life could have been. Woolf mentions this idea in lines 33-38, “It is one of those invaluable seeds, from which… one can grow something that represents other people’s experiences. Often one has to make do with the seeds; the germs of what might have been, had one’s life been different.” Including closing thoughts allows for the reader to see how the memory affects her even though it is in the past. The remembrance follows her through the London streets with the “momentary glimpses” (39) and “rapid glances” (40), ultimately making her insightful and feeling human. When Woolf mentions that the seeds grow into something that represents other people’s experiences, she supports the idea of her memory representing her own experience, and basically, her own life.

By employing long sentences, detail, imagery, and reflective thoughts, Woolf’s language communicates the lasting significance of the moments in her past. Woolf is able to create moments imperishable, sustainable, and an impression that continues to play into her life by making her validate her existence in the feelings evoked from past memories. Like the title, Moments of Being, this piece depicts Woolf feeling lost in a moment, not worrying about anything but simply being.