Far is Italy – connecting to Virginia Woolf

On January 25th of one hundred thirty six years ago Virginia Woolf was born. So many years; even if she would have not left in that river, we would still celebrate her memory today.

I truly appreciated Woolf’s works only in my college years, when a professor made us read Mrs Dalloway for a contemporary literature class. During lectures, he would sit on a spinny chair in front of his desk, his sleeves rolled up. He had an ankles conditions or so, and he found comfortable to keep his knees tight and his feet apart on opposite wheels, strolling around while lecturing. He would read a passage out loud from the tiny book squeezed in his rough-looking hands; we would listen with bewildered faces. Truly, he was a big, US man and his deep voice was slightly troubled by some occasional smoking. But he could make the prose of Woolf gently and perfectly unravel from his lips.

In that time I was still living in Rome, my hometown: however, by attending a US university, by having to commute to the other side of town each day to go to classes, by having such a different lifestyle from the one I had until high school, I felt a bit of a stranger in my own city.

Then, I really moved to a foreign country. I possibly forgot about that professor, about that book for a while – I left it in the boot of my car in Rome. I was surrounded now by people whose language I did not understand fully, whose customs and social norms were so different from what I was used to. I was maybe too busy trying to familiarize myself with the astonishing quantities of dip sauces on the fridge shelves of supermarkets. But one day, one of those days when I wandered invisibly through the alleys of this cold city, unable to catch the sight of those around me – they might be noticing me, anyway? I found myself thinking

“Far is Italy”

I actually spelled it clearly in my mind. It did not look like something I made up: it was clearly a quotation. But where did that come from? Spinny chairs, ankle conditions, Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway. I went back home and looked online for the passage of the book, it was not easy, as Lucrezia is not one of the main characters. Finally, when I found it, it was as marvelously written as I remembered it; but this time it felt so much closer.

I hope everyone of you had the occasion to read the book. It is about one lady, Clarissa, who prepares dinner for a party she is hosting at night. The day serves to provide flashbacks of the most crucial events of her recent life, and to give insight into the other characters, more or less close, to Clarissa. I consider this novel to be the biggest inspiration for the book I’ve written, which you will see out there soon

Lucrezia, or Rezia, is an Italian lady who had moved to England because of her husband Septimus, who eventually turned insane. In this passage, the two are strolling around Regent’s Park.

Rezia is truly unhappy. She dislikes and does not understand the people and country she lives in at that moment, she misses Italy, the sun and her family. She suffers in silence; inside she screams, she bursts in desperation, but outside, she looks as any other lady walking with her husband in the park. Despite her discretion, she wonders how nobody could notice her suffering.

True, there is a large dose of self commiseration in this passage; you could picture her noticing with a smirk the wedding ring sliding down her slim finger, then looking up, trying to see if anybody is noticing the same detail. But at the same time, you should understand the society back in the day – how easily she could just stand up and move back to Italy for her own happiness?

But how much easier is it to blame circumstances rather than your own behaviour? This is what I think now. This is the question I am posing myself in trying to internalize the process of adaptation, rather than enduring it.

Following the passage, which, commiserative or not, it is just shockingly beautiful.

“Septimus!” said Rezia. He started violently. People must notice.
“I am going to walk to the fountain and back,” she said.
For she could stand it no longer. Dr. Holmes might say there was nothing the matter. Far rather would she that he were dead! She could not sit beside him when he stared so and did not see her and made everything terrible; sky and tree, children playing, dragging carts, blowing whistles, falling down; all were terrible. And he would not kill himself; and she could tell no one. “Septimus has been working too hard”— that was all she could say to her own mother. To love makes one solitary, she thought. She could tell nobody, not even Septimus now, and looking back, she saw him sitting in his shabby overcoat alone, on the seat, hunched up, staring. And it was cowardly for a man to say he would kill himself, but Septimus had fought; he was brave; he was not Septimus now. She put on her lace collar. She put on her new hat and he never noticed; and he was happy without her. Nothing could make her happy without him! Nothing! He was selfish. So men are. For he was not ill. Dr. Holmes said there was nothing the matter with him. She spread her hand before her. Look! Her wedding ring slipped — she had grown so thin. It was she who suffered — but she had nobody to tell.
Far was Italy and the white houses and the room where her sisters sat making hats, and the streets crowded every evening with people walking, laughing out loud, not half alive like people here, huddled up in Bath chairs, looking at a few ugly flowers stuck in pots!
“For you should see the Milan gardens,” she said aloud. But to whom?
There was nobody. Her words faded. So a rocket fades. Its sparks, having grazed their way into the night, surrender to it, dark descends, pours over the outlines of houses and towers; bleak hillsides soften and fall in. But though they are gone, the night is full of them; robbed of colour, blank of windows, they exist more ponderously, give out what the frank daylight fails to transmit — the trouble and suspense of things conglomerated there in the darkness; huddled together in the darkness; reft of the relief which dawn brings when, washing the walls white and grey, spotting each window-pane, lifting the mist from the fields, showing the red-brown cows peacefully grazing, all is once more decked out to the eye; exists again. I am alone; I am alone! she cried, by the fountain in Regent’s Park (staring at the Indian and his cross), as perhaps at midnight, when all boundaries are lost, the country reverts to its ancient shape, as the Romans saw it, lying cloudy, when they landed, and the hills had no names and rivers wound they knew not where — such was her darkness; when suddenly, as if a shelf were shot forth and she stood on it, she said how she was his wife, married years ago in Milan, his wife, and would never, never tell that he was mad! Turning, the shelf fell; down, down she dropped. For he was gone, she thought — gone, as he threatened, to kill himself — to throw himself under a cart! But no; there he was; still sitting alone on the seat, in his shabby overcoat, his legs crossed, staring, talking aloud.

Lots of love,

Hungerness

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