Talland House

Virginia Woolf in “A Sketch of the Past” writes that the memoirs “leave out the person to whom things happen” (Woolf 5). What she means here, is that memoirs tend to focus more on the events than on the actual subject that experience them. As much as I understand her point, I cannot agree with her entirely. I believe that, in terms of memories, even if the subject is not discussed, it is reflected in the very way it remembers. Ironically, I realized that while writing about my memory of Talland House – the holiday house of Virginia’s family. This text was going on like that:

Have you ever read that fragment of „A sketch of the Past” by V. Woolf when she mentions her most important memory – hearing the waves while being in St. Ives? It not here it is:

(…) and in fact it is the most important of all my memories. If life has a base that it stand upon, if it is a bowl that one fills and fills and fills – then my bowl without a doubt stands upon this memory. It is of lying half asleep, half awake, in bed, in nursery at St. Ives. It is of hearing the waves breaking, one, two, one, two, and sending a splash of water over the beach… (Woolf 5).

This memory, it is believed, is also the source of Woolf’s most powerful water literary images, those from The Waves and To the Lighthouse. Several weeks ago I was reminded about this fragment while reading Frances Spalding’s work. Simultaneously, I was reminded of my visit to Talland House in May 2012. Having in mind the importance of St. Ives experience to Woolf’s writing, and especially the importance of this particular memory, how great was my disappointment when I finally reached the house. First of all, it is rather difficult to find it. There are no signposts leading us to Talland House since its present owners decided to rent it and probably do not wish hordes of visitors to disturb the tenants. Apparently, however, it is not a real obstacle for Woolf’s admirers who, according to the tenants we spoke with, visit the house anyway. Second of all, at the moment the house is surrounded by a bizarre, modern housing estate which, I suppose, completely block the view from the house. Third, it turned out, that Talland House is situated on the hill, almost miles from the beach which ruined my vision of the house I had from “A Sketch of the Past”. After I saw it I really started to wonder how far from the beach it was located in Woolf’s times. If the beach was where it is now, it seems absolutely impossible for me that she could hear the waves. This, in turn, brought me to a question whether her memory was real or was it a compilation of several different recollections.

And then I had a short discussion about our trip to St. Ives with M. Surprisingly, he claimed that, in fact, the house was really close to the beach and Woolf could definitely hear the waves. I was completely baffled by his recollections since it meant that my disappointment with this visit influenced the whole memory of it. Apparently, because it was so emotional to me, I made everything that was far from my original vision even further from it. On the other hand, it could be his recollection that was inaccurate. Nevertheless, both our attitudes towards this visit and Virginia Woolf were reflected in our memories of it. That is why I don’t think that writing about this memory I “left myself out”. Rather the opposite – in comparison “myself” became even more visible. However, the question remains who was right about the house. I guess it will stay unanswered until our next visit in St. Ives.

Virginia Woolf, “A Sketch of the Past”, The Virginia Woolf Reader, ed. Mitchel A. Leaska, Now York: Mariner Books, 1984.