A Central Rectangle

Louise DeSalvo’s work on Virginia Woolf which I featured recently in https://derrickjknight.com/2020/05/19/seeking-acquaintance/ prompted me to return to ‘Between The Acts’, the writer’s last novel. Dr DeSalvo had sought metaphors and other phrases in the novel which could be referring to Woolf’s childhood sexual abuse. I could see the possible reasons for the doctor’s interpretations, but, of, course they can never be proven.

Bearing in mind that the novel never received a final revision by the author, who drowned herself before this could happen, I did think that the family story of a watery death in the duckpond may have suggested her impending demise; however, the book was completed on the eve of the Second World War which looms in the shadows over the final pages.

None of this can detract from the delicious, spare, uncomplicated, language used by Mrs Woolf in her keenly observed descriptions of her characters, flora, and fauna, relationships, and village life from a much gentler age than our own. This is a sensitive and insightful writer.

The dramatis personae include the characters taking parts on stage in a local pageant, and in the assembled audience who play their parts between the acts. As usual, I will tell no more of the story.

My Folio Society edition of 1974 contains an introduction by Quentin Bell and lithographs by Gillian Barlow. It is bound in boards bearing

a design by Fiona Campbell.

Well composed, from interesting perspectives, Gillian Barlow’s illustrations have captured the essential isolation of her subjects which does perhaps reflect those of Woolf and her family.

The book by DeSalvo is illustrated with contemporary photographs which I chose not to include in my above-mentioned post. Barlow’s illustrations were so tuned into one page of photographs that I now include them here:

Was Barlow influenced by these paintings, I wonder? Or did she acquire all her inspiration from her reading of the novel?

While I was drafting this material Jackie continued gardening and produced some views.

Florence sculpture stands at Fiveways.

Here are two views of the Shady Path and another of the vista from the Wisteria Arbour.

We designed The Rose Garden with paths spanning from a central rectangle shown in the first image. This group of pictures finishes with the rickety entrance arch which is all that is left of the rubble-encrusted vegetable garden that we inherited.

This evening we dined on succulent roast chicken with sage and onion stuffing; crisp Yorkshire pudding; perfect roast parsnips; creamy mashed potato; crunchy carrots; firm cauliflower; tender cabbage; and tasty gravy. Jackie drank Hoegaarden and I drank more of the Syrah.


  1. Gillian Barlow’s illustrations are excellent Derrick, and have definitely captured a piece of family life from that period.

  2. Jackie’s photos are beautiful. They show just how much work actually goes into taking care of the garden too.

  3. Thank you for sharing images and your own thoughts on Woolf and her work. The lithographs are striking, but for some reason, they seem a bit creepy to me.

    Your rose garden is both beautiful and beautifully laid out.

    1. You are quite right about the creepiness, Merril. This is so reflective of the isolation (and, indeed, menace) in the Woolf family, which is why I added the page from DeSalvo’s book. I have seen one of the paintings at Charleston, the Sussex menage home. Even before I understood what it was about it was shocking.

  4. Those illustrations are amazing – poignantly picturing that sense of isolation in the middle of dysfunctional family life. There’s nothing can quite match the agony of feeling alone and unrecognised while with your family or just alongside a spouse. Virginia’s is a tragic story.

    On the other hand my spirits were lifted when I spied the little yellow duck hiding behind Florence…… 😀

  5. The various vistas of your beautiful garden now have me wondering, Derrick. How many acres is your garden? Does it wrap around your entire house? From earlier winter photos, I had the impression it was a medium-sized backyard garden, but it looks like one of the larger “walking” gardens in my area.

    1. Including the lengthy back drive the whole plot is one third of an acre. During the summer when fences are not so much in evidence it looks as if surrounding trees are part of it – and in the past indeed they were. Thanks very much, Jean.

  6. I find the details, and textures, in the illustrations fascinating! Each a piece of art!

    Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath are two authors I’ve been intrigued by since I first discovered them in my youth. Their lives. Their writings.
    And their deaths, of course, so sad.
    I’m so glad their words live on.

    Love the garden paths! So beautifully laid out! And Florence is a beautiful greeter and watcher!

    Florence had a little duck
    It’s down was as yellow as yolk
    And everywhere that Florence went
    The duck was right behind her cloak.

    HUGS!!! 🙂

      1. Your Michael’s cedar tree is establishing himself and growing nicely. I will post a current photo at the end of June when I post again.

  7. I think Merrildsmith picked up on the isolation in the engravings–just what Pauline described so well in her comment. Now that you have given us more on this, I think I’d likely agree with you that Dr. DeSalvo was taking things a bit far. All art is filtered through the artist’s mind and observations and conclusions and if it’s good art, something new is made. I don’t deny history and context, but attributing something in a novel to a person’s life is always a bit risky. Years ago, after a spate of semi-autobiographical “novels” had come out, someone on NPR was interviewing Frederick Busch about his novel Harry and Catherine and asked a question that began “What in your life…?” And he said, “It’s fiction. I made it up.” I remember laughing. It’s one thing to take knowledge of the culture or time period or ethos from a novel, but entirely another to attribute the mix of knowledge, experience, observation and imagination that goes into a piece of art to a fact in a person’s life without hard evidence.

    1. This is a splendid analysis of the situation as I saw it, but held back because, after, all, DeSalvo, is also dead. You have also defined the nature of artistic creativity exemplified by Between the Acts. Thank you very much, Lisa.

  8. My promise to myself of reading all works of Virginia Woolf was never fulfilled, thanks to the crowd of competing enterprises including but not limited to procrastination.
    The Florence is the traffic cop of your garden that is looking especially tidy in today’s photographs.

  9. Your sunny and colorful garden provides an interesting contrast to the older illustrations and photos, though the Florence sculpture looking back is a nice transition. It looks like lettuce growing at the end of the rectangle in the top photo.

  10. If I were to choose a path to wander just now, I’d believe I’d take your garden paths — including the little yellow duckie! — and leave Virginia for another time. With Virginia, it’s easy to begin going in circles, get lost, and be late for supper. I certainly wouldn’t want to do that, especially after reading Jackie’s evening’s menu!

  11. Wow! Your garden is so lush.. the kind of garden I like best with lots of bushy contrasting foliage and flowers. And your pathways so pristine. Is that your contribution, Derrick?

    1. A local woman was taking up her paving and giving it away. Aaron and I collected it in his truck and he laid it all. The three of us all contribute to keeping all the paths clear. Thanks very much, Judy.

  12. Jackie’s photos are lovely. And it looks like you had better weather than we did.
    The first group of your images are beautiful, I love the shading.

  13. Look forward to reading Virginia Woolf. I was struck by your description of her writing style. As for the garden…Holy cats, what a place!

Leave a Reply