“Words fail me”: la voz de Virginia Woolf


(fotografiada por Gisèle Freund, en 1939)

Escucha la voz de Virginia Woolf: “Words fail me”

Parece sobrenatural pero es la voz de Virginia Woolf en una grabación de la BBC del año 1937, 4 años antes de la muerte de la escritora. 71 años después de ser registrada la he podido escuchar gracias a las nuevas tecnologías. Conocía ya su voz interior, la de sus obras, porque Virginia Woolf no sólo escribía palabras, también las pronunciaba. Cuando lees una obra suya no sólo estás sintiendo lo que escribe, también sabes lo que piensa. Por eso escuchar su voz en esta grabación ha sido como una especie de revelación después de haber leído su obra.

En The Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain, en un artículo sobre los registros de voz de V. Woolf, se dice que existen 2 grabaciones anteriores de la voz de la escritora, una del año 1927, en posesión de la BBC, y otra del año 1929, que al parecer se ha extraviado.

Esta grabación de 1937, que dura 7 minutos, recoge una tercera parte (la parte final), del ensayo de Virginia Woolf. Debido a las limitaciones tecnológicas de la época era normal registrar sólo una parte de los programas de radio. “Words fail me” (no encuentro palabras), es un elogio de las palabras, las mismas palabras que la escritora plasmaba en sus obras de una forma tan magistral.

Este es el texto de la grabación, que pertenece a un fragmento del ensayo “Craftsmanship”, incluido en la serie “Words fail me”:

Words, English words, are full of echoes, of memories, of associations—naturally. They have been out and about, on people’s lips, in their houses, in the streets, in the fields, for so many centuries. And that is one of the chief difficulties in writing them today—that they are so stored with meanings, with memories, that they have contracted so many famous marriages. The splendid word “incarnadine,” for example—who can use it without remembering also “multitudinous seas”? In the old days, of course, when English was a new language, writers could invent new words and use them. Nowadays it is easy enough to invent new words—they spring to the lips whenever we see a new sight or feel a new sensation—but we cannot use them because the language is old. You cannot use a brand new word in an old language because of the very obvious yet mysterious fact that a word is not a single and separate entity, but part of other words. It is not a word indeed until it is part of a sentence. Words belong to each other, although, of course, only a great writer knows that the word “incarnadine” belongs to “multitudinous seas.” To combine new words with old words is fatal to the constitution of the sentence. In order to use new words properly you would have to invent a new language; and that, though no doubt we shall come to it, is not at the moment our business. Our business is to see what we can do with the English language as it is. How can we combine the old words in new orders so that they survive, so that they create beauty, so that they tell the truth? That is the question.

And the person who could answer that question would deserve whatever crown of glory the world has to offer. Think what it would mean if you could teach, if you could learn, the art of writing. Why, every book, every newspaper would tell the truth, would create beauty. But there is, it would appear, some obstacle in the way, some hindrance to the teaching of words. For though at this moment at least a hundred professors are lecturing upon the literature of the past, at least a thousand critics are reviewing the literature of the present, and hundreds upon hundreds of young men and women are passing examinations in English literature with the utmost credit, still—do we write better, do we read better than we read and wrote four hundred years ago when we were unlectured, uncriticized, untaught? Is our Georgian literature a patch on the Elizabethan? Where then are we to lay the blame? Not on our professors; not on our reviewers; not on our writers; but on words. It is words that are to blame. They are the wildest, freest, most irresponsible, most unteachable of all things. Of course, you can catch them and sort them and place them in alphabetical order in dictionaries. But words do not live in dictionaries; they live in the mind. If you want proof of this, consider how often in moments of emotion when we most need words we find none. Yet there is the dictionary; there at our disposal are some half–a–million words all in alphabetical order. But can we use them? No, because words do not live in dictionaries, they live in the mind. Look again at the dictionary. There beyond a doubt lie plays more splendid than ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA; poems more lovely than the ODE TO A NIGHTINGALE; novels beside which PRIDE AND PREJUDICE or DAVID COPPERFIELD are the crude bunglings of amateurs. It is only a question of finding the right words and putting them in the right order. But we cannot do it because they do not live in dictionaries; they live in the mind. And how do they live in the mind? Variously and strangely, much as human beings live, by ranging hither and thither, by falling in love, and mating together. It is true that they are much less bound by ceremony and convention than we are. Royal words mate with commoners. English words marry French words, German words, Indian words, Negro words, if they have a fancy. Indeed, the less we enquire into the past of our dear Mother English the better it will be for that lady’s reputation. For she has gone a–roving, a–roving fair maid.

Thus to lay down any laws for such irreclaimable vagabonds is worse than useless. A few trifling rules of grammar and spelling are all the constraint we can put on them. All we can say about them, as we peer at them over the edge of that deep, dark and only fitfully illuminated cavern in which they live—the mind—all we can say about them is that they seem to like people to think and to feel before they use them, but to think and to feel not about them, but about something different. They are highly sensitive, easily made self–conscious. They do not like to have their purity or their impurity discussed. If you start a Society for Pure English, they will show their resentment by starting another for impure English—hence the unnatural violence of much modern speech; it is a protest against the puritans. They are highly democratic, too; they believe that one word is as good as another; uneducated words are as good as educated words, uncultivated words as cultivated words, there are no ranks or titles in their society. Nor do they like being lifted out on the point of a pen and examined separately. They hang together, in sentences, in paragraphs, sometimes for whole pages at a time. They hate being useful; they hate making money; they hate being lectured about in public. In short, they hate anything that stamps them with one meaning or confines them to one attitude, for it is their nature to change.

Perhaps that is their most striking peculiarity—their need of change. It is because the truth they try to catch is many–sided, and they convey it by being themselves many–sided, flashing this way, then that. Thus they mean one thing to one person, another thing to another person; they are unintelligible to one generation, plain as a pikestaff to the next. And it is because of this complexity that they survive. Perhaps then one reason why we have no great poet, novelist or critic writing to–day is that we refuse words their liberty. We pin them down to one meaning, their useful meaning, the meaning which makes us catch the train, the meaning which makes us pass the examination.

Y aquí podéis leer el ensayo completo: “Craftsmanship”, de Virginia Woolf.

Acerca de mercè

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8 respuestas a “Words fail me”: la voz de Virginia Woolf

  1. Pedro Pelija dijo:

    En mi ordenador suena en plan pitufo.

    Me hubiera gustado oirla, aunque os he de confesar dos de mis múltiples vergüénzas:

    1- No sé inglés mas allá de “ailoviu”, “sugar beibi” o “yaquis go jom”

    2- No he leído nunca a Virginia Woolf (me muero de vergüenza😦 )

  2. RGAlmazán dijo:

    Un sentido y merecido homenaje. Una mujer excepcional. Su escritura marca una inflexión en la literatura intimista.

    Salud y República

  3. mercè dijo:

    @Pedro
    Bueno, nunca es tarde para empezar…en la sección de mi blog, “rincón para leer”, puedes encontrar la novela “La señora Dalloway”, y algunos de sus ensayos en castellano.
    @Rafa
    Supongo que se nota un poquito que es mi escritora favorita…

  4. Pedro Pelija dijo:

    Claro, tendré que ponerme. Recuerdo haber empezado “El cuarto de Jacob” hace unos cuantos años, pero sólo lo empecé.

  5. mercè dijo:

    @Pedro
    “El cuarto de Jacob” no es de sus mejores novelas. Aunque a mi me gustan todas, destacaría “La señora Dalloway”, “Las olas”, “Orlando”, y “Entre actos”. De todas formas reconozco que la lectura de Woolf no es fácil, tiene un estilo muy peculiar. Por otro lado, sobre gustos no hay nada escrito, yo la puedo considerar una de las mejores escritoras de todos los tiempos y otro puede pensar que es un auténtico rollo.
    De todas formas si tienes ganas y tiempo léete algo de ella.

  6. One day we were discussing Virginia Woolf’s novel The Waves, which follows a group of friends from childhood to middle age. Friendship Poems

  7. Ha sido un placer encontrarme con la VOZ de esta maravillosa mujer, a quien he leído y admirado tanto por tantos años !
    Fue tanta mi admiración que inclusive le escribí un poema !!
    a partir de sus “palabras ordenadas de nuevo … para que sobrevivan”
    mi agradecimiento por compartir esta joya de la literatura inglesa y universal y esta joya de la VIDA !!!
    cariños
    silvia

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