I’ve been thinking about the persistence and importance of classical and especially antique sculpture in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century a lot recently. Yesterday I came across this passage in Virginia Woolf’s Night and Day, which seemed an apt summation of my thoughts/general wistful mood and also satisfies my desire to relate Virginia Woolf to everything!
But instead of going straight back to the office to-day, Mary turned into the British Museum, and strolled down the gallery with the shapes of stone until she found an empty seat directly beneath the gaze of the Elgin marbles. She looked at them, and seemed, as usual, borne up on some wave of exaltation and emotion, by which her life at once became solemn and beautiful–an impression which was due as much, perhaps, to the solitude and chill and silence of the gallery as to the actual beauty of the statues. One must suppose, at least, that her emotions were not purely aesthetic, because after she had gazed at the Ulysses for a minute or two, she began to think about Ralph Denham. So secure did she feel with these silent shapes that she almost yielded to an impulse to say “I am in love with you” aloud. The presence of this immense and enduring beauty made her almost alarmingly conscious of her desire, and at the same time proud of a feeling which did not display anything like the same proportions when she was going about her daily work.
Night and Day (1919), (London: Vintage, 2000), p. 72
Photo: Author’s own.