I was good over the summer and read Jane Eyre, and Great Expectations back to back. Both books on the reading list for Explorations II. Brontë I love, and Mr Dickens I am still trying to understand. Virginia Woolf, however, has always held great fascination for me, and her novel, Mrs Dalloway is another required book for the Explorations section. I have read Mrs Dalloway, but snuck in a guilty pleasure read of another product of Woolf’s work, entitled, ‘Moments of Being’. This collection of autobiographical writings shows great insight into Woolf’s early life and influences. She and her female siblings did not attend school, but they received an education from their parents at home. The reminiscences is dedicated to her nephew Julian Bell, (actually began before his birth), and is the first of these memoirs, the last is entitled, ‘Am I a Snob?’ which she wrote at the height of her fame.
These memoirs gave me such a broader insight into Virginia Woolf herself, not just as a writer and poet, but as a person exposed, exposing her wounds and scars from childhood trauma, and even sexual abuse. I feel her addressing such issues during the times of the mid 30’s as brave, and very heartening. I know when I re-read ‘Mrs Dalloway,” it will be with different eyes. The next phase of reading came about as I was surfing the net and stumbled across the publication known as ‘The Reader,’ which is published by the University of Liverpool’s school of English.
In the essay contents I discovered ‘Climbing to a Climax,’ written by Angela Patmore, where in the opening paragraph, she states, “What are the most arresting works of literature you have every read? Chances are they will contain a climax.” 1.
The essay explores insight as to why we need the pursuit of extreme experiences, (reading literature is one of them). Her essay addresses the need for Cerebral Climaxes or CC’s which she claims helps people with their personal need for clarity and realisations, to later reveal ‘resolutions’. Her twenty five year research experience in Literature, Sports Psychology, and the science on ‘Stress,’ tells us that CC’s are good for mental health, and that ‘Stress management’ undermines the process for them. 2.
To reflect back a little on Virginia Woolf, I saw a parallel with some of the research that Patmore’s essay began to unfold. Apparently, in the 1930’s one was expected to ‘manage’ ones emotions – the calming down emotion was what was enforced and recognised. Patmore also states that “Dubious experiments on rats in the 1930’s” as well as “ an attempt to graft an engineering concept ‘Stress’ onto living things” – this she says, “was when ‘stress managing theory’ also began”. 3.
Too little and too late thought I with regard to Virginia Woolf, and her nightmare existence with nervous breakdowns, and the anguish that goes with depression. To understand such things then and now, are as far as us going to the moon and back. According to Patmore’s research in our current times, there are now around 15 million websites offering advice and services for ‘Stress management’. 4.
I began to wonder how Virginia Woolf would have loved access to the internet….no doubt she’d be doubling up her efforts with her own CC’s, and giving them away in further great works of literary art. Virginia Woolf, I suspect, would not have been a thrill seeker, or (Adrenaline Junkie). Patmore’s essay speaks about the CC type, such types are in fact ‘Art forms within their own right’. 5.
“People have always been willing to endure tension, tears and fears – as long as there is a climatic experience at the end of it 6. ,” she says, ‘CC’s as well are not minor versions of what gives us fun and pleasure.’ In Patmore’s opinion, they are about getting closer to ‘the Divine’. The thrill seeker/Adrenaline Junkies do not kill themselves either. These types draw to a place beyond fear, of catharsis, ego-release, timeless beauty, and tranquillity. 7. But surely, I thought, don’t great writers also draw together from a similar place, and do the same thing?
Her essay does explore this. She states that “The arts are predicated on tension and resolution,” – and that – ‘Great works of art come from the fusion of emotions that are positively and negatively charged, creating the satisfying harmonies of words or images.’ 8. It is dramatic fusion that is a feature of all great poetry – citing T.S Eliot, she says, ‘apparently he felt that ‘the poet’s brain was a crucible of alchemy, ‘storing up numberless feelings, phrases, images, which remain there until all the particles which can unite to form a new compound are present together.’ 9.
It appears that the importance of the artistic process was the ‘intensity’ and pressure for fusion to take place, in other words a stroke of CC’s and the TSE experience.
“It was the poet-philosopher, Coleridge, that devoted a lot of his literary life to exploring the creative process”, says Angela Patmore, 10. – and to quote the man himself, “the poet brings the whole soul of man into activity….he diffuses a tone and spirit of unity that blends and (as it were) fuses, each into each, by the synthetic and magical power, to which we have exclusively appropriated the name imagination”. 11.
All good and well said, I thought, however, what she did not mention was that Coleridge also spent a lot of time smoking Opium, apparently the ‘ The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere’ was created after many sessions on the pure fruits of the drug…well, good luck to him – interesting man, and probably his greatest poem!
The essay did give away lots of interesting knowledge, and the pleasure read of Virginia Woolf’s ‘Moments of Being’, did give me more insight into the harsher dimension of her life which in turn, adds more depth of feeling for her other works that need digesting .
Angela’s Patmore’s essay is a very well researched and has a great open minded view point on why we create the creative vacuums for ourselves and can help others realise their own. It appears Cerebral Climax is what keeps cultural values alive, and that without artistic tensions being put under stress, we would all be lifeless apathetic bores, having no need for reading, writing, thrill seeking, sportsmanship, creating poetry or novels, or even actually existing…..as Patmore explains herself, “In an age so dominated by sciences, the arts are beginning to re-emerge as needful to human health and sanity.” 12.
To read the essay in full, go to and download: http://magazine.thereader.org.uk/downloads.html
Notes: 1 -10 Ibid (all quotes from Angela Patmore’s Essay/Climbing to a Climax, from the Reader on-line.
11. Essay: Climbing to a Climax, by Angela Patmore quotes, S.T. Coleridge/The Reader on-line.
12. Angela Patmore/Climbing to a Climax – The Reader on line.
Author: Rachel Aspögård