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Friday, July 08, 2016

Virginia Woolf (and Edward Albee)

Virginia Woolf in 1902
by George Charles Beresford
(source: wikimedia)
no copyright infringement intended


My first encounter with the name of Virginia Woolf took place in Bucharest, by the mid of the seventies. At the National Theater, Radu Beligan and Marcela Rusu, Valeria Seciu and Costel Constantin were playing George and Martha, Honey and Nick, the old couple and the young one, in Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. My knowledge of modern English literature (and generally of modern literature) was next to nothing. I had read a decent number of authors, but all of them were from the 19th century. A Romanian book about the post-war English and American theater had come just in time to show me new horizons (together with a long article published in one of the few liberal magazines allowed to exist in the Communist country that was by then Romania). It was a period of cultural opening (it didn't last long, that's another story), and some of these English or American guys began to be staged in one or another of the Bucharest theaters. So I went to see Albee's play, eager to swallow that modern mentality, to get familiar with that world, as much as I could. You know, I was young and enthusiastic.

It was much later that I understood that the name of Virginia Woolf was used in the play just as a pun (as well as the names of George and Martha: just another pun - a reference this time to George Washington and his wife). Irreverent puns? Well, yes, young rebels are always irreverent.

I was no more young when I had the occasion to visit Washington's places, a great journey that I made on the Potomac, admiring the view of all those superb manors strung on the Virginian shore between Alexandria and Mount Vernon, enduring a heavy rain (sheltered under the boat's roof), and listening to the stories of the captain, a guy with a respectable white beard pretending to be an old buccaneer. As I said, I was no more young, and through the years I had got the habit to be sometimes irreverent myself (for good or bad reasons). So all kind of puns (some of them innocent) came to my mind as I was walking through Washington's manor, or along the houses of his slaves, or in the exhibition showing his farming preoccupations (or just listening to the story of his false teeth).

And much, much later, I learned that George and Martha from Albee's play were based on a real couple famous in the New York artistic world of the fifties, Willard Maas and Marie Menken. A great couple, promoting the new trends, with a formidable vision of what the arts should become, mentoring the young artists, instilling in them the courage to experiment. And yes, the two having a well known tempestuous relationship. Albee knew them well and actually Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf was a subtle tribute, an accolade if you like, a modern form of tribute (irreverent and paradoxical, why not?) paid to these promoters of modernity. I have to tell you sometime about the movies they made these two guys, Maas and Menken, and about their importance in the modernist movement of that epoch.

And perhaps I should tell you also about my other encounters with the name of Virginia Woolf.




(A Life in Books)

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