Category Archives: Woolf, Virginia

Moral equivalence and egotism

The inability to distinguish between different scales of suffering

Dalrymple writes:

The inability of western intellectuals to distinguish between the major suffering of others and their own minor irritations and frustrations goes back a long way: Virginia Woolf is a prime example, as are the many who could not see the difference between the House Un-American Activities Committee and the NKVD. It is as if the suffering of a prominent Western intellectual counts many times as much as the suffering of anonymous exotics who will never so much as write a newspaper column.

It implies,

and will be understood by our enemies to mean, that we have nothing much in our tradition to defend. If there is no real difference between the oppressive practices of Moslems, including forced marriage on pain of death, and the treatment of women in the west only 50 years ago—and if any difference between the lot of western and Moslem women of today is ascribable solely to the recent efforts of a handful of feminists—then there cannot be much to choose between Western and Islamic culture.

Jewelled prose disguising narcissistic rage

Dalrymple asks of Virginia Woolf:

Might the revelation by the war of the utter frivolity of her attitudinising have contributed to her decision to commit suicide? If the good life is a matter of judgment, the war proved that all her adult life she had none.

Yet he notes that had she survived to our time,

she would have had the satisfaction of observing that her cast of mind — shallow, dishonest, resentful, envious, snobbish, self-absorbed, trivial, philistine, brutal — had triumphed among the élites of the Western world.

A person of advanced views and reactionary feeling

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Virginia Woolf had a servant problem

It is very difficult, Dalrymple points out,

to align harmoniously one’s emotional responses with one’s intellectual standpoint.

  • fervent democrats often despise most people
  • nationalists are appalled by the stupidity and backwardness of their fellow-countrymen
  • Communists are avid for money and privilege
  • puritans lust for the flesh

Sometimes it seems, says Dalrymple,

as if only indifference to the fate of others is genuine.