It’s Virginia Woolf’s birthday today (she even gets a Google doodle!). She’s one of my favorites and I always think what a tragedy it was that she lived before there was real help for her mental illness.
This is from To The Lighthouse, one of my top five, and I think of it all the time. (The whole dinner party scene is in Google Books, and is amazing.)
Sitting opposite him, could she not see, as in an X-ray photograph, the ribs and thigh bones of the young man’s desire to impress himself lying dark in the mist of his flesh–that thin mist that convention had laid over his burning desire to break into the conversation? But, she thought, screwing up her Chinese eyes, and remembering how he sneered at women, ‘can’t paint, can’t write,’ why should I help him to relieve himself?
There is a code of behaviour, she knew, whose seventh article (it may be) says that on occasions of this sort it behoves the woman, whatever her own occupation might be, to go to the help of the young man opposite so that he may expose and relieve the thigh bones, the ribs, of his vanity, of his urgent desire to assert himself; as indeed it is their duty, she reflected, in her old maidenly fairness, to help us, suppose the Tube were to burst into flames. Then, she thought, I should certainly expect Mr. Tansley to get me out. But how would it be, she thought, if neither of us did either of these things? So she sat there smiling.