‘To go for a walk like Virginia Woolf’; to be tied down like Jane Eyre.

“There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.”

The opening line of Jane Eyre contrasts with all that came after it in English literature. The young orphan does not feel like she has her freedom. She is “less than a servant”, because she does not even earn her keep. She’s untethered but denied her right to roam. She protests but is tied down with her mistress’s garters.

The women in Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock discard their corsets with ease, following a walk in the midday sun, out on the Australian frontier where the recoding of bourgeois society is beginning but has not quite taken root. But it is always those in high society who egress through heat.

The other day I wrote about cold intensities. The heat of jungles, deserts and swamps, favoured by the Ccru and its acolytes, but I can’t help but feel like this is a hangover from Grand Tour bourgeois imperialism that is adopted uncritically.

Jane Eyre, sent into isolation for her wayward and uncouth ways, immediately gives her mind over to “the haunts of sea-fowl; of ‘the solitary rocks and promontories’ by them only inhabited”. She cites a poem by James Thomson that speaks to “melancholy isles / Of farthest Thule”. The cold, to her, is synonymous of dreams of isolation, where she will be left in peace, no longer under the thumb of the nurses and children of gentry who abuse her daily.

And yet, the primary reason for her not being able to go on a walk is because of the cold, which she despises in that instant — “dreadful to me was the coming home in the raw twilight, with nipped fingers and toes” — but only because, at that time, it was synonymous with the coldness and the “chidings” levelled at her by those to whom she was supposedly indebted: the upper-classes to whom she is an inconvenient ward.

Cold is both oppressor and freedom in the mind of the child. This is not a sign of cognitive dissonance but instead speaks to cold’s innate multiplicity. It is singular in its expression but contains within itself countless degrees of intensity.

When Deleuze and Guattari write of the body as a haecceity, this is what they are getting at. “A season, a winter, a summer, an hour, a date have a perfected individuality lacking nothing, even though this individuality is different from that of a thing or a subject. They are haecceities in the sense that they consist entirely to relations of movement and rest”.

The heat of Heart of Darkness, most explicitly, is a haecceity to counter the banal temperateness to which the capitalist classes are accustomed. The cold, on the other hand, becomes a haecceity that hardens working hands and faces or sends lovers careening across non-Euclidean paths. (“In Charlotte Brontë, everything is in terms of wind”, Deleuze and Guattari note.)

The shortest distance between two points is only a straight line on a flat surface. Out in the world, in “the plane of Nature”, longitude and latitude — “the two elements of cartography” — provide reference for points of intensive potential. They are beacons in fog, but they do not represent two distinct locations for a traveller to pass between but two areas of intensity where light spreads out, creating a halo of possibility.

They are lighthouses, turning, casting a panning light across unknown regions, not representing land, danger or a safe haven, but simply providing a veil of preparation that encompasses an area between sea and land.

In this sense, it is important that Deleuze and Guattari compare a schizophrenic out for a walk as being “like Virginia Woolf”. Woolf is not an individual subject in this instance but a haecceity herself. We should note that they do not say “like Clarissa Dalloway” or “like Septimus Smith” — the characters in Woolf’s novels known for their walkabouts. They say “like Virginia Woolf” because the author walks both paths, and countless others besides. She is the lighthouse, casting her gaze across lives lived. She disappears into minds that are not her own, and drifts out again, dissolving herself into a collective intensity, a light that pans across our subjective fog.

It is no coincidence that so many of her novels transcend class structures in this regard, nor that the characters created by the Brontës or Gaskell or Lawrence similarly transgress their enclosures, both sociocultural and geographic.

Most important of all, though, is that the plane of intensity they utilise is still available to us right here on the British isles. Outsideness needn’t be jungle fever but a pervasive home-grown coldness.

We forget what this is like, under the influence of a warming planet, but in areas of class oppression the cold has often been a vector for other forms of life. It might be useful to channel the cold again in opposition to the temperate nature of a climate emergency that sees seasons become less distinct and politics become less ambitious. I’d wager the two are not unrelated.

Contemporary geotrauma leads to boomers complaining around an open fire. Don’t stay inside and fight about it.

Go for a walk, like Virginia Woolf.



Photographs taken on two walks through Derbyshire on 21st and 25th December.

One thought on “‘To go for a walk like Virginia Woolf’; to be tied down like Jane Eyre.

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