The Echo in the Lung: Virginia Woolf

Nazli Karabiyikoglu

            It had been two weeks since I left the Austens’ house. Leaving Chawtown, I ran to the stony ground until the meadow disappeared. Without thinking where to go, I reached the divergence of two roads, one of which led to the trees in an endless meadow and the one-story houses among them, and the other led to a curvy, pebble road. I naturally chose the greenery, and realized I was walking towards Selborne. I walked through the South Downs National Park spread through Britain from above Brighton to the left! The word “happiness” could describe the things I saw – small houses, broad farms, women of all ages walking with their dogs, my cheeks burning. They all hurt me.

            I walked through Selborne’s mad greens, blues, and whites.

What about the sisterhood, is it a lie? I wouldn’t call it a lie, but I would search the notional possibility of another word. For instance, I would describe it with actuality and visibility or express it as the unfinished work because of inadequate effort. Is it an embrace which serves its purpose well and bundles up with a perception of reality as much as possible in appearance? Or is it dysfunctional and leaves one alone in their heart? Is sisterhood a draft? Is it a sketch? Is it the desire of starting different jobs in different fields, is it desultoriness? Is it throwing many names out the window at the attic which is built by fewer names in order to attribute triumph and salvation to the individual? No, it can’t be, but I’m used to the sisterhood defined with the word draft. It is a draft made with charcoal pencil because it needs the devout rather than the earnest. How true it is to say that the siblings play a role for a woman who works as a devout for a political party, a nation, an institution and a family, surrendering after endeavoring for the construction of sisterhood? So it is equally true to say that a woman who writes personally endeavors to despise another woman in the field of literature, where the level of devoutness is high.

Oh the woman whose pelvis tightens! Do you welcome your promotion from the caves to the houses just because you are torn while pulling out the big heads? It was unchangeable, why did you have difficulty in transforming your personality, while easily modifying your body? If it still takes time to realize that you have to provide a non-egocentric tolerance flow together with the ones behind the wall in order not to be late to follow a third possibility and be trapped in binary oppositions, let it take time. Even observing a single linguistic transformation in you is equal with worshipping the miraculous glow of the rising sun each morning. This is not a war, the war is theirs; perhaps you begin with removing this word from your mind. If you direct your desultoriness to sort out the words, you have the possibility of witnessing small hopes to drag yourself forward from where you exhaust yourself with little patience. Let alone sisterhood. You don’t have to meet anyone under a roof built by a single word. As long as you proceed with insight, you will become the inspiration. Though quite separate, the inspiration springing out from the female during various times will wipe the dust of the universe on each of you.

At first I didn’t believe the sex of the writer mattered. I said the text was essential. Then I was despised and overwhelmed, and the things I wrote were belittled in accordance with my sex. As the definition beginning with women’s sensibility has evolved into burning like fire, let’s see what we can do for you, honey, your novels would shatter the earth if I kiss you once, I have realized the essential thing was not the sentences but the finely adjusted power. Though some of them had good intentions, they all possessed the oppressive instinct of the phallus. I saw it as I wrote. I grew stronger as I saw. As the power of the text was eternal, I made a list of things I could sacrifice to create it. I attached our list of hundreds of pages to the one-paged list of the phallus. Then I put my list consisting of a single line above all. The single line constituted: Death.

I kept walking slowly from the West Liss without entering the Liss Forest. The influence of this walk on my mind and existence could be described as being born by having the whole control over the process this time. The night started to fall. My personality and body were domestic enough to either get some sleep in a bed or spend time in between the walls. The wildness which caused tooth edge made my ears perk up and my throat scratchy, convinced me to sleep outside. I accelerated till I passed the Hill Brow Road. Turning left, I entered the Durford Wood. I came across a tree with a big trunk and rested my head on its root. With the song of the night birds, I fell into a divine, soul-permeable sleep which even the primitive man couldn’t fall into.

I woke up growling. I felt tightness in my chest due to the humidity of the night. Trying to straighten my road to Midhurst, I fed myself with the trees. I wet my face with the puddles on the leaves. The tweed green jacket, the black cotton dress with buttons sprawling from my neck down to my heels and the low-heeled boots pricked my skin. It was the side effect of walking on the soil pierced by the rebellious roads.

I walked for three hours, talking and giving speeches to myself. I tried to identify the characteristic of the absence of the need of another voice other than one’s own. Was it a good or terrible thing? The rein of my mind was unbound as I ran from Midhurst to Wiston, from the Steyning meadow to the district of Sussex. I couldn’t think I could run the Piddinghoe Road in one breath when I entered the forest to cut across Swanborough. I chose a path, turning left before reaching Southease. I ran without stopping. Then I stopped at the garden gate of the Monk’s House, wherein I desired to talk and heal. Thinking she would come and take me, I felt exhaustion and fainted.

First I could perceive the feet cracking the leaves near my head, then the thin body on which the grey skirt swayed. As she sank to her knees and caressed my cheek, I held my breath to extend that moment. I wanted her to believe I was dead. I showed what she wanted to see. If I could stop the beating of my pulse for a few minutes in order to make her experience the phenomenon she desired, I would surely do it. But life pulsated and her fingers were on my wrist. Pulling my head with her right arm, she lifted me. I could understand she was coming back from a long walk because of the moisture on her forehead. I lifted my hand, trembling due to the weariness, wiped the sweat on her forehead and dropped the liquid on my fingertip to my tongue.

I gave her the picture of being dead she missed. I brought her one step closer to death. What I could remember was Leonard who caught up with the shouts of Virginia and the bumpy moments when he and a housemaid carried me home.

I kept on pretending to sleep for two nights in order to watch her. It might be because either I didn’t have the courage to talk to her when I became sober or I shied away because what I would say could seem rough to her. Though it wasn’t her fault that she didn’t know the dynamic, expanding meaning of her mythical existence for me, I felt obliged to question the possibility of being attached to the written part of her memories with a good impression. I estimated the periods she checked on me, meaninglessly looking at the fireplace crunching in a nearly big room within the white walls of the wide, single-story Monk’s House which was memorized as the permanent place to let go of mental illnesses, spiritual instability and depression by escaping London and other cities. I even groaned softly, closing my eyes when she was near me. Perhaps I wanted to transform into a dramatic figure and flow in her mind, become one of the colors of the flowers in the Monk’s House’s garden which I couldn’t see, and nestle on her cheek. I waited for the unawareness of this ugly woman who got rid of the burden of deciding the meal for dinner, created an ideal husband by deconstructing and reshaping the masculine power, had bags under her eyes despite her age and tied her hair above her neck. Since my twenties, I always wanted to catch her vacant stare in her natural state without realizing of my existence. On the evening of the third day, I got off the bed after counting till ten thousand after she checked for my fever. I unbuttoned the collar of the flannel nightshirt. I walked on my tiptoes throughout the hallway and saw from a window Leonard tending to the garden. I held on to the wall, waited for my heart to choose the right door. She might be in one of the two rooms at the end of the hallway. First I listened to the door on the right and couldn’t hear anything. Then I listened to the one on the left. It was silent as well. Then I heard the sizzle of the first moment when the cigarette paper met the fire. Opening the door slowly, I poked my head inside.

She was sitting in the burgundy velvet chair with a high backrest slightly facing the door. She had a tray on her lap, like a breakfast tray, and there were reams of papers, some pencils, an inkwell and an ashtray. When she lit a cigarette she previously rolled, she hungrily smoked it. When she forgot the cigarette and immersed herself in writing, she carried the smoke to her lungs in a minute by holding the small cigarette between her fingers. Which novel, article or memory was she writing about? I could guess if I could look from above her shoulders, I read them all. But I didn’t want to. It was enough to see her writing on that chair, only moving her arms, and her eyes staring into space. The state of self-alienation resembled a soul looking at its body after leaving it. After a while when the cigarette fell on the paper, looking at the finger which held the cigarette like a pen, I saw what I actually went after in both my dreams and life through the vision of the eyes staring beyond emptiness.

I saw the description of the impulse which brought me there in the lungs of the burning paper.

I heard it when the creature, who could desist from all values of writing, looked at the wall; it was something beyond religion, above the norms, and it was the successor of nature. It was essential in order to live; it did not mean breeding but multiplying in dust, wearing the noose on your neck, meeting at the intersection of the forsaken while restraining the most rebellious and wildest feeling and transforming it into a sentence. In order to write one more word, therefore to prove your existence, to turn back to the nebulas as a particle of dust, it meant dealing with the imagination of old age obliged to loneliness as a consequence of ignoring the endowed ovary. It meant breaking yourself in two from the tip of your nose, presenting one half to the society, and gaining strength in a room in order to endure the society and giving sovereignty to the power by building brand new worlds on the curves of endurance with the other half. Naked each time. Each time, when the pen met the paper, it wouldn’t scatter on the ground by being ruffled in the hands. It meant chasing the page which didn’t go to waste, praying to it, sometimes begging, separating the complicated series of events and eliminating the ones that touched and didn’t touch, adopting the narrative. Naked each time. The fetus before the fiction. Putting forward sensible reasons for having a lump in the throat which couldn’t understand the breath it took. It was the only element, the only fluid, the only alternative of writing; so one of them was the replacement of the other, one of them had the same characteristics as the other. Naked each time. The replacement of writing is death.

The failure of writing the desired thing in a minute was equal to failing death on first attempt.

A bell tolled in the saloon downstairs. The dinner was ready. Virginia moved in her chair, I returned to my bed, shutting the door in a hurry. I put on my dress which I was wearing when they found me. It was clean and I went down to the saloon.

The days were stable in Monk’s House. Waking up early every morning, Leonard left his room before his wife, dressed up, drank coffee and ate a slice of bread with butter. Then he went to the printing house, which the wide storeroom was transformed into, and made copies. The lady of the house woke up later and drank coffee in her room – she couldn’t drink her coffee with the same aroma every day because she couldn’t impose the servants, but she didn’t say anything, she convinced herself of the vainness of quarreling with the servants. When she went to study in her room, she looked at some books and niched in the chair, taking her tray in order to find what her soul needed in the papers. She worked until dinner without being disturbed unless a visitor came or Leonard wanted to spend time with her, and the household kept on working regularly while she was working. Virginia reminded herself of the reason why they moved to this house: dissuading her from dying. All the difficulties, the idle burden brought by leaving the city, and Leonard’s endurance of the coyness without complaining were for her to walk the road surrounding the house towards the stream, and the road seemed to be built in order to keep her away from the things she tried but couldn’t succeed at. After dinner she usually talked to Leonard, read books, or they sat before the fireplace, in silence, during winter and in the garden during summer. This was a relationship through which the criterion of desire, marriage or friendship couldn’t be described, the vein it was fed was the mind of the woman.

It was January, in 1941. I saw it on the calendar behind Leonard when the emptiness, which made them both smile, surrounded the room as I went down for the dinner. Where did I come? Whom was I with? Where did I try to go? I adored her when she put aside the problems of her husband with a hand gesture. Don’t ask, let her take rest, don’t ask, let her gather her wits, perhaps she came from death and going to death, she had an equal side with me.

If the ones who didn’t write wrote, would we fall into the rustling of the same sentences on the paper again?

My mind recorded the sentences which were secretly written by female writers, who embraced the city, country, humans, existence and the world after a certain age and began questioning femininity, in order to triumph in the fields their common fate could not dominate in. Since the moment the picture on a cave’s wall became a diary, I read everything as the instrument of writing such as the iron, sand, bullet, under the shadow of the potential. Virginia was the first physical rebel of this historicity, which could be the reason for my admiration. Her long fingers drew the course of route which had to be taken since the moment she pointed the infection in the sentence on the map of collective consciousness.

Particular death is for us, because each of us is within the vagina with dark corridors, closing by itself. There is no breathing.

One night, when they didn’t meet before the fireplace, Virginia returned to her room after dinner, and told about the writing she had to finish. So what needed to be expressed was urgent. Like the first moment I saw her in the study room, I approached the door. I opened it and looked at her image on the chair, cigarette between her lips, the woman without Nessa and Vita. She wrote for a while and stopped. She smoked for a long time. Her hands were motionless on the tray.

I opened the door widely and let my body in. I went in silently as if I were floating, and I stood behind her, looking at the paper on the tray.

“A battle against depression (…). This trough of despair shall not, I swear, engulf me. The solitude is great. Rodmell life is very small beer. The house is damp. The house is untidy. But there is no alternative. Also days will lengthen.”[1]

I felt fear at that moment. First I slowly exhaled not to frighten her, and I touched her shoulder. She was not frightened.

“You don’t have to live with this,” I whispered. “You don’t have to struggle with this. There are lots of people with the same burden, but they don’t know their names. But you wake up struggling every day and you are not tired of carrying the depression with you.”

She raised her head and looked at me from the opposite direction. She was not angry at me being there, but she didn’t smile either.

She didn’t complete her sentence “always clinging to the hope of recovery.” I stood before the chair, kneeled down, touching her skirt.

I felt happy with pride because the journey was not in vain; I was surprised I could utter the things I wanted her to say.

“I don’t know anything about the relationship of men with death,” I said, “but I am sure of my sex, I witnessed a life, which is maintained on the common ground of comprehending the earth and death, transferred from me to us. Dying is your most reasonable decision. There are lots of women writers ready to bear the idea you cannot tolerate and the dream you cannot actualize. Standing between the transferred misery and deficiency, your congeners, ready to embrace the feminine pride, are waiting on the continents of the earth, be sure. Not only your writings but also your death will be adopted. We all bury you according to the rules of each archaic religion, each pagan belief and all religions with a book. As long as your cigarette passes from mouth to mouth, we will tell your sentences and get the best of you with you. What you needed to do was before you, and you did it. Do not listen to the complicated things insisting you are contrary to the inequity, to the passion you inhibit and to the rules of desiring a man. This is your nature; you can guide women while desiring men. You, the bad woman! Restraining yourself in the pale colors. In the personal choices, death renders its terror into sleep.”

She stood up, raised me up, holding my hands. She embraced my waist so tight I imagined an elephant raising me up with its trunk. I buried my head in her neck and sang my song to her:

“Do not be afraid of dying, the water, the stones in your pocket,

the laughter of women will echo in your lungs.

Your eyes will not only close for yourself,

transfer us the death, the death.”

            We sang this song every night for two months.

            I was overwhelmed by the light of the sweet morning. I drank coffee and helped Leonard edit the pages. Virginia was obviously out for a walk. Leonard gave me a cigarette, but it wasn’t lit. I tried many times, but the paper and tobacco couldn’t light up. That moment I realized, without looking at (whose?) face, I left the printing room. I ran and saw the path. I ran and heard the waters. I ran and knew she put stones in her pockets. I gave her the idea, but I couldn’t predict she would leave without saying goodbye to me and Leonard. This had to be an epic moment. This had to be the unique moment worth writing about, which I would throw up from my lungs when I remembered after returning to my world. But she didn’t say goodbye, and I ran without knowing whether to reach the epic moment or to touch her hand for the last time.

            It was March, and cold again. Short of breath, I ran towards the River Ouse and I saw an arm waving in the exuberant waters. I took off my clothes and swam towards her.

            I embraced her cold body to my chest, raised and held her head with my arms. It was the string of her life which could continue in the detail of swimming. At the parts where the exuberant waters dashed us, I could keep us in touch with the oxygen – her clothes were heavy, which pulled us down, but I could keep her up. Her breathing was dull and she looked into my eyes.

            I saw a hundred years after me in the iris of the eye where the water drops left various generations. I saw how a woman, who devoted her mind, heart, internal organs and body to writing, could tease death and how she wouldn’t lose anything from her narrative by being reversed to the opposite of everything since the first sentence of creation. I saw that the changing sentence structure did not match with the ones who gathered their ego in the phallus. I didn’t mean to bring her to life once again, but I dealt with saying goodbye and pulling her out was Leonard’s task. I whispered I wouldn’t stop her from reaching death. So she lost her resistance and loosened herself in my arms. I erased her mind, I left everything she worried about, every writer, every sentence, comma and object she edited into the flow of the running waters. She was relieved, wrapped her arms around my neck.

“I am glad you are not like the ones who saw death as an end and reckoned death the weak line of despair,” she said. “It is the peaceful dream pointing the place where ideas cannot proceed. I was about to fall into the recurring sentence. I was about to fall into the recurring life. I fell into the recurring story and destroyed everything I wrote. My story was unique and worth telling, and every unique story deserves being told. Your acquaintances tell you a story and advise you to write it. My story is simple like this. I trusted everything I discovered on the sublime level of my mind. I knew this would call upon death since the beginning. Hold me looser. Let me swallow the waters. Comprehend this death; keep in mind my withering to use when needed. I wonder whether we die with our eyes open no matter how we die. Is it a matter of sex or will you ridicule the ruling power by adopting the things I ridiculed? Comprehend this death, look, the sound has come. What angel, where is the angel? They are all lies; I love you carrying my head.”

            Holding the body from the torso, I drowned it into the waters, pushing it with my body. As I was sure she was motionless, I let her into the flow. After a while I pulled my feet from the rocks I fastened myself to and let myself into the Ouse.




[1] Virginia Woolf, A Writer’s Diary.



Nazli Karabiyikoglu is an author from Turkey, now a full-time resident in Georgia, who secluded herself from the political and gender oppression in Turkey. She was awarded Writer at Residence program in Prague by UNESCO City of Literature 2020 and Writers-in-Exile Scholarship by PEN Germany for 2021-2023. She reads for Theta Wave and Trampset, conducts interviews for Marias at Sampaguitas. Her work has appeared in Words Without Borders, Alchemy, and many others. She is represented by Janklow&Nesbit Literary Agency.