November 3, 2018
Garrison Keillor performs with duet partner Lynne Peterson and longtime collaborator & pianist Richard Dworsky.
5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
A live performance at the Brady Theater
Long Beach, CA
A live performance at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center
A live performance at the Saenger Theatre
A live performance at the Yavapai College Performing Arts Center
“The Last Perfect Season” by Joyce Sutphen. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
No one knew it then, but that was the last
perfect season, the last time sky and earth
were so balanced that when we walked,
we flew, the last time we could pick a crate
of strawberries every morning in June,
the last time the mystical threshing
machine appeared at the edge of the field,
dividing the oats from the chaff, time of
hollyhocks and sprinklers, white clouds over
a tin roof. Everyone we knew was young then.
Our mothers wore dresses the color of
dove wings, slim at the waist, skirts flaring
just enough to let the folds drape slightly,
like the elegant suits our fathers wore,
shirts so white they dazzled even
the grainy eye of the camera when
we looked down into the viewfinder to
press the button that would keep us there,
as if we already knew that this was
as good as it was ever going to get.
Leonard Woolf was friends with Virginia’s beloved brother, Thoby, who had recently died of typhoid; and also with one of her closest friends, Lytton Strachey. Strachey had proposed marriage to Virginia in 1909, and she had accepted. Strachey was gay at a time when it was illegal to be gay in England, Virginia was hesitant about her sexuality, and they liked and respected each other as intellectual equals. But Lytton quickly changed his mind — he wrote to Leonard: “I was in terror lest she should kiss me” — and Virginia admitted that she didn’t love Lytton.
Instead, Lytton campaigned for his old friend Leonard to marry Virginia. Leonard Woolf was stationed in what is now Sri Lanka as a civil servant in the Colonial Service, but when he came home after seven years of service, he reacquainted himself with Virginia and fell in love. He was smart, and a writer, and he knew enough to be cautious with her — they went on walks and talked. He proposed to her in January of 1912, and she didn’t accept. But she continued to see him and agonized over why she did not want to get married. She wrote to Leonard in May of 1912: “All I can see is that in spite of these feelings which go chasing each other all day long when I am with you, there is some feeling which is permanent, and growing. You want to know of course whether it will ever make me want to marry you. How can I say? I think it will, because there seems to be no reason why it shouldn’t — But I don’t know what the future will bring. I’m half afraid of myself. I sometimes feel that no one ever has or ever shall feel something — It’s the thing that makes you call me like a hill, or a rock. Again, I want everything — love, children, adventure, intimacy, work. (Can you make any sense out of this ramble? I am putting down one thing after another.) So I go from being half in love with you, and wanting you to be with me always, and know everything about me, to the extremes of wildness and aloofness. I sometimes think that if I married you, I could have everything — and then — is it the sexual side of it that comes between us? As I told you brutally the other day, I feel no physical attraction in you. There are moments — when you kissed me the other day was one — when I feel no more than a rock. And yet your caring for me as you do almost overwhelms me. It is so real, and so strange. Why should you? What am I really except a pleasant attractive creature? But its just because you care so much that I feel I’ve got to care before I marry you. I feel I must give you everything; and that if I can’t, well, marriage would only be second-best for you as well as for me. If you can still go on, as before, letting me feel my own way, as that is what would please me best; and then we must both take the risks. But you have made me very happy too. We both of us want a marriage that is a tremendous living thing, always hot, not dead and easy in parts as most marriages are. We ask a great deal of life, don’t we? Perhaps we shall get it; then, how splendid!”
At the end of May, Virginia had made up her mind; she told Leonard that she loved him and wanted to marry him. She sent a letter to her friend in which she misspelled her future husband’s name and said, “I am going to marry Leonard Wolf — he is a penniless Jew.” But her sister Vanessa thought they seemed happy.
Virginia was overwhelmed by Leonard’s large Jewish family, who lived in Putney, a suburb of London. She wrote: “Work and love and Jews in Putney take it out of me.” When she and Leonard did get married, his family was not invited — it was a small and simple wedding, but of course they were still offended.
The wedding had been originally planned for August 12th but it was moved to August 10th to suit the schedule of Virginia’s sister and brother-in-law, Vanessa and Clive Bell. The ceremony was at the registry office, and several things went wrong. There was a bad thunderstorm. The registrar couldn’t see very well and kept stumbling over parts of the service, especially over the names Virginia and Vanessa. Then, in the middle of the service, Vanessa interrupted to say that she had a question: She remembered that she would like to change her son’s name, and she wondered how to legally do so. They made it through the ceremony eventually, and Virginia Stephen became Virginia Woolf.
After the ceremony, the Bells hosted a midday wedding breakfast. Virginia’s half-brothers were there, George and Gerald Duckworth, dressed in their finest; as well as Roger Fry, Vanessa’s lover; and Duncan Grant, soon to become Vanessa’s lover. Virginia’s aunt Mary attended, as did a couple of other members of the Bloomsbury group — Saxon Sydney-Turner and Frederick Etchells.
That evening the Woolfs set off on a two-month honeymoon through France, Spain, and Italy. They had a wonderful time as companions, and Virginia wrote to a friend: “We’ve talked incessantly for seven weeks, and become chronically nomadic and monogamic.” But she wrote to another friend: “Why do you think people make such a fuss about marriage and copulation? Why do some of our friends change upon losing chastity? Possibly my great age makes it less of a catastrophe; but certainly I find the climax immensely exaggerated. Except for a sustained good humor (Leonard shan’t see this) due to the fact that every twinge of anger is at once visited upon my husband, I might still be Miss S.”
It’s the birthday of poet Joyce Sutphen (books by this author), born in St. Cloud, Minnesota (1949). She’s the author of Straight Out of View (1995), Coming Back to the Body (2000), Naming the Stars (2003), Fourteen Sonnets (2005), and First Words (2010). Her most recent book is Modern Love and Other Myths (2015). Sutphen spent her childhood on a farm near St. Joseph, Minnesota. She said: “Like many of the people I had read about, I set out on a long journey to find truth and beauty. As usual, the road led straight back to the beginning: home, country roads, the sun setting through the woods.”
She was named Minnesota’s poet laureate in 2011.
It was on this date in 1846 that the United States Congress passed legislation creating the Smithsonian Institution.
James Smithson was an English scientist. He was also the illegitimate son of a nobleman and a widow who was related to the royal family. He was born in secret in Paris, and though he inherited a lot of money from his mother, his illegitimacy kept him from any of the social or career advantages that his family connections might have given him. He once wrote, “On my father’s side I am a Northumberland, on my mother’s I am related to kings, but this avails me not.” He never married, and spent his life traveling and getting to know some of the greatest scientific minds of Europe. He believed scientists should be “citizens of the world,” and wrote, “It is in knowledge that man has found his greatness and his happiness.” Smithson published more than two dozen papers on a wide variety of subjects.
Shortly before his death in 1829, he bequeathed his estate to his nephew. But if the nephew died childless, Smithson wrote, then the money was to go to the United States for the foundation of an institution for “the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” The nephew died without any heirs in 1835.
The bequest sparked a debate in Washington between the Federalists and the supporters of states’ rights. The states’ rights people argued that the Constitution didn’t make any provisions for a national institution. But the Federalists won out, and in 1838, the entire estate, worth more than half a million dollars, was transferred to the United States Mint. The debate didn’t end with the Federalists’ victory, though. For nearly a decade, people argued about what he meant by the “increase and diffusion of knowledge.” Did he mean a university? If so, what kind? Did he mean an observatory, a research institute, a publishing house, a national library, or a museum?
In the end, it became all of those things, with the exception of the university. The Smithsonian complex now includes museums of natural history, American history, fine and decorative arts, and air and space technology: 19 museums in all. It also encompasses four research centers, a research library, and the National Zoo.