I loved this description of a young boy going to all lengths to be able to read as much as he wants.  I remember being conscious of a few specific books as a small child, and ‘reading’ them long before I knew how to read.  Some were children’s books but I also recall Time-Life or similar black and white photography books.

In Orlando, the early taste for reading quickly leads to a more pernicious wish: to write.  Again, I can remember the magic of learning to write.  Firstly, a booklet given to me at my first school with a big version of each letter per page; then of being taught at school and by my brother at the same time – even today my writing bears a childish resemblance to his.  And then being one of the first in the class to qualify, on the grounds of neat writing, from a pencil to a biro and being given a dandelion yellow plastic pen with a pointed end in recognition.  What an honour it felt.

‘The taste for books was an early one.  As a child he was sometimes found at midnight by a page still reading.  They took his taper away, and he bred glow-worms to serve his purpose.   They took the glow-worms away, and he almost burnt the house down with a tinder.’

‘But worse was to come.  For once the disease of reading has laid upon the system it weakens it so that it falls an easy prey to that other scourge which dwells in the inkpot and festers in the quill.  The wretch takes to writing.’

Source: Virginia Woolf, Orlando: A Biography, ed. with an introduction by Rachel Bowlby (Oxford: World’s Classics, 1992), p. 71 and p. 72

Photo credit: 41330 at pixabay.com


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