A lyrical, a scholarly, a fastidious mind might have used seclusion and solitude to perfect its powers. Tennyson asked no better than to live with books in the heart of the country. But the mind of Elizabeth Barrett was lively and secular and satirical. She was no scholar. Books were to her not an end in themselves but a substitute for living. She raced through folios because she was forbidden to scamper on the grass. She wrestled with Aeschylus and Plato because it was out of the question that she should argue about politics with live men and women.
—Virginia Woolf (‘Aurora Leigh’, from
The Common Reader 2nd series)
But what I want to know is: how do you tell? How do you tell if you are a scholar or an escapist? How do you tell if books are your be-all and end-all or just a way of passing time?1 How do you tell? How can you tell?
- An ugly phrase, ‘passing time’, which always reminds me of its crude relative ‘passing water’, both being necessary and yet unmentionable. [↩]