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About “Death Among the Apples”

by Oonah V. Joslin

Oonah tells us about the origin of her poem “Death Among the Apples” and answers some questions. Thanks, Oonah!

“Death Among the Apples” is from Virginia Woolf’s novel The Waves. So is the yellow gown. But in The Waves one never can tell who is speaking. It is very stream of consciousness until you get to know the characters’ voices. But all the voices are so very human that we feel we have all been those people at one time or another — at least I feel I have...

Virginia’s mental state meant that she never accepted herself. She once had a marriage proposal from Lytton Strachey, but he wasn’t serious anyway because of what is referred to today as “orientation.” I have often thought that her work was all about that inner being no-one else knows, not even Vita perhaps. Relationships can only go skin deep.

The poem has several voices:

  1. The first voice here is Vita Sackville-West, the great gardener, who was her lover.
  2. The second voice is Lytton Strachey but could have equally been her sister Vanessa Bell or her husband.
  3. The third voice is her clothing, less and less specific but still “skin close.”
  4. The last voice is a servant, un-named, fictitious like her characters — beneath her notice — an outsider to her life. That voice is mine, I suppose, one who could never know Virginia Woolf at all. Yet I have always felt sad for her.


Thank you for the explanation, Oonah! It really helps a lot. The subject matter is far outside of my field. I have to admit I find the poem vivid but esoteric. From your explanation, I realize that as an an ekphrastic poem it may be somewhat hermetic. But I’m sure it will find an appreciative audience among Virginia Woolf scholars and those in the general public who are familiar with her life and, in particular, the novel you mention.


Copyright © 2013 by Oonah V. Joslin
and Bewildering Stories

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