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A Childish Father
In Virginia Woolf's "My Father: Leslie Stephen" she delineates a description of her father. Her use of
subtle detail and diction allows the reader to discover allusions about her father's childish personality.
Leslie Stephen's clever imagination, neglect of conventional values, and love of communicating ideas on
paper, all aid in setting up his "fairy tale" adult life.
It is clear from the start that Virginia Woolf wanted to stress her father's love of writing. Within
less than a page, Woolf uses many words to describe her father's love of writing: book, written, wrote,
paper, pencil, read, flyleaves, essays, and stories. It is also necessary to note that she uses words such as
draw, scribble, and illustrate. When that is applied to her father's love of creating animal shapes, or drawing
beasts on paper, it can be seen that his creative outlet relies heavily on the paper material itself. Just as a
child might read stories, draw animals, or sway to sleep, Mr. Stephen would write while rocking back and
forth in his chair "like a cradle (155)."
The line between reality and imagaination is one that Woolf's father was not ready to cross. It
wasn't his dexterous hands or his writings that displayed his true self; it was the pictures that extended
beyond the page and into the depths of the mind. His imagination could take him from the "guns on the
battlefield (157)" to "old age and the bankrupty court (157)." Although well off, he would sign a check and
feel as though he was "shooting Niagara to ruin (157)." To the outside world Mr. Stephen would remain
silent and reserved, but when studied carefully enough, a hint or two of his creative side would trickle out.
Like a child who wears his or her clothes until a parent says to change, Mr. Stephen hides himself in
"clothes until they were too shabby to be tolerated (158)." But what is reality? Was her father financially
scared? Was his "shabby clothes (158)" his way of being creative, and "upsetting [the] established
reputations (156) of wealthy men?
I think the question of which world Mr. Stephen is living in, a world of reality or imagination, can
best be inferred from Woolf's description of a typical trip with her father into Kensington Gardens. Mr.
Stephen would take his hat and his stick, call for his dog and his daughter, and stride off into a realm of
royalty. He would pass through areas where he made bows to Queen Victoria and even saluted the great
Duke (157). Mr. Stephen would not walk; he would stride. Mr. Stephen would not move around with
purpose or determination; he would stroll. Mr. Stephen "thinking half aloud (157)" would wonder like a
man in the park, chanting "utter trash (155)" and poetry like a child without a worry in the world. Indeed,
Mr. Stephen was living his own fairy tale.
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Bloomsbury Group, Virginia Woolf, Leslie Stephen
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