Key’s Cupboard : An Inquiry Into The Death Of Virginia Woolf

Key's Cupboard

On the eighth of March 1941, Virginia Woolf wrote in her journal “I think it is true that one gains a certain hold on sausage and haddock by writing them down.”

The neurasthenic novelist’s choice of words suggests that she was not quite sure about this: “I think it is true” rather than “It is true” or, more assuredly, “Now listen here, lumpenproles, because I won’t say it again – one gains a certain hold on sausage and haddock by writing them down.” Is it pertinent that before the month of March was out, Woolf did away with herself by plunging into the river Ouse, her pockets crammed with stones? Was she led to her watery end, at least partly, because she was not entirely sure in her mind that writing down “sausage” and “haddock” genuinely helped her to grasp a sausage and a haddock?

I decided to test the idea, a month shy of the seventieth anniversary, by setting up a camping-stool on the banks of the Ouse, armed with paper and pencil. As a precaution, I did not fill my pockets with stones. Indeed, I went further, donning a life-jacket and slipping a rubber ring, stolen from a lido, about my waist. In a pocket of the life-jacket I stowed a whistle, so that if need be I could parp it, loudly and repeatedly, to summon help.

Gritting my teeth and jutting my jaw, I took my pencil and wrote the possibly fateful words on a sheet of paper. Look –

And I waited. I rested my hands, palms uppermost, on my knees, hoping to grasp a sausage in one hand and a haddock in the other. If they did not appear, would I feel compelled to plunge into the Ouse?

Well, readers, I sat it out for upwards of three hours, before rain began to fall in England. There was sign neither of sausage nor of haddock, but nor, crucially, had I had any compulsion to fling myself into the Ouse. I therefore conclude that Virginia Woolf had other things on her poor battered mind on the day of her death. Not sausage. Not haddock.

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About Author Profile: Frank Key

Frank Key is a London-based writer, blogger and broadcaster best known for his Hooting Yard blog, short-story collections and his long-running radio series Hooting Yard on the Air, which has been broadcast weekly on Resonance FM since April 2004. By Aerostat to Hooting Yard - A Frank Key Reader, an ideal introduction to his fiction, is published for Kindle by Dabbler Editions. Mr Key's Shorter Potted Brief, Brief Lives was published in October 2015 by Constable and is available to buy online and in all good bookshops.

8 thoughts on “Key’s Cupboard : An Inquiry Into The Death Of Virginia Woolf

    February 11, 2011 at 09:05

    This is the funniest thing I’ve read for a long time.

  2. info@shopcurious.cpm'
    February 11, 2011 at 09:41

    Perhaps you should have tried Lidl instead of the lido, Frank?

    February 11, 2011 at 10:30

    The vital ingredient was missing Frank, stones in pocket, watery graves are so last year.

  4. Gaw
    February 11, 2011 at 11:50

    You deserve a PhD for that. But I do have an alternative explanation.

    I think she meant she would literally get ‘a certain hold’ on sausage and haddock, in the event that she should need them as serviceable life-buoys, if she were to write them down. It’s a classic case of the dreamy novelist mistaking words for reality.

    And when it came to it, having the constituent parts of her sausage-and-haddock life-buoy written down in her journal helped her not a whit – she should have had the real thing with her to hold on to. If that makes sense.

    February 11, 2011 at 12:11

    Venturing into reality for a moment, Mrs Dalloway is one of the few books I’ve given up on out of sheer irritation.

    john halliwell
    February 11, 2011 at 12:31

    Frank, if you had really meant business, you would have followed Virginia’s method more closely; she waited three weeks after writing the “I think…” bit on 8th March, 1941, before taking the plunge, whereas you wrote the words on the river bank and expected an instant reaction. There is an important gestation period with this technique, a minimum of 10 days, before any effect can be felt. I understand that at 14 days the urge is almost overwhelming, and at 20 days, a watery grave is guaranteed.

    May I suggest that, assuming you visited the Ouse on, say, the 7th Feb, that you return on the 21st and spend a couple of hours waiting to see if the haddock will bite, so to speak ?

  7. Worm
    February 11, 2011 at 12:55

    I suddenly feel hungry

    February 11, 2011 at 17:08

    Thankful we should be that Ginny isn’t alive in our time, the batty burd would never be off Radio 4.

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