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.