In Virginia Woolf’s autobiography, A Sketch of the Past, Woolf builds herself from her childhood memories. Many people define themselves by who they are in the present or what they’ve accomplished, but you cannot fully describe yourself without using your childhood memories as a base. I know that when someone asks me who I am, my first thought is to describe myself physically; 5’2, dark brown hair, size seven and a half shoe. But when you really delve into the question of “who am I?” you have to start from the very beginning, and that’s precisely what Woolf does in A Sketch of the Past. I think everyone has that photographic image of their very first memory. You don’t remember the details, but you can see the basic point of the picture.
Mine is out of focus, and the heads of some people may or may not have been cut off, but I can still remember sitting in my mother’s lap drinking Coke out of a sippy cup. Like Woolf, I have a strong sense of color in my first memory. I can still see the plush, grey-blue rocking chair which seemed to blend in with the grey carpet and the green sippy cup with the opaque, plastic lid. Though I don’t remember why I was there or what else may have been going on around me, I do have what feels like the first picture in my “memory album”. Woolf describes her first memory as sitting on her mother’s lap and describing the blue and red flowers against the black background of her mother’s dress.
But I digress. Woolf goes about her autobiography in a completely different way than expected. Most people write about where they grew up and how many siblings they had and what their favorite flavor of ice cream was in a predictable, monotonous voice which drones on and on until the reader loses interest entirely. While Woolf gives us this type of information, she does it in a way in which we feel as if we’re sitting down for story time as opposed to being lectured on a historical figure. She uses words to piece together photographs of her memories. Reading A Sketch of the Past is like seeing things through the eyes of Virginia Woolf herself. She builds her autobiography as if she is constructing a character in one of her novels by showing us rather than telling us, who the character is and what made her that way. For example, Woolf discusses her positive memories and negative memories without overwhelming us with descriptions of her emotions. Although she may state how she felt at the time during which the mental photograph was taken, we can tell how she was feeling in the way in which she describes her memory. The fact that Virginia Woolf constructs her autobiography by showing her readers examples of childhood memories makes the reader feel as if they know her on a more personal level. If you think about it memories and experiences, good and bad, are what makes us who we are at present, and is a far better way of conveying what it was like to grow up as Virginia Woolf.