Septimus Warren Smith and Rezia in Regent’s Park, London

“…The whole world was clamouring: Kill yourself, kill yourself, for our sakes. But why should he [Septimus] kill himself for their sakes? …Besides, now that he was quite alone, condemned, deserted, as those who are about to die are alone, there was a luxury in it, an isolation full of sublimity; a freedom which the attached can never know.” 

-Virginia, Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

Early on in Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf’s stream-of-consciousness narrative flows over to Septimus Warren Smith and his wife, Rezia, whiling away the afternoon in Regent’s Park, London. They are together, but they’re undeniably separate and alone with their thoughts and impressions. In the way they relate to the sights and sounds of the park, and in the way they think about them, Woolf shows us who these two characters are in this moment, so different, on this beautiful mid-June day in the city.

Rezia is very much battling with the troubles of the real world. Her primary concern happens to be Septimus, and everything she experiences in the park relates to his troubles. In this time, she recalls memories, relates to London’s history and literature, and observes the actions of the other people in the park. Rezia tries to get Septimus to look around him and engage in this real world. She recalls the safety and comfort of her home in Italy, and she questions her decision to come to England with Septimus. At one point, she speculates she’d be better off if Septimus was dead. She relates the loneliness and darkness she feels to the Thames valley when the Romans arrived to conquer it. (This is also a reference to the excerpt from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness we read in class.) Rezia even sees the other people in the park, sees children playing and responds to Maisie Johnson’s request for directions to the Tube. But in these observations and interactions, she is most concerned that others will notice the queer state her husband is in. Hers is a London of Septimus’s breakdown and the disintegration of their relationship.

Septimus is lost in his own world, in “an isolation of sublimity.” Everything he sees and hears relates back to himself, his inner fantasies. He recognizes the beauty in the sky, the air-writing airplane, but he believes the message is only for him. He hears the nursemaid spelling out the letters, but he believes her voice is quickening the trees. The trees are connected to his body by fibres. Septimus has lost touch with Rezia’s real world, and he feels alone and abandoned. He nearly ignores the people in the park, only focusing on the natural beauty and the way it provokes his imagination. Septimus’s dead war-buddy, Evans, lurks at the edge of his vision, the edge of his mind. He is a man contemplating the end of life, considering suicide. The epigraph above is taken from later in the book, but it sufficiently summarizes Septimus’s state of mind. He feels he is at the end of his life, but he hasn’t yet decided how his actual death will come, by his own hand or not. Septimus’s London serves solely as a catalyst for his own inner fantasies, a city filled with too many people and not enough peace.

Septimus’s dislocation in Regent’s Park is the cumulative result of trauma caused by World War I and the emotional paralysis that followed. Virginia Woolf makes an explicit connection between herself and Septimus when she writes that the war veteran hears sparrows singing “freshly and piercingly in Greek words.” After her first suicide attempt in 1904, Woolf claims to have imagined hearing birds sing in Greek. One academic study even claims the very “modernist narrative of Woolf’s novel brilliantly mirrors the mind of a trauma survivor like Septimus.” According to one introduction of the novel, in 1923, a total of 16,771 soldiers were still hospitalized with “shattered nerves and around 50,000 neurasthenic and other types of war pensioner [were] at large in Britain.” Septimus was very much a man of the times in London.

Septimus’s flights of fancy are expertly written by Woolf, and they allow the author an opportunity to play loose and fast with the traditional rules of description and narrative. She writes that, in Septimus’s mind, Rezia’s command for him to “Look!” turns into a flight of associations that leads from life to death, from the Lord to a snow blanket. Elsewhere, a child’s cry and a horn sounding together mean “the birth of a new religion.” These passages sometimes strain the sense of the scene almost to the point of incoherence. But, Woolf seems always able to hold the thing together at the last moment. Also, Woolf’s use of repetition is masterful, nearly inciting a religious response to some of the lines. Rezia’s commands to “Look!” are hypnotic and heart-breaking, nearly an elegy.

Woolf uses London to signify the differing perceptions of her characters, marks the change of place by means of the changing scenes of London, and signals the movement of time with the chiming of Big Ben. This particular scene, with Septimus and Rezia, depicts London as a bustling, vibrant city, with all the glamor of a royal sighting and a skywriting airplane. The openness of the park lends itself to Woolf’s stream-of-consciousness style, allowing the narrative eye to float across the sky and into the minds of the different characters enjoying the open space. Different classes and different backgrounds collide in the democratic park. There, a nursemaid talks to a hat-maker who shouts directions at a visitor from Edinborough. Later, a relatively main character turns into Septimus’s dead war comrade in Septimus’s mind. Woolf uses the environment of the park as something to which Septimus and Rezia can respond, an oasis in the modern city with the capability to both alienate and inspire awe, a very vividly-particular backdrop for the moves and doings of her actors.

What is class?

So for class yesterday we went to Palace of Westminster (y’know the building with Big Ben in it? The clock? That’s the one.) to Westminster Hall, which is the oldest building on that estate.  Westminster Palace itself has the Houses of Parliament.  We were not there for that however, we were there to see an installation called the “Ethics of Dust.”  It consisted of sheets of special latex that had been painted on the wall and pulled off to show the dust that had accumulated there over the many years that the building had been standing. Our professor thought it would be a good exhibit to see since it meshed the history with the present. 

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We next walked past Westminster Abbey, and onwards to near Buckingham Palace where we got to see part of the changing of the guard.

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The last part of our day was spent at Kensington Palace (where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge live! No, we did not see them :() I got to see Princess Diana’s, Queen Elizabeth’s and Princess Margaret’s dresses and my god they were so pretty.

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Today in class we had a short lecture on Harry Potter, and we let out early due to the fact that we had a full day excursion last week to Cardiff in Wales for a day trip. It honestly makes me so happy that we went to another country for a day. And it was for the Doctor Who Exhibition, and honestly who can really say that they went to that for class purposes?

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Also we have a walking tour for Harry Potter this week, and next week we should be going on the studio tour. One of my biggest regrets for the trip, though, is not being able to see the new Harry Potter play since it is impossible to get tickets. It’s just really sad.

The classes I’m taking here are different from the ones over at New Paltz because of the topics really. There’s also the fact that this place is literally jam-packed with exhibits and things to visit within relatively close proximity with each other. It’s amazing being able to learn British culture right here! And even in the changing political/historical climate as well.

Plus, on the weekends I get to pack in more touristy things not covered by class. I get the inside look at London through my teacher’s eyes since he finds exhibits like this:

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AND I got to go on the London Eye and walk across the Millennium Bridge (might recognize it if you’ve seen Harry Potter!)

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See the Rosetta Stone:

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And look down on the River Thames from the Tower Bridge:

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Ok I looked up because there was a mirror above the glass floor ok?

And listen to a Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London!

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The classes are different mainly because the location is different, but I am so happy I chose the classes I did. Other classes travel farther, but I get to explore London and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

Tate’s Rothko Room

On February 25, 1970, Mark Rothko’s dead body was found in his studio amidst an eight-foot-by-six-foot pool of his own blood. He’d slit his own arms at the elbows, and he’d bled out fast. That same day, nine of his greatest works arrived at the Tate Gallery in London, and they’re still on display today.

The brain’s a mad machine. For the addict, the right combination of alcohol and nicotine inspires feats of linguistic manipulation and artistic brilliance. Too much of a good thing will set him down for the night, for a lifetime. Robert Smithson was right in comparing the mind to the natural chaos of the natural world, memory constantly eroding, and disasters destroying the landscape. The right mind discovers the keys to the cosmos, the wrong one keeps too close a track of the odds of football matches.

All his life, Mark Rothko’s mind was focused on transcendence. Once he moved to New York City and committed himself, his imagination, and his driven direction was focused on creating artworks that transcend the day-to-day and transport the viewer to new realms of emotion and insight. His mind, driven by frailties of the body and alcohol and nicotine, concluded that suicide was the answer. He was 67 years old.

We, the goers to art museums, are left to contemplate the results of such genius. We sit in rooms like the Rothko room at the Tate Modern and we find the better pieces and parts of our own natures, glimmers of the infinite recesses of us.

We, the goers to art museums, are fortunate to have the Tate Modern, an honest and faithful steward of Rothko’s murals. And despite the calculation and planning of countless curators and museum directors and their 21st Century demographic studies of us, we are ultimately individuals (attentive, if we’re in the right frame of mind, inattentive, if we’re on our iPhones), responding (or not) to the works of inspired genius.

The Rothko room at the Tate Modern is a dimly-lit sanctuary of paint as religion. The paintings in that room were originally commissioned to adorn the walls of a room in the swanky Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagram building in New York City. Rothko was offered a handsome fee to create the works. The Seagram murals were to be Rothko’s crowning achievement. The commission was offered to him upon the recommendation of Alfred Barr, Director of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. Some believe that Rothko originally accepted the commission because he believed his paintings would adorn the walls of a humble-man workers’ cafeteria. At some point, he learned the truth.

The murals were ultimately inspired by an old claustrophobic space, Michelangelo’s vestibule of the Laurentian Library in Florence, Italy. Rothko told a man in 1959 on a Trans-Atlantic voyage that he wanted to “ruin the appetite of every son of a bitch who ever eats in that room.” He wanted the rich bastards to “feel that they are trapped in a room where all the doors and windows are bricked up, so that all they can do is butt their heads forever against the wall.”

Then, Rothko abruptly declined the commission after he and his wife actually went to the Four Seasons to have dinner and see the space. The expense and opulence of the place were too much. He told his studio assistant, “Anybody who will eat that kind of food for those kind of prices will never look at a painting of mine.”

Then, the Tate, in the person of Director Norman Reid, courted Rothko for four years, cajoling and complementing the indecisive artist, trying to acquire a sampling of Rothko’s works that would set his museum apart from the rest. Rothko, a notorious (self-proclaimed) museum-hater, hampered by illness and addiction, delayed and complained, demanding that his works be set aside in a room of his own, hung in accordance with his own exacting standards. The Tate ultimately acquiesced. While in America, Reid worked with Rothko, using a scale model of the planned space, to design the ultimate layout.

Rothko’s paintings had been to the UK before. In 1961, a travelling exhibition of Rothko’s works, organized by MoMA, New York, was shown in the Whitechapel Gallery. For that exhibition, Rothko described in exacting language how his paintings were to be displayed. This exhibition had lasting influence. The Tate Modern has stayed faithful to these instructions.

Rothko’s room, as it sits today, has survived several iterations of changes in the layout and design of the Tate. It’s even survived the vandalism of one of the paintings in 2012. Yet, through it all, the Tate Modern has stayed faithful to Rothko’s wishes. Rothko’s space in the Tate Modern, because of the lighting, the spacing, and its place among the other galleries, sits as a site of abstract contemplation.

Rothko strongly believed that his paintings were best viewed by themselves, away from the distraction of other painters’ paintings, hung tightly together, viewed close-up. There are three permanent rooms like this in the world that have achieved this peculiar artist-demanded articulated resonance: the Tate Modern’s room, the Rothko Room at the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, and the Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas.

I’ve been to these three rooms now, and I’m Rothko’s ideal viewer. I intend to be. He said, “A picture lives by companionship, expanding and quickening in the eyes of the sensitive observer. It dies by the same token. It is therefore a risky and unfeeling act to send it out into the world. How often it must be permanently impaired by the eyes of the vulgar and the cruelty of the impotent who would extend their affliction universally.” I’m that man, the sensitive observer, I turn off my iPhone, and I see the Tate Modern as a holy keeper of a transcendent experience. The museum has allowed for this, it stays steady, and its stewardship of Rothko’s work is commendable.

Weekend Travels!

So this weekend a bunch of us went to Ireland! It was really beautiful, and I can’t say enough about the scenery. We started off in Dublin, in the heart of the Temple Bar area, which was really quite busy. It was a Friday night, so there were large groups of people going out and heading out on the plane for a weekend in a different country. The culture here is different in that regard, since a lot of stag (bachelor) parties apparently do this. I saw a few hen (bachelorette) parties as well, but nothing on the extreme scale of the bachelor ones. The bar district was super busy all the time, at practically all hours of the day!

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After we took in the sights in Dublin, we headed out on a coach to the west coast of Ireland. Our journey ended in Galway, but along the way we stopped at the Cliffs of Moher. I can try to tell you how remarkable and breathtaking they were (even though it was super rainy), but honestly nothing would do it justice. You feel so small watching the vastness of the cliffs, and seeing people like ants on top of it. We also visited Clonmacnoise, which is a monastic site of religious importance.

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Overall though, it was nice coming back to London and to my dorm. Ireland was beautiful, and we did so much that it felt like we were there for an eternity. In Ireland we stayed in hostels, and here in London we live in a flat with 4 other people (so 5 total), and my flat is all girls. We each have our own bathrooms, but we all share a kitchen that has the usual amenities. It’s an interesting experience, and the location of the dorm is relatively close to everything (except the 30+ minute walk to campus), and as my friend put it, feels vaguely Harry Potter-like. Maybe it’s just because we’re in England, but I think I agree with her.

The food in Ireland was heavy and hearty and great, and in London there are always so many types of food to try, restaurants to visit, and different types of food from the groceries to cook. And don’t get me started on the chocolate. It’s life changing. There’s always the usual fast food options if that’s your thing (think KFC or Mc Donald’s to name a few) and they actually kind of taste better here (less grease!) but trying new things is so much fun.

One Week Down

Before I left for London, I bought this newfangled iPod in New York City, and without even telling it to keep track, it tells me I’ve walked 101,358 steps since 29 June 2016, the day our study abroad odyssey officially began. My stressed-out belt got some relief, and now, after holding up my jeans all around the city, it’s tightened up up a notch. For those of you who need the math, according to my iPod, 101,358 steps is 48.35 miles, which comes out to about 8 miles per day of walking. Along with my relieved belt, I’ve seen and been to Big Ben, Parliament, the London Eye, Westminster Abbey, the Museum of London (twice), Saint Paul’s Cathedral, Kingston (where the classrooms are), the Kingston Museum, Surbiton (where the residence hall is), Fleet Street, Trafalgar Square (had to avoid a protest opposing the UK’s exit from the EU [check the news!]). l’ve eaten the best Indian food of my life, but it can’t keep me as fat. I’ve been walking enough, and I want more. I’m sleeping well and eager for the next new day, and the next, and the next….

I made a fast friendship with a woman from Namibia who shares my love for art, and somehow, we also share a sense of humor. She says, “Dude!” and “Back in the day….” We’re suite-mates in the residence hall, and we’ve already shared several meals of KFC in the middle of the night (but still, the pounds stay off!) She’s works in the curatorial department of the National Art Gallery of Namibia. We’re both taking the Museums and Galleries course. In what better place or from what better person could I get a better real-world accounting of art museum practices outside of the US? Amazing. This are the things I couldn’t predict, I cherish.

I could go on about the all the other people I’ve met and the friends I’ve made from all over: Amsterdam, Michigan, St. Louis, Australia, Manchester (UK), and Queens (NY). I could talk about the anticipation I still have for upcoming trips to Ireland, Paris, and all the many museums.

And on top of all that, I’ve seen now, the same mangy limping fox for the the past three nights, outside, roaming the grounds of my residence hall. It ignores me, does it’s thing (looks for food) without one movement toward or away from me the whole time. I like it, and it makes me invisible.   

The First Time

Happy July 4! Except not, because I’m in London and they really don’t do that here. It is my first time being in a European country, so that’s exciting. When I first got here, it was strange because it hadn’t felt too much different. I expected it to be in your face, like WOW this isn’t the US! It really wasn’t the case. It was still quite different though because the little town we’re in along the Thames River is still quite small and sleepy feeling at times. I was excited, but the excitement didn’t really hit till I went into the heart of London. Seeing Big Ben, seeing the London Eye and the Houses of Parliament, it was just so surreal. My friend told me I would love it here, and I hate to admit that he is absolutely right, although I probably wouldn’t want to prove him right again 😉 Riding the tube just drove the whole point of it being surreal home. “Mind the gap!”

A little comment that I wanted to make though was since this is right after Brexit and the EU referendum happenings and the prime minister resigning, etc, it is a very interesting environment to be in. In central London especially, sometimes you can see little hints of unrest, but peaceful unrest. Other than that, it seems to be business as usual.

As I’m finishing this blog on our July 4 in the USA, it is 10pm here at night. I actually hear fireworks and it is nice that although I had class today, it’s still a little reminder of home.


It didn’t occur to me how close my trip was till my friend messaged me asking what else I was doing this week to prepare for my trip. Time really flies when I’m not paying attention… It was just last week that I was on a mini vacation with my family, and it’s like I blinked and now we’re here. I’ve wanted to visit London since I was a little girl, and now I get to live there for a month. Imagine that?

There are many words I can use to describe how I feel about the trip but as my friends can probably predict, the top two are anxious and excited.  Anxious because I can think of a million things I want and need to do before I leave, people I need to see, and the list goes on and on. I want to go walk around Manhattan and have dinner with my friends, see my cousin at her work and have lunch with her (see the food trend here?), and most of all I NEED to pack!

Some things at the top of my list that I needed for my trip is an adapter for my MacBook (I am going there to study after all!), good walking/rain shoes, and a good water proof jacket! One of my friends who’s been to England loves to remind me that the whole thing about it raining often is definitely NOT a joke.

As it gets closer, I get a little bit more excited, and a little bit more terrified each day. It’s different traveling with family or to see family as opposed to traveling completely on my own. Regardless, I’m excited to see what this next month has in store for me. All that’s standing in the way now are a few days, a 7 hour flight, and an empty luggage.


The past’s a convenient fiction. That’s all it’ll ever be. It lets us learn from mistakes and feel nostalgic for lost loves, yes, but memories about it’re malleable. They slip out and down like an erosion. We make of the past what we want. We’re constantly creating and forgetting where and what we’ve been.

The future’s pure fantasy, made solely of what we intend for it. The future’s never happened in the history of man.

So, today’s all there there is. Our lives are a series of todays.

In another week of todays, my today will begin with a summer study session in London. Anticipation fills me with dreams of Big Ben, Parliament, the Tate Modern, Tate Britain, the Saatchi Gallery, an endless procession of place after place. I’ll be taking two courses: Museums and Galleries, and London and Its Literature. I’ve done the pre-reading, and I’ve looked at all the websites.

The thing about today is, though, there’s no knowing what’ll specifically happen until that specific today comes. In London, there will be new friends never dreamed of, new places, new problems, new smells and sounds. Tomorrow’s todays’re unpredictable, and that’s their appeal. As much as I plan, plot, and look forward, each new today will offer something unexpected. And that – beyond the museums, galleries, and places – is what I can’t wait for. Tomorrow’s todays’re lined up in a row, ready to offer up the unexpected. That’s what I excitedly anticipate. That’s what I’ll be jittery about when I get on and off that plane in a week.

Afterthoughts on the London Experience (Part IV, Conclusion)

We saw the show of Goya Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery, epic in scale and elegant in detail. The National Gallery held original paintings and drawings by Leonardo da Vinci – what a treat to see those in person! I know you would have loved it. The Courtauld held paintings ranging from the ancient Renaissance, as well as originals by Georges Seurat, Cezanne, Vincent van Gogh, Kandinsky, Reubens, Manet… Some of my favorite classical works that I’d often pondered over in art history textbooks, were right there for me to enjoy in all their painterly glory.
Aside from all the fantastic art we saw, both ancient and contemporary, it was quite interesting to immerse myself in the British culture. I learned that the phrase, “Cheers,” for example, can mean “Hello,” “Goodbye,” “Thank you,” and “You’re welcome.” I was especially impressed with the way the locals in London carry themselves. Everyone was so well-dressed at all times, for every occasion. The elderly women were especially well-put together with elegant coats, hats, scarves and shoes. There was something especially charming about the elderly men of the city, as well… In general, I thought the older folks were quicker to offer a smile and a kind word, than the ones of my own age who seemed a bit aloof. Even the homeless people who had so little, looked cleaner and neater than any I’d seen in New York, and for the most part, had better manners. Another thing I noticed is that in London, stores were more environmentally conscious and encouraged you to bring your own shopping bags. They would give you one if you needed it, but at an extra charge. I wondered if all of the UK and Europe is like this. Now that I am home in New York again, I have been remembering to bring my own shopping bags every time I go out. It’s nice to reduce waste. I am happy to have picked up this good habit in my travels.
All in all, I would highly recommend anyone study abroad. Aside from all I’ve learned, I also gained a sense of poise and confidence in myself – and my ability to navigate the unknown – deeper than anything I’ve felt before.

Afterthoughts on the London Experience (Part III)

In addition to learning the value of and feeling grateful for the presence of my group to depend on, I also learned that there is a priceless value in feeling useful to the people you are with. Before we left, I had scouted out a great deal on prepaid SIM cards that some of us used in our smartphones, having local UK phone numbers and data plans for using Google maps to get around. Within the first few days, I found a new supermarket that had much more reasonable prices than the local one recommended by our program. I was also able to figure out a “journey planner” on the website for Transport of London, helping us get from point A to B to C and home again. I felt an unexpected, deep sense of happiness that the others benefited from my discoveries, and that I felt useful to the group.
Our itinerary for the duration of the two weeks was wall-to-wall, back to back events of all the art, history, and theatre that London has to offer… And what a city to immerse oneself in the arts! London has it all. We saw a play at the Gielgud Theatre in Picadilly Circus, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. It was so good, I wept. Not only was the writing and acting excellent, but they had a unique way of bringing the stage to life and making the performance very physical. It was truly art at its finest. We rode the London Eye and got the best view of Westminster Cathedral and the Tower of London… And true to London weather, there was a sunshower that left everything sparkling majestically through the gray on River Thames.
We visited Tate Modern, Tate Britain, the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Serpentine Galleries, the Courtauld Galleries at Somerset House, the Marianne North Gallery, Kew Gardens, Kensington Gardens, the British Museum, the Newport Gallery (where Damien Hirst was exhibiting a portion of his private collection). We took a tour of street art and graffiti in Shoreditch, which was perhaps a little too “hip” to be taken seriously (and something about the very idea of a tour of street art didn’t sit right with me)—but nonetheless, it was decidedly very cool to see some Banksy, Space Invader, Swoon, and Endless right there in person. You would have probably really enjoyed that tour, as well as our visit to the Pure Evil Gallery.