I have a bad habit of chasing ideas down rabbit holes when I do my research. I see something interesting, and off I go. That’s how I ended up reading Reading in Bed: An Inaugural Lecture delivered before the University of Oxford on 21 October 1999 by Hermione Lee, Goldsmiths’ Professor of English Literature.
Lee, a scholar, literary critic, and biographer of writers like Virginia Woolf and Willa Cather, is the first woman holder of the Goldsmiths’ chair, held until 2008, when she became president of Wolfson College, University of Oxford. She used the occasion of her lecture to talk about “the solitary space of reading which for many woman writers has embodied one of the most formative pleasures of their lives.”
She begins with Woolf, noting how “erotic, sensual, and pleasurable” are her descriptions of reading:
“What a vast fertility of pleasure books hold for me! I went in & found the table laden with books. I looked in and sniffed them all. I could not resist carrying this one off and breaching it.” [Woolf, 24 Aug. 1933: The Diary of Virginia Woolf, as quoted by Lee]
“Sometimes I think heaven must be one continuous unexhausted reading. It’s a disembodied trance-like intense rapture that used to seize me as a girl, and comes back now and again down here [i.e. in the country] with a violence that lays me low.” [Woolf, Letter to Ethyl Smith, 29 July 1934: The Letters of Virginia Woolf, as quoted by Lee]
“Love is so physical and so’s reading.” [Letter to Vita Sackville-West, 29 Dec. 1928, The Letters of Virginia Woolf, as quoted by Lee]