Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 September 2013
The autumn season was in full swing. Tristan was twitching his rug up under his armpits twice a week; Isolde waved her scarf in miraculous sympathy with the conductor's baton. In all parts of the house were to be found pink faces and glittering breasts. […]
Then two thousand hearts in the semi-darkness remembered, anticipated, travelled dark labyrinths; and Clara Durrant said farewell to Jacob Flanders, and tasted the sweetness of death in effigy[·]Woolf, Jacob's Room, 1922
I went to Tristan the other night; but the love making bored me. When I was your age I thought it the most beautiful thing in the world – or was it only in deference to Saxon [Sydney-Turner]?Woolf, Letters, July 1923
Wagner's music dramas are vital inter-texts for much of Virginia Woolf 's fiction, which is suffused with explicit references and implicit debts to the composer's work. Some references – like this example from Jacob's Room – are overt, appearing in and propelling the events of the novels. Others are far more discreet, even covert. Woolf's work – like Katherine Mansfield's – illustrates the intense interplay between Modernist words and nineteenth-century notes. Woolf had heard jazz and Strauss's Salome by 1913, but if Wagner's work no longer retained for her the prescient modernity it had had for Nietzsche and his contemporaries, it remained unavoidably relevant whether as a model or an antitype for modern art.