Have you ever walked along a street and imagined the lives of the strangers that you pass?
In Virginia Woolf’s 1927 essay ‘Street Haunting’, the narrator explores this imaginative act of dipping in and out of people’s minds as they move through the city’s wintry, twilight streets. From prime ministers to the homeless, the narrator examines the city’s inhabitants and the spaces they occupy. ‘What greater delight and wonder can there be than to leave the straight lines of personality’, the narrator asks, to feel ‘that one is not tethered to a single mind, but can put on briefly for a few minutes the bodies and minds of others’.
This edition, dating from 1930 and published in the US, is signed by Woolf in purple ink.
Virginia Woolf and the act of walking
In ‘Street Haunting’ the narrator proposes that ‘to escape is the greatest of pleasures; street haunting in winter the greatest of adventures’. This diary entry from March 1930 captures the pleasure that Woolf, like the narrator of ‘Street Haunting’, gets from walking through the city:
A fine spring day. I walked along Oxford St. The buses are strung on a chain. People fight & struggle. Knocking each other off the pavement. Old bareheaded men; a motor car accident, &c. To walk alone in London is the greatest rest.
Woolf published ‘Street Haunting’ two years after Mrs Dalloway, the novel where the act of walking – through Westminster, Trafalgar Square, Regent’s Park etc. – connects the range of characters with each other.