Reading Woolf and Waters: "A Sketch of the Past" (1939-40) and Fingersmith (2002)
As a child then, my days, just as they do now, contain a large proportion of this cotton wool [of daily life], this non-being. Week after week passed at St Ives and nothing made any dint upon me. Then, for no reason that I know about, there was a sudden violent shock; something happened so violently that I have remembered it all my life. I will give a few instances. The first: I was fighting with Thoby on the lawn. We were pommelling each other with our fists. Just as I raised my fist to hit him, I felt: why hurt another person? I dropped my hand instantly, and stood there, and let him beat me. I remember the feeling. It was a feeling of hopeless sadness. It was as if I became aware of something terrible; and of my own powerlessness. I slunk off alone, feeling horribly depressed. The second instance was also in the garden at St. Ives. I was looking at the flower bed by the front door; “That is the whole”, I said. I was looking at a plant with a spread of leaves; and it seemed suddenly plain that the flower itself was a part of the earth; that a ring enclosed what was the flower; and that was the real flower; part earth; part flower. It was a thought I put away as being likely to be very useful to me later. The third case was also at St. Ives. Some people called Valpy had been staying at St. Ives, and had left. We were waiting at dinner one night, when somehow I overheard my father or my mother say that Mr. Valpy had killed himself. The next thing I remember is being in the garden at night and walking on the path by the apple tree. It seemed to me that the apple tree was connected with the horror of Mr. Valpy’s suicide. I could not pass it. I stood there looking at the grey-green creases of the bark—it was a moonlit night—in a trance of horror. I seemed to be dragged down, hopelessly, into some pit of absolute despair from which I could not escape. My body seemed paralysed. (Moments of Being, pg. 71)
Also, see passage here.
On this night . . . I think the rooms upstairs must have been empty, and Mr Ibbs's sister stayed quiet; and perhaps because of the quiet, the babies kept asleep. Being used to the noise, I lay awake. I lay and thought again of cruel Bill Sykes; and of Nancy, dead at his feet. From some house nearby there sounded a man's voice, cursing. Then a church bell struck the hour—the chimes came queerly across the windy streets. I wondered if Flora's slapped cheek still hurt her. I wondered how near to the Borough was Clerkenwell; and how quick the way would seem, to a man with a stick.
I had a warm imagination, even then. When there came footsteps in Lant Street, that stopped outside the window; and when the footsteps were followed by the whining of a dog, the scratching of the dog's claws, the careful turning of the handle of our shop door, I started up off my pillow and might have screamed—except before I could the dog gave a bark, and the bark had a catch to it that I thought I knew: it was not the pink-eyed monster from the theatre, but our own dog, Jack. He could fight like a brick. Then there came a whistle. Bill Sykes never whistled so sweet. The lips were Mr Ibbs's. He had been out for a hot meat pudding for his and Mrs Sucksby's supper.
'All right?' I heard him say. 'Smell the gravy on this...'
Then his voice became a murmur, and I fell back. I should say I was five or six years old. I remember it clear as anything, though. I remember lying, and hearing the sound of knives and forks and china, Mrs Sucksby's sighs, the creaking of her chair, the beat of her slipper on the floor. And I remember seeing—what I had never seen before—how the world was made up: that it had bad Bill Sykeses in it, and good Mr Ibbses; and Nancys, that might go either way. I thought how glad I was that I was already on the side that Nancy go to at last.—I mean, the good side, with sugar mice in.
It was only many years later, when I was Oliver Twist a second time, that I understood that Nancy of course got murdered after all. (Fingersmith 6-7)