You’d expect Virginia Woolf to have the most high-end Oxbridge accent imaginable, but it comes as a shock to hear it in the flesh. Delivering her oral essay “Words Fail Me” on the meaning of “words, English words, so full of memories and echoes,” she comes across like a stage actress overplaying Lady Bracknell. While this eight-minute BBC radio chat from 1937 may sound stuffy to the American ear, it’s one of the wisest, most succinct statements I know about the democratic nature of words and English as a living language.
If you want to hear Woolf, J.R.R.Tolkien, E.M. Forster, and many more of the greats, the glorious BBC has created an archive of 42 British novelists doing radio chats and TV interviews from the 1930s down to the present. I’ve just begun to sample the treasures of “In Their Own Words,” but haven’t hit a dud yet.
Try Ian McEwan being interviewed for 30 minutes in 1979 on “The Book Programme” shortly after his sensationally violent and incestually explicit first novel had been published, or Kingsley Amis in 1958 talking about how he differs from his immortal protagonist Lucky Jim. As the noted NBA tweeter DeMarcus Cousins (@boogiecousins) might say, “It’s all good.”