Saturday, January 27, 2007

Geoffrey Keynes was finishing up his training as a surgeon at St. Bart's, Saint Bartholomew's Hosipital in London.

He rented the top floor of a house quite close to St. Bart's. On the bottom floor lived Virginia Stephen, engaged to marry Leonard Woolf, one of her brothers and Duncan Grant. He didn't know them very well.

One day Keynes got home from work and found the neighbors' household in an uproar because Virginia Stephen had taken an overdose of a narcotic drug and was in bad shape. They were frantically trying to get in touch with the man she was doing talk therapy with.

Keynes thought it would be more to the point to pump her stomach and get out of it the drug that remained there. He ran to the hospital and came back with a stomach pump and a doctor.

They pumped her stomach, she lived, married Woolf, became Virginia Woolf both in name and fame. She hadn't written any published novels at the time of this, her first suicide attempt.

He later asked her and Leonard for a reward for saving her life and specifically for making it possible for the world to get her books. She gave him and essay inscribed to him called "On Being Ill."

About three decades later she committed suicide. But still, three decades is three decades.

Geoffrey Keynes also was very important in getting William Blake widely read. William Blake had been dead a good while when Keynes started promoting him, and he was a very special taste, people might say, if they liked him. Too weird to bother with, others might say.

William Blake, the poet and artist, is weird and wonderful. He had a whole complicated world view which you don't have to know to read some of his poems. His poems, some of them, are now widely anthologized and read voluntarily. His amazing paintings are well-reproduced in books and sometimes on posters and cards. People don't call him an outsider artist but he has that kind of very special excellence. If we didn't get what we get from him, there would be no place else to get anything like it.

Keynes was a early knower of the fact that with breast cancer you don't have to take out the whole breast to save the woman.

Keynes wrote that when he was working to save Virginia Stephen's life he was struck by how beautiful she was. I was struck by him saying that as I, from black and white photos, thought of her as more striking-looking.

Geoffrey Keynes saved life and beauty. He was not limited to one category of endeavor as he did that.

--information from "The Gates of Memory" by Geoffrey Keynes