Sunday, March 4, 2012

"W;t," by Margaret Edson

The following post is (even) more personal than usual, but my experiences with the play “W;t” remind me of how intensely personal reading literature can be, especially when it intersects closely with one’s own life experiences.

In March, 1999, my dear longtime friend from graduate school, C., whom I have written about here before (most specifically on 4/29/11) and I went to see a new play titled “W;t.” C. had lived in New York for many years before she moved to another East Coast city, and when I was going to go there during my spring break, she met me there for a few days of museums, plays, restaurants, and good talk. She chose “W;t,” among other plays we attended during those few days, and although it was sad and hard to watch, it was also riveting and wonderful. It tells the story of Dr. Vivian Bearing (vividly portrayed by Kathleen Chalfant), a professor of English specializing in Donne, as she lies in a hospital bed enduring treatments for late-stage ovarian cancer, knowing that death is approaching. She has been a rigorous, acerbic teacher and scholar who has dedicated her life to her scholarship and teaching. Now she alternates between the painful present and memories of the past. She still turns to Donne for meaning and for a kind of austere comfort.

Twelve years later, in March, 2011, C. died of ovarian cancer after a three-year battle during which she lived with incredible grace. C. had also been (before she started another career) an educator, with degrees in English literature, and with a lifelong passionate love of literature.

Recently a copy of the book version of “W;t” (Faber and Faber, 1999), by Margaret Edson, came into my possession through a friend. I put off reading it for weeks, knowing it would be painful, and then read it very slowly, despite its brevity. The memories of C. elicited by the play were powerful, and as I approached the end of the book, I was overwhelmed with sadness. And yet in a way, reading “W;t” was cathartic for me, as literature can sometimes be.

This post is dedicated to the memory of C.


  1. Thanks for this post, Stephanie. I could not agree more with your phrasing "with incredible grace".

  2. Stephanie, Thank you for sharing your experience with C. and this play. I can appreciate how difficult, and yet good, it was to re-read. Thank you for your true and loyal company.


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