Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

On January 3, 1897, shortly before her fifteenth birthday, Virginia Stephen began to keep a diary, which she maintained faithfully for much of the year. After the death of her half sister, Stella, in July, however, entries became sparser, and on September 14 she wrote, “We will follow the year to its end & then fling diaries and diarising into the corner—to dust & mire & moths & all creeping crawling eating destroying creatures.” Despite this resolution, she subsequently made a number of attempts at “diarising,” one of these resulting in a daily record for several months in 1905.

Although these manuscripts survive, they are not reprinted in these volumes. Instead, this edition reproduces the contents of thirty notebooks housed in New York Public Library’s Berg Collection of English and American Literature. The first entry is dated January 1, 1915, the last March 24, 1941, four days before her death. Each volume covers roughly five years: Volume 1 includes 1915 through 1919, volume 2 1920 through 1925, volume 3 1926 through 1930, volume 4 1931 through 1935, and volume 5 1936 through 1941. Though the division is arbitrary, each book seems to revolve around a few dominant events and assumes its own tone. The third volume reflects her great personal hope following the publication of The Common Reader (1925) and Mrs. Dalloway (1925). It records the successful completion of her two best works, To the...

(The entire section is 507 words.)