Form and Content

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 507

Illustration of PDF document

Download The Diary of Virginia Woolf Study Guide

Subscribe Now

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 Lighthouse (1927) and The Waves (1931), as well as Orlando: A Biography (1928), shows her increasing financial security and social assurance, and reveals the happiness and support she found in her relationship with Vita Sackville-West. The next volume is darker: She wrestles with The Years (1937); friends die—Lytton Strachey, to whom she had been briefly engaged, in 1932, Roger Fry, her sister’s sometime lover, two years later, and Francis Birrell in 1935; the rise of Fascist regimes betrays the hopes of the 1920’s.

Woolf attempted to write in her diary every day, but there are numerous gaps. The largest appears at the beginning of the first volume; six weeks after starting her journal for 1915, Woolf suffered a severe mental collapse. Thus, there are no entries between February 15, 1915, and August 3, 1917. Thereafter, shorter breaks mark illnesses, travel, or extensive socializing.

The editor, Anne Olivier Bell, wife of Virginia Woolf’s nephew and biographer, Quentin Bell, has provided helpful introductions to each volume to highlight important events in Woolf’s life for the years under consideration, and she has prepared comprehensive indexes. Notes identify people and places that might otherwise remain obscure, and short biographies accompany the first mention of the many figures who populate these pages. In each volume after the first Bell includes an appendix with sketches of those most prominent in Woolf’s record for those years.

Bell’s scholarship throughout is impressive. For example, on October 19, 1917, Woolf tells of going to the Aeolian Hall to hear an octet by Franz Schubert. Bell not only gives the address of the concert hall but also identifies the octet (Octet in F, Op. 166). When Woolf mentions taking a walk, Bell notes the distance covered. For those seeking to pursue a point further, she has provided cross-references to letters, reviews, and manuscripts.

The Diary of Virginia Woolf

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1838

For most of its length there is a peculiarly insulated quality to the first volume of Virginia Woolf’s diary. We find little suggestion of her buried or imaginative life, almost no mention of the novel (her second, Night and Day) that she was writing through much of this period, only the briefest of critical comments on her reading, a minimum of reference to the larger social and political issues that consumed the energies of her husband, Leonard—in fact, if it were not for the occasional air raid warning and the sight of German prisoners of war, the reader would scarcely be aware of the fact that England was lost in the dark, bloody tunnel of World War I. For all of their crochets, the letters currently being published provide us with a much fuller sense of Woolf’s life during the period covered by the present volume.

Indeed, the first two-thirds of the volume gives us only the barest outline of Woolf’s days and ways. So reticent is the diary at this early stage that Woolf’s biographer, Quentin Bell, may be correct in suggesting that the diary was initially intended for therapeutic purposes, “partly as a sedative, a way of proving to herself how normal she was.” Certainly there seems to be an air of determination and self-congratulation in the keeping of the diary, an air that the diary itself scarcely seems to warrant. But, given the fuller and more complex entries in the closing pages of the volume as well as the selections already published by Leonard in A Writer’s Diary, later volumes should prove extraordinarily interesting both to the careful critic and the gossipy reader.

Nevertheless, even through the reticence several things begin to emerge. There is, for example, the closeness of Virginia and Leonard, marked, among other things, by the frequency with which they simply went walking together: “After lunch we took the air in the Old Deer Park”; “we noticed the damaged Bridge as we walked to Kingston this afternoon. . . . We had a very good walk.” However, Virginia’s interest in Leonard’s outside concerns could not even be termed marginal, so that they separated often enough when Leonard went to the London School of Economics, to a meeting of the Fabian executive, to groups promoting the League of Nations and the cooperative movement, to editors, to the offices of publications he himself edited, to the innumerable lectures he was called upon to give as his fame and expertise grew. She could take only a limited supply of the Sidney Webbs: “L. went to the Webbs, & I came home.” Nor did she cotton much to her in-laws: “L. went to see his mother; I called on Jean.” But when, in London, they went their separate ways, they met regularly for lunch or afterwards; when left at home to write, Virginia was likely to meet “L.” en route so that they might walk home to Richmond together. Often enough, Leonard’s moods and needs were registered in the diary along with her own: “amused me, but bored L. I’m afraid.” And more than once we find the crisp comment: “We wrote all the morning.” Clearly they created an atmosphere for each other in which they could work independently, possess their own souls and moods, and at the same time rest in each other.

There were differences enough, of course, and some of them, when pulled out of context, must have seemed insuperable. Virginia registered several quarrels—“We quarrelled almost all the morning!”—and no doubt there were some that she did not register. Her comments on Leonard’s family and on Jews in general could, at times, be downright anti-Semitic: “I do not like the Jewish voice; I do not like the Jewish laugh,” comments that Leonard must have read. There were also, of course, her recurring madness and daily fear of madness. Poignantly, the first segment of the diary lasts only six weeks, for it was interrupted by a bout of violent, screaming lunacy that, among other symptoms, took the form of a raving antipathy to Leonard himself. On February 13, 1915, she wrote: “I met L. at Spikings & we had tea, and were very happy.” Two days later, the diary breaks off, not to be resumed for two and a half years.

While asserting over and over again her lack of interest in social, political, and economic matters—the very staff of life to Leonard—Virginia did accompany him now and then to some of the meetings he addressed, and she was suitably impressed by his ability as a speaker; in 1913, in fact, she had joined him on a ten-day tour of the industrial north. For four years she presided over monthly meetings of the local branch of the Women’s Co-operative Guild held at Hogarth House. But, aside from Leonard’s participation, she tended to find political meetings amusing at best, dreary at worst. As for the women of the Guild, “it always puzzles me to know why the women come. . . . They don’t pay much attention apparently.” To her, the audience at one public gathering “all looked unhealthy & singular & impotent.” When Leonard spoke at Hampstead, she found the audience too “clean, decorous, uncompromising.” Politics in general she saw as “an elaborate game” designed for men trained in the sport. And despite the coaching she must have had on all sides—“everyone makes the state of the country his private affair”—she insisted that she could make little sense of Labour Party politics, as immersed as Leonard and other Fabians were in the party. As for women with public missions, “their eccentricities keep me amused, when to tell the truth, I’ve ceased to follow their plots and denunciations”—though, conceivably, some jealousy might have been involved in the remark since Leonard, perforce, spent a good deal of time in the company of such women. Part of her feeling, perhaps, was due to the sad sense of what political and social responsibility did to one’s feelings of youthful elasticity: “So we all step into the ranks of the middle aged, the responsible people, the burden bearers. It makes me a little melancholy.” Despite it all, the central fact of her existence remained her relationship with Leonard.

Unmistakable, however, was her need for as many friends and acquaintances as she could muster, whether they were taken singly or in groups. The published correspondence testifies to its function in helping to spin a dense social web of those who outlined her world, and the diary takes careful note of days when no letters arrive. A party at Gordon Square was described as presenting Virginia with “2 hours of life.” Another gathering, while composed of “the same party as usual,” was “as usual, to my liking; so much alive, so full of information of the latest kind; real interest in every sort of art; & in people too.” She assumed, in passing, that her feeling would not be shared by Leonard. Certain of her friends were particularly capable of making her vibrate in sympathy: Clive Bell, for one; Lytton Strachey, for another. If Lytton “were to walk in at this moment we should talk . . . as freely as we ever did, & with the sense, on both sides I think, of having hoarded for this precise moment a great deal peculiarly fit for the other.”

There is, in fact, a fascinating entry for January 22, 1919: “How many friends have I got?” She sorts them, first, chronologically, according to their association with various stages of family history and then, over a period of a month, attempts to define the peculiar qualities of certain of them.

Indeed, we find a gallery of pungent character portraits in the diary. There is Katherine Mansfield who, on first meeting, seemed to stink “like a—well civet cat that had taken to street walking.” Even at the first meeting, however, Virginia conceded that Mansfield would no doubt repay friendship, though as late as 1919 she was wondering whether she might list the author among her friends. There is Lady Ottoline Morrell, everyone’s favorite comic target, spotted in the street, “brilliantly painted, as garish as a strumpet,” perceived more sympathetically at times, but almost always condescendingly: “to me she always has the pathos of a creature vaguely afloat in some wide open space, without support or clear knowledge of its direction.” There is Roger Fry, “in his wideawake hat,” carrying a number of French books under his arm, hurrying to his editorial office at an art-history magazine, concerned with the production of a play designed by the Omega Workshops, run by Fry, and yet, in his enthusiasm, persuading Virginia into a nearby bookstore where she purchased a new French novel with money intended to pay for watch repairs. There are the many young men and women moving in and out of the Bloomsbury orbit—“cropheads” or “Blooms-bury bunnies,” according to Virginia. And there are the many odd relationships and ménages forming the subject of delighted gossip: “Indeed I see the plots of many comedies brewing just now among our friends.” And there are, of course, others: T. S. Eliot: “sharp, narrow & much of a stick”; Maynard Keynes, “a little inhuman,” but “like quicksilver” in his conversation.

But, despite parties, meetings, visits; despite hours and hours of extended conversations; despite long walks and days of househunting and shopping; despite enforced periods of rest, during which her writing was carefully restricted—despite all this and much more, an enormous amount of work was produced at the Woolf household. Their famous Hogarth Press consumed great quantities of time and effort. Articles and reviews poured out of both Leonard and Virginia, the latter noting, on one occasion, that they were earning a tidy sum by their literary journalism. Virginia, at any rate, was capable of turning out an astonishing number of rapid reviews. Immediately after completing her essay, “Modern Novels,” for the Times Literary Supplement, she submerged herself in the novels of Daniel Defoe for still another article: “I have to read one book a day in order to start on Saturday—such is the life of a hack.” The next day, however, she failed to complete Moll Flanders because she spent the day in London, where, meeting E. M. Forster and learning that he had never read Defoe, she commanded him to do so. Nevertheless, her article, “The Novels of Defoe,” appeared in less than two weeks. Of course, the most important aspect of her creative life, the production of the novel Night and Day, receives almost no mention in the diary, except for an occasional statement to the effect that a slight break in the flow of review books had given her time to pursue her novel. Only when it was completed could she bring herself to comment on it and, in the privacy of her diary, announce that she found it good: “I compare for originality & sincerity rather well with most of the moderns.”

The Diary of Virginia Woolf

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1683

If the first volume of The Diary of Virginia Woolf had a somewhat insulated, claustrophobic quality, the second volume leaps immediately and triumphantly into the midst of that busy British cénacle known as Bloomsbury. Early in 1920 Woolf can complain of the many interruptions she has had to contend with, but it is clear that the life of clubs, conversation, gossip, teas, and dinners was absolutely necessary to her existence as a person and as a writer: “For some time now life has been considerably ruffled by people. Age or fame or the return of peace—I don’t know which—but anyhow I grow wearied of ’going out to tea’; and yet can’t resist it. To leave a door shut that might be open is in my eyes some form of blasphemy.” And at the very close of the volume, in the entry for December 21, 1924, she notes, rather complacently, “All our Bloomsbury relationships flourish, grow in lustiness. Suppose our set to survive another 20 years, I tremble to think how thickly knit & grown together it will be. At Christmas I must write & ask Lytton [Strachey] if I may dedicate the common reader to him.”

Time after time the diary reads like a social calendar. In fact it becomes one: “Tuesday the Squires & Wilkinson & Edgar to dinner; Wednesday tea with Elena; Thursday lunch with Nessa, tea Gordon Square; Friday Clive and Mary here. . . .” She may write of being spread thin, but she clearly rejoiced in her world. While the diary overlaps only in part the recently published third volume of The Letters, the two publications indicate clearly enough the difference between what she told her diary and what she poured out in her hundreds of letters. The letters provide a series of masks carefully adjusted to the recipients; emotionally, at least, it is difficult to trust any single one of them. The diaries not only outline her days but attach to each moment the feeling associated with it.

In 1920 Virginia Woolf was just beginning to acquire a literary reputation in her own right and was also finding that she enjoyed the feeling: “At a party now I feel a little famous—the chances are people . . . whose names I know, also know my name.” She was quite clear and self-conscious on the personal value of such recognition. Visiting Roger Fry, who, despite his standing as an art critic had failed as a painter, she describes him as filled with “an obscure irritation” and too willing to adopt an aggrieved tone. In such a mood Fry was scarcely capable of praising the work of another—Woolf’s, for example. “I sometimes fancy,” she points out to her diary, “that the only healthy condition is that of doing successful work. It’s the prime function of the soul.” In the five years covered by this volume of the diary, Woolf attained her literary majority—publishing her first genuinely experimental novel, Jacob’s Room, completing Mrs. Dalloway, and assembling the collection of critical essays entitled The Common Reader. There were shorter works of fiction as well, over a hundred articles and reviews, and, of course, those scores of letters. And there was that most important, increasingly time-consuming but increasingly gratifying venture, the Hogarth Press, which in 1923 published Eliot’s The Waste Land. It also, of course, enabled Woolf to feel relatively free of the pressures of the literary marketplace since she could, and did, publish her own work.

As one would expect, it was to her diary that she also confessed her doubts, dilemmas, and hunger for praise when it was not forthcoming. After a conversation with Eliot, she feels that her husband, Leonard, shone more than she did, and asserts, determinedly, “but I didn’t much mind.” Very shortly, however, her diary notes, “But I think I minded more than I let on,” and the writing of Jacob’s Room comes to a halt; she feels listless, doubts the value of what she is doing, and admits to some jealousy of Leonard: “Perhaps at the bottom of my mind I feel that I’m distanced by L. in every respect.” She conducted a love-hate relationship with Katherine Mansfield, and part of it, at least, was the result of professional jealousy. Admitting that she was delighted to hear Mansfield abused after the publication of Bliss, she tells her diary that she feels Mansfield deserved the abuse because of her penchant for self-advertising, but then herself has a fit of honesty and confesses that in her heart “I must think her good, since I’m glad to hear her abused. When news of Mansfield’s death reaches her, she attempts, carefully and honestly, to assess her real feelings. At first, she notes, “one feels—what? A shock of relief?—a rival the less?” She goes on to a moving disquisition of her reactions, noting, without self-abasement, her jealousies, her pettiness, and her sense of loss. Mansfield was, apparently, one of the few people she could talk to about her work and feelings, and assume that she would be understood. Earlier in the diary, Woolf registers a period of estrangement and then a meeting with Mansfield; after the usual careful conversational skirmishing, the two writers fall into conversational lockstep with each other: “To no one else can I talk in the same disembodied way about writing; without altering my thought any more than I alter it in writing here.”

Readers will no doubt mine the work for its comments on such celebrated contemporaries as Joyce and Eliot. Her strictures on Joyce were, of course, famous before the publication of this edition, having appeared in Leonard Woolf’s one-volume collection of extracts, A Writer’s Diary. Some, at least, are the result of Woolf’s uncertainties and jealousy at a time when her own reputation was scarcely assured: “I reflected how what I’m doing is probably better done by Mr. Joyce. Then I began to wonder what it is that I am doing”—this is 1920, when she was at work on Jacob’s Room, and when Ulysses was available only in the splintered publication of The Little Review. Later, with the whole of Ulysses in front of her and with Mrs. Dalloway in progress, she is far more certain of her dislike; it is also clear that part of her reaction is the result of T. S. Eliot’s fulsome praise of Joyce. Having read to the conclusion of the Hades episode, she tells her diary that she was interested at first, then “puzzled, bored, irritated and disillusioned as by a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples. And Tom, great Tom, thinks this on a par with War & Peace! An illiterate, underbred book it seems to me: the book of a self-taught working man.” An odd mixture this, of criticism, jealousy, ad hominum attack, and the rather unfortunate air of snobbery that reveals itself more than once in the book. Disliking Ulysses more and more, she finally concludes it at the point where the galley proofs of Jacob’s Room arrive, and she determines firmly that Ulysses is a “mis-fire,” “diffuse,” “pretentious,” and, of course, “underbred.” But when Leonard has her read an intelligent review analyzing the novel in some detail, she admits that another look might be in order.

T. S. Eliot figures as something of an enigma in these pages, since, at least at times, Woolf found him so. Early on, she scarcely knew what to make of him since his type, she admitted, was so different from hers. Nevertheless, both here and in the letters, Eliot appears often as a figure of fun. While Woolf feels that there is in him a “great driving power some where,” she describes him personally and socially in, to say the least, rather unflattering terms: “Pale, marmoreal Eliot was there last week, like a chapped office boy on a high stool, with a cold in his head, until he warms a little, which he did.” Since her diaries were the places where she not only caught her feelings but examined them as she did, she can wonder whether Eliot will ever become “Tom” to her; later she decides that she might well become intimate with the poet and still later is rather “disappointed” to discover that she is no longer afraid of him. Once, to her vast delight, “Tom” gets drunk, then sick, and then, the next day, nervously and effusively apologetic.

Her snobbery could extend even to Henry James, whose Wings of the Dove she found merely ingenious, the sentences taut but the book as a whole nevertheless “much emasculated by this timidity or consciousness or whatever it is. Very highly American, I conjecture, in the determination to be highly bred, & the slight obtuseness as to what high breeding is.”

But there was method in the Bloomsbury madness. Sometimes the members’ efforts to help and support one another went wildly, comically astray. The effort to raise money enough to enable Eliot to leave his bank job created nothing but problems, for Eliot and everyone else. The plans designed to force a book out of Desmond MacCarthy were bound to fail, despite a number of meetings of the Novel Club and then the Memoir Club, at which members were to read their work aloud, including, hopefully, MacCarthy. At one meeting of the Memoir Club, Woolf made the rather irritating discovery, through a memoir read by Clive Bell, that Bell had been having an affair with a woman at a time that “coincided with his attachment to me.” Nevertheless, there was the case of E. M. Forster, discovered in a very despondent state after his return from India: “depressed to the verge of inanition. To come back . . . to an ugly house . . . an old fussy, exacting mother . . . without a novel, and with no power to write one—this is dismal, I expect, at the age of 43.” But the Woolfs, particularly Leonard, encouraged him, and it was to them that he sent a jubilant letter saying he had just written the last words of A Passage to India.

The Diary of Virginia Woolf

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1721

Beyond a doubt, the third volume of Virginia Woolf’s diary is the most important, the most useful, and the most intriguing to date, and it will probably prove to be the one most frequently perused and referred to when the entire five-volume series is in print. Between 1925 and 1930, the years covered by the third volume, Woolf reached her literary majority. She revised and sent to the printer both The Common Reader (1925) and Mrs. Dalloway (1925); with startling ease, she wrote, revised, and published To the Lighthouse (1929), Orlando (1928), and A Room of One’s Own (1929); and as 1930 was drawing to a close she had almost, if not quite, emerged victorious from an extended struggle to shape and structure The Waves (1931). With prestige came money, more literary offers than she could or wanted to handle (Leonard Woolf was often pressed into service to provide the tactful refusals), and, if possible, an even more extensive social existence than she had earlier maintained. One wonders, in fact, how she found the time to write. “A happy summer, very busy,” she notes, but “rather overpowered by the need of seeing so many people.” In another, less happy, mood, she rebels—“really I am going to let myself slacken in social ways”—but one sees precious little sign of that slackening. If anything her public life is made broader, as she meets George Moore, H. G. Wells, the Sitwells, Thomas Hardy, William Butler Yeats, and carefully notes her impressions of each.

The interest of this volume, however, scarcely lies in the record of publication or in her record of meetings with literary lions. For it is now that she seems, quite consciously, to have reached her majority as a being and as an artist, imbibing large draughts of self-confidence and self-satisfaction. Thus, in September, 1925, she points out that, despite a minor breakdown that began with a fainting spell, “I have made a very quick & flourishing attack on To the Lighthouse, all the same—22 pages straight off in less than a fortnight.” Some months later she again congratulates herself:at last at last, after that battle Jacob’s Room, that agony—all agony but the end, Mrs Dalloway, I am now writing as fast and freely as I have written in the whole of my life; more so—20 times more so—than any novel yet. I think this is the proof that I was on the rightpath; & that what fruit hangs in my soul is to be reached there.

That note of certainty and confidence sounds increasingly through these pages of the diary. She can scarcely maintain it for very long at a time, and there is gloom and frustration enough. Clive Bell can wreck a day for her by mocking her “astonishing hat.” She can, poignantly enough, remember few periods of genuine equanimity. Thus, on the first of March, 1930, she records one evening when “I had the odd experience of perfect rest & satisfaction. All the bayonets that prod me sank. There I lay (I daresay for an hour) happy. And the quality was odd. . . . This is the rarest of all my moods. I cant recall another.” Nevertheless (and perhaps she does protest too much), she generally seems quite satisfied with the way she has organized her life and with her own ability to control it. Because of the Hogarth Press, she notes, she can refuse to write a book for the Home University Library, and can, if she chooses, write a far better book for her own press. “To think of being battened down in the hold of those University dons fairly makes my blood run cold.” There may be some hyperbole in her insistence—“I’m the only woman in England free to write what I like”—but it adequately describes her own satisfied state of mind. Besides, the latest report on the sales of her books is gratifying enough, and Woolf feels that she can readily afford another bathroom and watercloset without recourse to the Home Library series. Later, afloat on The Waves and increasingly certain of her power as an author, she feels that she can afford to turn down an offer of two thousand pounds to write a life of James Boswell: “I have bought my freedom.”

Clearly, Woolf is becoming interesting to herself, and most fascinating, perhaps, are the many passages where she self-consciously records the flux and flow of her thoughts and feelings in her mind and body, as though she were preparing herself to be a character in one of her own novels. “I have not said anything about Iwerne Minster,” she tells her diary after a brief holiday. “Now it would amuse me to see what I remember it by.” There follows a series of impressions, and the comment “this is the right method, surely.” Often enough, she takes note of the necessary fading of thoughts and images: “But the impression is dying, as they do, under other—how I lost my little mother of pearl brooch, bought a 16/ hat which I do not like. . . .” After several pages devoted to the general strike of 1926, she points out that even the greatest of events fade from consciousness: “I believe it is false psychology to think that in after years these details will be interesting. The war is now barren sand after all.” From this it is a short step to the tragic sense of the fleeting nature of human relationships: “why is not human intercourse more definite, tangible. . . . There is so little left. Yet these people one sees are fabric only made once in the world . . . how little our relationships matter; & yet they are so important.”

As a maker of fictions, however, Woolf knew, as Marcel Proust did, that time both creates and destroys; thus, a visitor she had difficulty focusing on seems clearer now that he has left: “and what remains . . . is now in some ways more vivid, though more transparent.” More generally, “the past is beautiful because one never realises an emotion at the time. It expands later, & thus we don’t have complete emotions about the present, only about the past.” The transmutation is, in fact, built into the very structure of thought and language. Remembering her visit to the Hardys, she “began to compose it: that is to say to dwell on Mrs Hardy leaning on the table, looking out, apathetically, vaguely; & so would soon bring everything into harmony with that as the dominant theme. But the actual event was different.”

Quite necessarily, she spends some time on the ebb and flow of her depressions. At one point, she describes, although in general terms, “a whole nervous breakdown in miniature,” one that lasted less than a week. At another point, she provides almost clinical detail of the onset of an intense depression that lasted off and on for some weeks:Woke up perhaps at 3. Oh its beginning its coming—the horror—physically like a painful wave swelling about the heart—tossing me up. I’m unhappy unhappy! Down—God, I wish I were dead. Pause. But why am I feeling this? Let me watch the wave rise. I watch. Vanessa. Children. Failure. . . . Failure failure.

Yet, while settling on some measures to fend off future depressions, she points out, with enormous honesty, that she is not certain that she wishes to “avoid these glooms.” Depressively enough, she insists that when she hits emotional bottom she faces a measure of truth that she does not otherwise: “One goes down into the well & nothing protects one from the assault of truth.” The references to Vanessa and to Vanessa’s children point to one source of her depression, or to one route it took, for she was forever comparing her own childless state with that of her sister. More than once, she feels cut off from what she terms “natural happiness,” “geniality & family love & being on the rails of human life.”

It is her fiction, however, that consumes her and can, at times, consume her jealousy of Vanessa: “oddly enough I scarcely want children of my own now. This insatiable desire to write something before I die, this ravaging sense of the shortness & feverishness of life, make me cling, like a man on a rock, to my one anchor.” As she watches the movements of her mind, she seeks to record the emergence of ideas for new novels: “I want to trace my own process.” Thus, one day in March, 1927, she remarks on a cluster of ideas out of which came the impetus for Orlando: “I must record the conception last night between 12 & one of a new book.” She has, in fact, already spoken of the book to follow, “the very serious, mystical poetical work which I want to come next,” and, shortly before getting underway with Orlando, is toying with fresh ideas for the book she had provisionally entitled The Moths: “Slowly ideas begin trickling in . . . the idea of some continuous stream,” although she mistakenly thinks that she can write it in jig time. Embarked on a love-hate relationship with The Waves, she addresses herself to the “hideous shaping & moulding” required by the book, and feels also the “pressure of the form—the splendour and greatness.”

Yet, her shaping and molding brought rewards, financial and otherwise. “I am summoning Philcox next week to plan a room—I have money to build it, money to furnish it. And we have the new car, & we can drive to Edinburgh in June if we like.” Somewhat later she notes: ldquo;The bedroom will be a lovely wonderful room what I’ve always hoped for.”

The literary life also brought her into contact with other practitioners of that life, providing the diary with a number of comic set pieces of shrewd and precise observation. Moving in and out of her life and in and out of her diary are other members of Bloomsbury, including her sister Vanessa, Clive Bell, E. M. Forster, Roger Fry, Lytton Strachey, and Duncan Grant. Readers find here what they do not find in the letters, her self-examination of her relationship with Vita Sackville-West: “her being in short (what I have never been) a real woman” who “lavishes on me the maternal protection which, for some reason, is what I have always most wished from anyone.”

The Diary of Virginia Woolf

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1527

“Lady L. a now shapeless sausage, & Mrs. Hunter, a swathed satin sausage, sat side by side on a sofa. Ethel stood at the piano in the window . . . conducting with a pencil. There was a drop at the end of her nose.” The passage might have been taken from one of Virginia Woolf’s novels, but is actually part of her diary record of her attendance as one of a small audience at a music rehearsal in a “vast” English mansion. The entry is representative of the mastery of laconic, descriptive detail and satiric bite that lend so much interest to the fourth volume of one of the most celebrated diaries of the twentieth century.

The fourth volume of Woolf’s diary covers the years from 1931 to 1935. During this time, she published her sixth novel, The Waves (1931); a volume of essays, The Common Reader: Second Series (1932); and Flush (1933), a brief, whimsical biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s dog. She also worked intermittently for more than three years on her long, complex novel The Years, the publication of which was delayed by illness until 1937. Many diary entries concern the difficulties she had in writing The Years, which she originally intended to be “an Essay-Novel, called the Pargiters—& it’s to take in everything, sex, education, life &c.; & come, with the most powerful and agile leaps, like a chamois across precipices from 1880 to here & now.”

The manuscript would undergo many changes and revisions before it was published. As late as December, 1935, Woolf asked herself whether “the last revision of the last pages” of The Years was really the “last revision.” The novel-essay portion, under the original title The Pargiters (1977), would be published separately forty years after the novel first appeared.

Virginia Woolf was the brilliant daughter of a distinguished scholar and critic, Leslie Stephen. At thirty, she married Leonard Woolf, an intellectual Jew who fortunately understood her manic-depressive temperament and was able to help her channel her energies during her manic periods and guard against unwelcome intrusions during the times when she suffered from violent headaches, exhaustion, or depression.

In her novels, Woolf writes from a variety of perspectives. Intentionally avoiding the limitations of the omniscient point of view or the even more strictly limited first-person approach to narration, she prefers to shift perspectives often. Thus, she enters the minds of various characters and yet at times draws back, as what a critic has called “the narrative consciousness,” to comment on the characters or to offer general observations.

In the diary, Woolf also uses, whether consciously or not, much of the variety of approach found in the novels. There are quick shifts among straight reportage, gossipy comment, descriptive characterization, display of pique or anger, confession of regret or remorse, self-examination, and thoughtful observation. The imagination which created the carefully revised fiction reveals itself in the privacy of the diary and is unrestricted by any attempt to craft the writing into “literature.”

As in earlier volumes of the diary, Woolf often comments on or describes her changing moods. “Lord, how I suffer!” she writes. “What a terrific capacity I possess for feeling with intensity.” In a metaphoric description of a surge of emotion on one occasion, she suggests both mental and physical turbulence: “the galloping horses in my heart the night before last . . . it was a terrific effort, holding on to the reins.”

She sometimes tries to understand or analyze what is happening to her. After a two-day stay in bed, she asks, “what are these sudden fits of complete exhaustion? . . . I think the effort to live in 2 spheres: the novel [The Pargiters]; & life is a strain. . . . I only want walking & perfectly spontaneous childish life with L. & the accustomed when I’m writing at full tilt: to have to behave with circumspection & decision to strangers wrenches me into another region; hence the collapse.” This passage, like many others, hints at Woolf’s recognition and appreciation of the important part which “L.” played in providing for her a sense of security and comfort in a marriage which was to last nearly twenty-nine years.

One frequently wonders how Woolf managed to publish as much as she did. She and her husband had numerous family members to be visited or to be entertained in their home. There were many friends for whom social time must be allotted. There were parties, the theater, and concerts to be attended. Because the Woolfs ran a small publishing house, the Hogarth Press, they both had to read manuscripts, and often they needed to entertain or at least talk with authors about writings submitted. Woolf, in addition to her writing for publication and her diary keeping, was a voluminous letter writer. Time out from work on articles, essays, or books was taken also for numerous short trips as well as for several long tours on the Continent. Yet, often in bursts of energy, Woolf completed her writing, and she anticipated more to come. “I am so oppressed,” she writes in June, 1935, “by the thought of all the books I have to write that my head is like a bursting boiler.”

The Woolfs’ circle of friends and acquaintances expanded greatly from 1915, when she began the diary, through 1930, the year with which Volume III of the published diary closed. During the period recorded in Volume IV, she was made increasingly aware of the toll of the years: people she had long known were dying, one after another. Arnold Bennett succumbed to typhoid fever, and his death left her sadder than she had supposed it would, since he had, as a critic, “abused” her, and she had answered him in kind. Lytton Strachey, who had been one of her cherished friends for many years, died after a long, painful illness, and the intensity of her emotion left her numb. Dora Carrington, with whom the homosexual Strachey had lived, committed suicide less than two months after his death, and the Woolfs argued over why she killed herself, Virginia Woolf blaming Strachey for having “absorbed” Dora while her husband considered Dora’s suicide merely “histrionic.”

Woolf herself had first attempted suicide at thirteen following her mother’s death. She made a second attempt when she was thirty-one, after a breakdown following the completion of her first novel. The reader of the diary, knowing that Woolf would, within a few years, drown herself during a spell of deep depression, sees somber portents in remarks she makes after the deaths of other people, whether natural or self-induced. After Strachey dies and Dora threatens to kill herself, Woolf casually states, “Suicide seems to me quite sensible.” Yet, when Dora carries out her threat, she just as casually comments, “I am glad to be alive and sorry for the dead: cant think why Carrington killed herself.”

She is troubled, though, after the death of Roger Fry, another close friend, whose biography she would later write. She thinks of her own future extinction and, “A fear . . . came to me, of death. Of course I shall lie there too before that gate, & slide in; & it frightened me. But why?”

A reminder of the earlier suicide attempts comes to Woolf when her sister-in-law accidentally injures herself by banging her head against a car door, and Woolf explodes in anger. In a moment, though, she is stabbed by remorse as she stamps away “with gloom & pain constricting my heart; & the desire for death in the old way all for two . . . careless words.”

Woolf’s views of her writing were affected by her moods and by the particular work on which she was occupied. While engaged on one of the essays in The Common Reader: Second Series, she exclaims, “Lord, how tired one gets of one’s own writing.” She rejoiced that, when she had let the printer have the manuscript, she could then have “a fling into fiction & freedom.” Flush was the “easy indolent writing” she turned to for relief from the more intense concentration required by the essays. She also escaped temporarily from some of the agony of composing The Waves by “fleeing” to Flush, which she regarded as mere light entertainment, in contrast to her serious novels.

Woolf was at times depressed by unfavorable criticism of her writing. After reading Hugh Walpole’s review of The Waves, she found herself “trembling under the sense of complete failure.” There must have been a compensating satisfaction, however, when she noted five months later that ten thousand copies of the novel had been sold.

She comforted herself some time afterward that she very soon recovered from both praise and blame. Thus, after Wyndham Lewis had mocked her style in an essay, she read it, later reread it, decided there was perhaps some justification in what he had written, and then remarked that the Lewis “illness” had lasted only two days.

Volume IV of the Woolf diary is, like the earlier volumes, indispensable for an understanding of her art and of the woman who created it. The editors have provided very useful supplements to the diary itself in the extensive footnotes, the appendix of biographical outlines, and the excellent index.

The Diary of Virginia Woolf

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2225

Virginia Woolf once observed that a good diarist writes either for himself or for a distant posterity. Clearly her own diary was written for herself. Her self-analysis therein is unposed, and her criticisms of other people, while sometimes devastating, are not malicious, as they sometimes appear to be in her correspondence. She aims at precise description, without the self-indulgence and condescension with which she entertains the readers of her letters. More than once she remarks on the likely serviceability of her diary in the event she decides to write a memoir.

Volume 5 of The Diary of Virginia Woolf begins in 1936 and concludes four days before her death on March 28, 1941. Early in the volume, the reader is reminded of the precariousness of this great writer’s physical and mental health. In early April of the former year, exhausted by the effort of finishing her longest and most troublesome novel and looking forward apprehensively to the task of reading it in proof, Woolf suffered a nervous collapse and wrote nothing in her diary for more than two months. Then, after three June entries, the diary lapses again until the end of October. These are the longest gaps in a record which, though not kept daily, had been maintained on a fairly regular basis for more than eighteen years. Her husband was more anxious about her condition than he had been for many years. Leonard and Virginia Woolf had long ago developed a set of strategies for getting her through the depressions that ordinarily followed sustained creative labor and were always complicated by worry over the book’s reception. This time she vowed to write no more novels—a vow which of course she did not keep.

Woolf lived by words, and the spectacle of her being able, at fifty-four, to fill so few pages in a year puts the reader in mind of her final breakdown five years later. As was the case in the severe illness of her early married years, her affliction coincided with a time of approaching world war and intensified after the hostilities had actually broken out. The first war may have played no role in her illness; the second one surely did. How many of those who lived through air raids, the sounds and sights of air attack, and visual damage to city and countryside could remain immune to the terror? It must be recalled that the Woolfs lived in two of the most vulnerable spots in England: London and Rodmell, on the Sussex coast, where they often witnessed dogfights between British and German aircraft. “The war is like desperate illness,” she wrote in May of 1940. The bombing became a blitz in the late summer and fall of that year, and though the ferocity of the Nazi assault diminished during the winter months, Woolf noted on February 7, 1941, that invasion was expected the following month.

Woolf’s final illness perhaps could have erupted without the war, but the pressure of many such months took a heavy toll on her. Her suicide note to Leonard (unrehearsed in the diary) complained of constant “voices,” of being unable to read or write; she placed rocks in her pockets and walked into the River Ouse.

Paradoxically, this volume is also a book of life, for a vitality and enthusiasm for fresh creation also permeate these pages. Woolf continued to write: a provocative essay in social criticism, Three Guineas (1938); a meticulous biography of her artist friend Roger Fry (1940); a glance back at her early life, A Sketch of the Past (posthumously published in Moments of Being, 1976); more of the acute literary criticism that she had been turning out for more than thirty years; staunch affirmations of humanity such as “Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid”; and of course the novel Between the Acts (1941), completed shortly before her death. Throughout the period of this volume, she feels herself on the trail of a “new criticism,” one that will combine the virtues of her earlier method with greater swiftness and fluidity. She is confident as ever in her capacity for generating more ideas for new fiction than she can possibly carry out.

Despairing and hopeful thoughts frequently cluster together. Woolf chafes at the idleness brought on by illness or melancholy but urges herself back to work. On a single day in May of 1940, she reports discussing suicide with her husband if the Nazis invade successfully (as a Jew, he could not envision life under Hitler) and hopes for ten more years of writing. Three years earlier, the death of her nephew, Julian Bell, prostrated Woolf and her sister—yet steeled her to affirm, “I will not yield an inch or a fraction of an inch to nothingness.”

Woolf demonstrates the bulldoggish fortitude which Winston Churchill elicited from his beleaguered and militarily lonely countrymen in the dark days of 1940. “The Germans are nibbling at my afternoon walks,” she complains, but she continues to take them both in London and around Rodmell. Anyone doubting how thoroughly alive Woolf was at this time need only read observations such as one in October of that year (“Never had a better writing season.”) and in November (“Never have I been so fertile.”). Battling despair in late January of 1941, she reports herself writing with “some glow” a week later. Her stubborn grasp on the values by which she has lived persists to the final entries.

Woolf chose “death by water” with none of the ominousness of her friend T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922). Submarine imagery is common throughout Woolf’s writing, and in this volume she associates it with calmness, privacy, and beauty, rather than with annihilation as such. She often suggests that water is her element and pleases herself with the thought of escaping social and other obligations by submerging herself in reading or writing. As readers of To the Lighthouse (1927) may surmise, and as she explicitly acknowledges in A Sketch of the Past, the summers of her early childhood at St. Ives on the Cornish coast exerted a powerful and positive influence on her. Substantial bodies of water, like the sky above them, attracted and inspired her.

More than death Woolf feared wordlessness—the sort of paralysis of the intellect that had tortured her for long months in 1913 and again in 1915. In the latter seizure, her husband and attendants considered reading and writing dangerous. A person so articulate had more to suffer from words than most and could inflict more suffering on her friends thereby. Quentin Bell observes in Virginia Woolf: A Biography (1972) that she spoke wildly and incessantly at times during the 1915 siege. After many months of convalescence, Leonard continued to restrict her writing severely.

Although Woolf, like many of her fellow writers, could at times envy the inarticulate—“The wordless are the happy,” she wrote on a hot day in late summer of 1940—wordlessness was not possible for her as it was for the placid cottagers around Rodmell. A month before her death, with intervals of chaos bearing down on her, she was wondering whether the pleasure of a well-turned sentence would ever again be hers. To hear the “voices” in her head, to feel unable to read or write, meant the end of life for her. Not only did the voices of disorder keep her from the vital act of putting words in order, but also she recognized that her condition was keeping her husband, who was also a writer, from his work. Woolf’s very life had become an offense against articulate discourse.

“Going under,” a phrase which to Woolf had positive connotations of creativity, doubtless seemed to be the positive alternative to verbal disorder. No longer able to submerge herself in her work, Woolf chose literal submersion.

The five volumes of Woolf’s complete diary, like the partial version edited by Leonard Woolf in 1954, are well described as “a writer’s diary.” He claimed to have included in that volume nearly all of what she had to say about writing, but he omitted a number of relevant entries even by his rather narrow interpretation of that topic. When she entered a draft of the beginning of her last chapter of her biography of Roger Fry, complete with lined-out phrases and sentences, in her diary, her husband, not so much interested in demonstrating the process of her composition, omitted the canceled portions. Anne Olivier Bell, the present editor, permits the student of Woolf’s writing a look over the novelist’s shoulder. Useful as Leonard Woolf’s edition was, the last volume of Bell’s edition, like the first four, provides a richer as well as fuller reading experience. Woolf’s descriptions of other writers and of nature, often cut from A Writer’s Diary (1953), remain vivid to the end. No one interested in her judgment of H. G. Wells would willingly forego her long and incisive account of the novelist early in 1937, when he was seventy, and no admirer of landscape would skip over her picture of the Sussex downs in the snow during her last winter.

Leonard Woolf can be forgiven for wishing to avoid repetitions, but the full diary, by including what often must have been unconscious repetitions of Woolfian preoccupations, furnishes insight into her more obsessive themes. One that occurs frequently is her sense of being an “outsider,” a status that to a considerable extent stems from her recognition that the most important of her literary contemporaries, the ones who kept to the standard to which she aspired, were men, including good friends T. S. Eliot and E. M. Forster. This volume rounds off one of the most galling experiences of her later life. In 1935—the incident is reported in volume 4—Forster had contrived to inform her one day in the London Library that women—including the daughter of a former president of the esteemed research library in St. James Square, Sir Leslie Stephen—could not serve on the library’s governing committee. As one who had had to learn her Greek privately, she had long familiarity with the fact of women’s exclusion from the most distinguished bastions of learning, but this incident rankled. Five years later, apparently confident that the barrier had been lowered, Forster told her that he was presenting her name for membership. Even though there were few people whom she respected more than Forster, she admitted to a distinct pleasure in refusing the offer. While in the habit of turning down honors, Woolf seldom if ever did it in this spirit of retaliation.

Woolf kept aloof from Eliot’s religious views and from James Joyce’s “indecencies.” Despite having been born in the same year as Joyce, and despite having written in Mrs. Dalloway (1925) a novel with structural resemblances to Ulysses (1922), she noted his death (which occurred only two and a half months before her own) with continuing reservations about his work. Eliot had taught her to respect Joyce, but she still found vast stretches of Ulysses boring.

Somewhat more surprising is her lack of enthusiasm for Dorothy Richardson, who even earlier than Joyce had pioneered in stream-of-consciousness fiction, having published the first of her Pilgrimage novels in 1915. Woolf had reviewed the fourth of these, The Tunnel, without enthusiasm in 1919. She thought more of Katherine Mansfield, but when, in the later 1930’s, Woolf thought of the great modern writers, women’s names did not occur to her. Her keen sympathy for oppressed womanhood did not distort her literary judgment.

Woolf made a virtue of exclusion and often celebrated in her diary the independence that she and her husband had gained back in 1917 by establishing the Hogarth Press as a family business. From the perspective of the 1980’s, it does not seem so obvious as it did to her in the 1920’s and 1930’s that she was “writing against the current,” but their habit of publishing their own works kept them safely out of the currents of the day. Needing to please no editor but only herself, Virginia Woolf can be compared to Lily Briscoe, who at the end of To the Lighthouse is satisfied that she has expressed her “vision.” Lily is indifferent to the fate of her picture; the possibility that it may be “hung in attics” does not bother her.

Neither in that novel nor elsewhere does Woolf aim at a portrait of the artist; rather, she offers a portrait by the artist. “I intend no introspection,” she writes in her penultimate entry, and she vows to “observe perpetually” in the tradition of Henry James, whom she came to reverence more in her later life. That observation was to be both outward and inward for the sake of fulfilling that artist’s vision. She was far from solipsistic, and her vision is now recognized as more capacious than earlier critics of her work thought. In a sense, Between the Acts, with its comic history pageant watched by a socially and temperamentally diverse audience at Pointz Hall, encompasses more of England than The Years (1937). When it was done, she was entitled to lay down her pen wearily, as Lily Briscoe does her brush in the last sentence of To the Lighthouse.

In its competently edited and well-indexed five-volume format, The Diary of Virginia Woolf is a declaration of literary independence and an extraordinary record of a quarter century in the creative life of an extraordinarily intelligent writer.

Form and Content

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 473

Although not intended for publication, The Diary of Virginia Woolf has become five volumes edited by Anne Olivier Bell. As the wife of Woolf’s nephew, she had access to many family papers, including the notebooks in which Woolf kept her diary briefly in 1915 and then from August, 1917, until shortly before her death in 1941. Throughout this period, the novelist lived in London and in a succession of homes in rural Sussex. She did not try to write daily; although it was not uncommon for her to make entries every day of a given week, at other times she would go three or four days, sometimes a week, between entries. The entries also vary considerably in length, from short, single paragraphs to entries several pages long.

Any intimate record of a woman over a stretch of years is by its very nature a contribution to women’s studies. When the author is one of the greatest modern novelists with a particular gift for introspection, the record takes on added significance. When the writer is also the author of one of the seminal works in twentieth century feminism, A Room of One’s Own (1929), such a diary becomes a virtual requirement.

Leonard Woolf published a volume of selections from the diary under the title A Writer’s Diary in 1953, a dozen years after his wife’s death. The title was apt; although Woolf included items common to many diaries—the weather, family matters, social contacts, and the like, hers is very much a writer’s diary, with numerous observations on her reading and ideas for her own writings. The diary includes observations pertaining to her work in the short story, novel, biography, and both the personal and the critical essay. It is very much a record of her progress toward mastery of her particular forte, the novel.

Woolf did not begin to write in her mature manner until 1917, when she was thirty-five and recently recovered from a bout of mental illness, and perhaps not so coincidentally about the time that she recommenced her diary. Moreover, she did not believe that she had found her own voice as a writer until the age of forty, when she began to apply the stream-of-consciousness technique successfully to long fiction. Although Woolf wrote several fine short stories in her new manner in the years immediately after World War I, she needed the roominess of the full-length book to develop to her fullest. The diary, even more than her many epistolary friends, became the friend to whom she could express both her discoveries of her true writing self and the frustrations along the way. To read the first two volumes of the diary is to experience a literary coming-of-age; thereafter, one sees her working out the technical and emotional problems involved in applying her gifts to a range of themes.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 325

Although Leonard Woolf’s abbreviated edition of the diary undoubtedly whetted public interest in his wife’s book, Bell’s carefully edited version of the entire work gave readers a week-by-week account of an outstanding woman novelist’s mental life throughout her most creative quarter of a century. Together with Virginia Woolf: A Biography by the novelist’s nephew Quentin Bell and the six-volume edition of her letters, edited by Nigel Nicolson and Joanne Trautmann, The Diary of Virginia Woolf inspired and enabled a new burst of activity by Woolf scholars, critics, and admirers.

Few women will be able to read an entry of April 9, 1935, without being stirred. Woolf, by this time a noted author, happened to meet in the London Library an old literary friend, E. M. Forster, who, as a committee member of the library, mentioned that the subject of electing a woman member had recently come up. Although Forster represented himself as having supported the idea, Woolf left him quite sure that he had yielded tamely to the consensus view that “ladies are quite impossible.” She notes that her hand was trembling in rage while making the diary entry a day after the incident.

Woolf had no thought of publishing her diary, but the work is among other things a record of her publications. She was more fortunate than most women writers in that the Hogarth Press—Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s own press—published her earliest experimental works, but her normal author’s fears about their reception were complicated by her woman’s fear of the condescension of male reviewers, some of them her friends. Contemplating the prospects of Jacob’s Room, she observed, “I can’t bear people to see me downed in public.” The fact that Woolf had an extremely supportive husband, a room of her own, and even a press of her own brings into sharp relief the more painful struggles of the creative women who did not.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 485

The Atlantic. CCL, August, 1982, p. 94.

Bell, Quentin. Virginia Woolf: A Biography. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972. A remarkably objective, crisp, clear book by a nephew who also brought the skills of a teacher and artist to his task. This biography is well documented and carefully indexed, and it contains thirty-two pages of excellent photographs.

Book World. XIV, December 9, 1984, p. 1.

Booklist. LXXXI, November 15, 1984, p. 415.

Christian Science Monitor. August 4, 1982, p. 15.

Christian Science Monitor. January 23, 1985, p. 22.

The Economist. CCLXXXII, March 20, 1982, p. 97.

The Economist. CCXCCII, July 7, 1984, p. 80.

Gordon, Lyndall. Virginia Woolf: A Writer’s Life. New York: W. W. Norton, 1984. Unlike Bell’s biography, Gordon’s seeks to relate her subject’s life and writings. Gordon brings a woman’s eye to the psychological pain inflicted on young Virginia Stephen by the restrictions and expectations imposed by her Victorian father. Offers many feminist insights into Woolf’s fiction.

History Today. XXXIII, February, 1983, p. 60.

History Today. XXXIV, July, 1984, p. 60.

Kirkus Reviews. LII, September 1, 1984, p. 861.

Listener. CVII, March 11, 1982, p. 20.

Listener. CXII, July 5, 1984, p. 23.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. October 21, 1984, p. 2.

New Statesman. CIII, March 19, 1982, p. 30.

New Statesman. CVIII, August 3, 1984, p. 23.

The New York Times Book Review. LXXXVII, July 11, 1982, p. 3.

The New York Review of Books. XXXI, November 8, 1984, p. 3.

The New York Times. CXXXIV, September 20, 1984, p. 21.

The New Yorker. LVIII, September 6, 1982, p. 107.

Newsweek. CIV, October 15, 1984, p. 99.

Observer. June 24, 1984, p. 20.

Spater, George, and Ian Parsons. A Marriage of True Minds: An Intimate Portrait of Leonard and Virginia Woolf. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977. Spater personally catalogued Woolf materials at the University of Sussex; Parsons was a close friend of Leonard Woolf in the years following his wife’s death. Together, they have produced a highly sympathetic but not entirely uncritical portrait, richly illustrated with photographs of the principals and an array of family documents.

Times Literary Supplement. June 25, 1982, p. 701.

Woolf, Virginia. The Letters of Virginia Woolf. Edited by Nigel Nicolson and Joanne Trautmann. 6 vols. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1975-1980. Woolf’s letters to scores of correspondents reveal many aspects of her character, both flattering and unflattering. Among their many revelations, such as the ups and downs of her relationship with Vita Sackville-West. In their brilliance of imagination and language, the letters compare favorably with her novels.

Woolf, Virginia. Moments of Being. Edited by Jeanne Schulkind. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976. Includes three autobiographical works unpublished in their author’s lifetime: her 1907 Reminiscences, a set of three papers read between 1920 and 1936 to a group of friends who called themselves the Memoir Club, and A Sketch of the Past, composed in 1939-1940. Collectively, these pieces give indications of Woolf’s view of herself from varied perspectives in time.

Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own. Reprint. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovan-ovich, 1991. A short but powerfully influential book. Woolf explains why two seemingly materialistic things—some money and a room of one’s own—are essential to a woman’s intellectual and spiritual freedom.


Critical Essays