The scope of such a collection of letters makes possible many different avenues of study. Their importance too derives from differing sources. In their most literal sense, they record the personal correspondence of a talented and influential writer. They also document the social interactions of the Bloomsbury group of artists, writers, and intellectuals, both within the group and with various social, political, and business contacts. They describe a time and a place, London and the English countryside in the early part of the twentieth century, a time and place of two world wars.
These letters also document a life. They provide a comprehensive record of the life of a writer considered by many to be a genius, who was plagued by periods of depression, even insanity. The letters demonstrate her personal and social life from her childhood to her death. In so doing, they offer insight into her personality, self-image, and attitudes toward people, places, and other contemporary writers. The editor of the letters, Nigel Nicolson, suggests that, while important and enlightening diaries may continue to be written, this collection of letters may never be surpassed, either in artistic merit or sheer number.
Especially in the earlier volumes, Woolf is an expressive and self-aware writer. Her tone is often playful, mocking, or sarcastic in correspondence to her childhood friends, even as they enter adulthood. The tone matures in later volumes, however, retaining the self-deprecating and reflective quality of earlier letters when Woolf’s audience is a personal friend, and leaning further toward formalized gentility when she is addressing a social or business acquaintance. Thus, the earlier volumes reveal much more about her developing personality and aesthetic preferences, while the later volumes record the mature life of a Bloomsbury writer and intellectual.
By the second volume, Woolf has married and has begun to work on her earliest novels, The Voyage Out (1915), Night and Day (1919), and Jacob’s Room (1922). These letters record the evolution of the manuscripts, offering some insight into how the composing process is...
(The entire section is 892 words.)