Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Woolf's Private Thoughts

I finished my ramble through The Diary of Virginia Woolf: Volume One, 1915-1919. It was a most enjoyable read. You don't have to know much about Woolf or her milieu in order to read her diary. Anne Olivier Bell, the editor and a relation, is kind enough to provide footnotes so you know who the people are Woolf talks about. She also notes the events too, for instance, if Woolf says "went to a concert," Bell will note what concert she went to, who conducted, what was performed, etc. Of course, the reading is much more interesting if you like Woolf and are familiar with at least a bit of her biography. Woolf didn't write her diary with a view for an audience. The only person who she ever mentions that had read anything in it is Leonard, her husband. This lets her personality shine through. If you idolize Woolf you may not want to read her diary because it becomes clear early on that she can be rather a snob as well as petty, vindictive and whiney. Even so, Woolf has plenty of observations and comments to make on writing, life, her friends, World War One, politics and day to day living. Here are a few examples:

My writing now delights me solely because I love writing & dont, honestly, care a hang what anyone says. What seas of horror one dives through in order to pick up the pearls--however they are worth it (January 16, 1915) Its the curse of a writers life to want praise so much, & be so cast down by blame, or indifference. The only sensible course is to remember that writing is after all what one does best; that any other work would seem to me a waste of life. (November 3, 1918) Mr. [T.S.] Eliot is well expressed by his name--a polished, cultivated, elaborate young American, talking so slow, that each word seems to have special finish allotted it. But beneath the surface, it is fairly evident that he is very intellectual, intolerant, with strong views of his own, & a poetic creed. (November 15, 1918) Well, I've had my dreams too. At the same time I'm generally rather surprised by the goodness of reality. (October 11, 1919)
Some people might say big deal, give me a novel, I want a story with a plot. And that's fine. I, for some reason, love reading diaries. Perhaps this comes from keeping one myself. Because diaries are private, it makes it more fun to read them. I know there is no right or wrong way to keep a diary, but I can't help but want to peep into other people's to see how they did it. I know what I write about and how often but what about someone else? It is strangely satisfying to read Woolf scolding herself for not writing in her diary for a stretch of several weeks. It is interesting how the word "diary" has taken on negative connotations of sorts. These days a diary is what a 10-year old writes in. It is pink and has something "girlie" on the cover and a lock that can be picked with a hairpin. Do adults keep diaries anymore? It seems everyone keeps a journal now or a blog. I wonder, does journalling or blogging change the nature of the diary? And if it does, what are the implications of that? I don't know the answer to those questions, just tossing them out there for thought. I'll be continuing on to Volume Two of Woolf's diary. I'm hooked and can't stop now. I won't be rushing through it though, I will continue at a rambling pace. It's much more fun that way.