Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Private Thoughts of Virginia Woolf

The Diary of Virginia Woolf, Volume Two: 1920-1924 is a real treat. Not only does Woolf write about writing and her projects, but also her friends and her daily doings. One of those projects is Mrs. Dalloway. On Saturday, 29 August, 1923, she writes, "I've been battling for ever so long with 'The Hours', which is proving one of my most tantalising & refractory of books. Parts are so bad, parts so good; I'm much interested; can't stop making it up yet--yet. What is the matter with it? But I want to freshen myself, not deaden myself, so will say no more. Only I must note this odd symptom; a conviction that I shall go on, see it through, because it interests me to write it." And on Saturday, 9 February, 1924: "I'm working at The Hours, & think it a very interesting attempt; I may have found my mine this time I think. I may get all my gold out." In this volume of her diary she also meets Vita Sackville-West for the first time. On December 15th, 1922, Woolf writes of the meeting, "Not much to my severer taste--florid, moustached, parakeet coloured, with all the supple ease of the aristocracy, but not the wit of the artist. She writes 15 pages a day--has finished another book--publishes with Heinemanns--knows everyone--But could I ever know her? I am to dine there on Tuesday." And by 7 September, 1924, the relationship had progressed to, "Vita is like an over ripe grape in features, moustached, pouting, will be a little heavy; meanwhile, she strides on fine legs, in a well cut skirt, & though embarrassing at breakfast, has a manly good sense & simplicity about her which both L[eonard] & I find satisfactory. Oh yes, I like her, could tack her on to my equipage for all time; & suppose if life allowed, this might be a friendship of a sort." This volume also contains the death of Katherine Mansfield in January 1923. Woolf had a love/hate relationship with Mansfield, saw her as a woman writer with talent comparable to and rivaling her own. Woolf feels Mansfield's death deeply. Woolf wrote, "At that one feels--what? A shock of relief?--a rival the less? Then confusion at feeling so little--then, gradually, a blankness & disappointment; then a depression which I could not rouse myself from all that day. When I began to write, it seemed to me there was no point in writing. Katherine wont read it. Katherine's my rival no longer. More generously I felt, But though I can do this better than she could, where is she, who could do what I can't!" And then there is T.S. Eliot who Woolf, depending on her mood, admires, despises or finds amusing. In this instance in 1922, she found him amusing and wrote that he has "grown supple as an eel; yes grown positively familiar & jocular & friendly, though retaining I hope some shreds of authority. I mustn't lick all the paint off my Gods." And of course there is quite a bit of mundane everyday things and from that I found out a new slang word that makes me smile. The word? Collins. Here's how it's used; "I look forward to his Collins." An editor's note informs the reader that a Collins is a letter of thanks after a visit, a "bread and butter letter", named after--can you guess? Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice. Delightful! I don't suppose though in this day of email that very many people actually send a Collins anymore. I love reading diaries and this one is no exception. Volume Two is a great read, especially if you are partial to Virginia Woolf. If you read it though, allow yourself to do so over a longish span of time. It's much more enjoyable to read it a few entries at a time then straight through like a regular book. I tried that in the beginning and it got to be rather dull. But taken in sips, exquisite.