Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Virginia Woolf Takes Tea With Thomas Hardy

I've been ambling my way through Virginia Woolf's diary for a couple of years now. I am reading volume three at the moment (when I say amble, I mean amble). I hadn't picked it up in a few months but a recent post of Sandra's about how much she is loving volume one reminded me what I am missing. So I picked it up again. When I read the diary, I like to read an entry or two before bed. The other night I read the entry dated July 25, 1926. The whole six page entry, quite long for Woolf, is about her and Leonard having tea with Thomas Hardy and his wife. It was a "good tea" with all the accessories and choice pastries. Woolf describes Hardy as "a little puffy cheeked cheerful old man." They talked about all the kinds of things smart writers talk about at tea which means writing and other writers. The best part is that someone like Virginia Woolf gets star-struck. She asks Hardy the question that readers ask of great writers. It can be asked straight like Cipriano tried with Margaret Atwood recently. Or, like Woolf, you can think you're being sly and try it like this:

I wanted him to say one word about his writing before we left & cd only ask wh. of his books he wd. have chosen, if like me, he had had to choose one to read in the train.
Hardy asked her what book she brought, Woolf told him. Hardy asked her if it held her interest. Woolf, "stammered that I could not stop reading it, which was true, but sounded wrong." And Hardy avoided a return to the question by changing the subject to talking about giving someone a wedding present. I wonder what Woolf answered when fans asked her the same thing? The book Woolf chose for the train was The Mayor of Casterbridge. She wanted very badly to ask Hardy to sign it but was too embarrassed to say anything until Mrs. Hardy told Mr. Hardy that he should give Virginia one of his books. He didn't have any to give her so signed the one she brought and spelled Woolf "Wolff." When she saw it she felt bad for Hardy because she new it must have caused him some anxiety when had taken the book away to sign at his desk. It is stories like this that make Woolf's diaries so fun to read.