Can I excuse myself for reading this cheat sheet of Virginia Woolf’s diary, compiled in the 1950s by Leonard, instead of the 5 volumes of the complete diary that sit on my shelf? It has only served to whet my appetite to dive into the full ocean of her words, so I suppose yes, I am excused. Leonard edited out the names of people VW insulted in this culled down edition, marking “X” instead of those august personas who would supposedly be offended to read her words. Luckily, having the complete diaries on hand (which came out in the 80s, fully intact), I could look up the names, nothing shocking though. This edition focuses mostly on entries that describe VW’s writing process and what she was reading. For instance, her 1922 take on Ulysses (8/16/22 and 9/6/22) “a misfire,” “genius… but of the inferior water,” “brackish… pretentious…illiterate,” “underbred book of a self taught working man, and we all know how distressing they are, how egotistic, insistent, raw, striking, and ultimately nauseating” which differs a bit from her remembrances of Joyce upon his death in 1941, read the book “with spasms of wonder, of discovery, and then again with long lapses of intense boredom.” In 1941’s entry, she also records Katherine Mansfield’s initial reaction to the book – “she began to read, ridiculing, then suddenly said, But there’s something in this.” TS Eliot’s own spasms of delight were recorded initially, and also in the 1941 entry, “rapt, enthusiastic.”
The entries teem with doubts and confidence, a roller coaster of emotions caused by praise and criticism of how her work was received, carefully totted up notes on how many copies were selling and the fact that she could now pay for a water closet to be installed at the house off her earnings. She talks of her head being wound up in a ball thinking about the book she’s writing, the tightness eased by playing a game of bowls. She thinks of how she’ll walk along the Strand and let “each face give me a buffet” to write about. For any reader, it’s a wonderful experience to peek behind the curtain as she’s crafting the books you love, to see her struggles and triumphs, the long months spent spinning wool and then slogging over editing, trying to tamp her imagination down to prevent from other ideas for books spouting out. And of course war looms dirty, terrible, from 1939 on, casting a gloom and shadow occasionally pierced by VW’s wit.
Her struggle with plot:
I can make up situations, but I cannot make up plots. That is: if I pass a lame girl, I can without knowing I do it, instantly make up a scene: (now I can’t think of one). This is the germ of such a fictitious gift as I have. (10/5/27)
An idea to write about aging:
Oh and I thought, as I was dressing, how interesting it would be to describe the approach of age, and the gradual coming of death. As people describe love. To note every symptom of failure: but why failure? To treat age as an experience that is different from the others; and to detect every one of the gradual stages towards death which is a tremendous experience, and not as unconscious, at least in its approaches, as birth is. (8/7/39)
I found this to be a perfect sentence:
Today’s rumor is the Nun in the bus who pays her fare with a man’s hand. (5/25/40)