Editing Virginia Woolf’s Diary

I feel extremely lucky to have been able to get my hands on one of the limited editions (Arizona State owns #814 of the 1,000 signed copies) of Anne Olivier Bell’s recollections of editing VW’s Diary. It all stemmed from Quentin being asked by Leonard to write her biography, which he acquiesced to when asked again in 1966. Olivier “was alarmed at the responsibility he had undertaken” and knew she could help him. Quentin asked Leonard for the diary, which he’d had transcribed and typed in order to come out with his A Writer’s Diary (1954). Leonard sent the carbon copy of this to the Bells, but hilariously they were in tatters because Leonard simply snipped with scissors the parts he wanted to include in AWD, telling the Bells they had the complete text when they put the tatters together with his published copy. The actual diaries were in the Westminster Bank in Lewes until Leonard’s death, upon which they transferred to the New York Public Library which had purchased them decades earlier (but to be held by Leonard until his death).

Olivier’s process was to create a scaffold of VW’s life on index cards that Quentin could refer to while writing his biography. These cards would come in handy later on when she was awarded the task of putting the full diaries out for publication. She details some of the fun in tracking down information that’s wedged into the footnotes of the diaries, how fortunate she was to have an extensive library at home but how that also led her to linger over tangentially related things like reading Wordsworth or Walter Scott.

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If ever you’d like to feel small in comparison to someone else’s life, check out the obituary for Olivier, recently dead at 102.