The Letters of Virginia Woolf: Volume 2, 1912-1922

What an utter joy to have access to these letters; Woolf was a fantastically funny and engaging and relentless letter writer, her friends saved most and we benefit from that squirreling away. These letters range through the tumultuous era of the Great War and the deadly influenza and I found comfort in her words.

Beyond pandemic thoughts, she writes of social outings and seeing art and going to the 1917 Club (describing a meeting of conscientious objectors at the club “met here to croak like so many dull raucous vociferating and disgorging cormorants”) and losing Asheham but finding Monk’s House, buying Hogarth House, becoming better friends with Morgan Forester and T.S. Eliot, losing her friendship with Katherine Mansfield, cozily comfortable with Lytton and Leonard and Nessa and Roger, gossiping with her various correspondents and letting her pen fly across the page. She loathed Joyce’s Ulysses and swooned over Proust, and throughout it all was working on her first experiment in a new direction with Jacob’s Room.

Her unconventional life caused a rift with more somber family members and I loved her chastising letter to cousin Dorothea who objected to Nessa’s odd domestic setup (ostensibly married to Clive, but living with Duncan): “You, for example, accept a religion which I and my servants, who are both agnostics, think wrong and indeed pernicious. Am I therefore to forbid you to come here for my servants sake?… If after this you like to come with Katharine, by all means do; and I will risk not only my own morals but my cook’s.” (October 1921)

“It is lovely down here, and I read as a weevil, I suppose, eats cheese.” (10 Aug 1922)

“I wish I could discuss the art of writing with you at the present moment. I am ashamed, or perhaps proud, to say how much of my time is spent in thinking, thinking, thinking about literature. It is a dangerous seed to plant in your children. Still, I doubt whether anything else in life is much worth having—so there is the philosophy of an old woman of 40.” (Aug 25, 1922)

“My great adventure is really Proust. Well—what remains to be written after that? I’m only in the first volume, and there are, I suppose, faults to be found, but I am in a state of amazement; as if a miracle were being done before my eyes. How, at last, has someone solidified what has always escaped—and made it too into this beautiful and perfectly enduring substance? One has to put the book down and gasp. The pleasure becomes physical—like sun and wine and grapes and perfect serenity and intense vitality combined. Far otherwise is it with Ulysses; to which I bind myself like a martyr to a stake, and thank God, now finished…” (Oct 3, 1922)

“And at my age, my dear Carrington, life I may say melts in the hand. You think a day quite long enough. But I sit down, just arrange my thoughts, peep out of the window, turn over a page, and its bed time! Nothing is accomplished. Moreover, at my age one ought to be doing something violent.” (Aug 24, 1922)

Finally, as someone who is making her way through reading the bible, I enjoyed this: “I read the book of Job last night—I dont think God comes well out of it.” (12 Nov 1922)