Beginning Again: An Autobiography Of The Years 1911 To 1918

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So far I’ve managed to avoid Mr. Woolf, but he’s come knocking at my door finally, and I dipped into this volume of his extensive autobiography for background detail on Katherine Mansfield. On the plus side, there are minor details that he blurts out that otherwise would go untold, how at his and Virginia’s marriage ceremony on August 10 1912 at the St. Pancras Register Office, Vanessa interrupted the Registrar to ask how to go about changing her 2-year-old son Clement’s name to Quentin. There’s also a good deal of gobbledygook about VW’s “madness” and his coded entries in Tamil to chart her progress.

For the most part, it’s a dry, circuitous journey through Leonard’s years between 1911 and 1918, with occasional flashes of unintentional funny: “Journalism is a highly dangerous profession. Among its many occupational diseases is not only drink, but a kind of fatty degeneration of the mind.” He’s quite serious about this, going on at length to talk about the six years of journalism he did and how it almost wiped his mind clean.

There’s also a terrible section where he hammers home the point that Vanessa was more beautiful than Virginia. This never ceases to enrage me— you were married to a genius and yet a few decades after her death, you’re talking about how her sister was prettier. “Vanessa was, I think, usually more beautiful than Virginia. The form of her features was more perfect, her eyes bigger and better, her complexion more glowing. If Rupert [Brooke] was a goddess’s Adonis, Vanessa in her thirties had something of the physical splendour which Adonis must have seen when the goddess suddenly stood before him. To many people she appeared frightening and formidable, for she was blended of three goddesses with slightly more of Athene and Artemis in her and her face than of Aphrodite. I myself never found her formidable, partly because she had the most beautiful speaking voice that I have ever heard, and partly because of her tranquility and quietude.”  We learn from LW that Virginia was frequently laughed at by people on the street, something wasn’t quite right about her appearance. (Although we also learn the same was true of Lady Ottoline, later).

Some interesting details about starting Hogarth Press, glimpses into the years with VW, but for the most part you walk away thinking him a tremendous bore and wishing that V’s talent would have rubbed off on him a bit more from constant contact during the years they spent together.