The Essays of Virginia Woolf, Vol. 6: 1933-1941

And now we really come to the end. This last volume had her final burst of essays along with extensive appendices and several previously uncollected essays from 1906-1924. A true Woolf nerd delight, pages of errata detailed painstakingly, the three BBC broadcasts Woolf did are here transcribed, this is a hugely valuable resource.

My silly notation marked certain things like her calling Melville a “poet novelist” (alongside Emily Bronte and Hardy), but most extensive appreciation was for “The Leaning Tower” (1940) where she delves into philosophy of words/writing.

A writer, more than any other artist, needs to be a critic because words are so common, so familiar, that he must sieve them and sift them if they are to become enduring. Write daily; write freely; but let us always compare what we have written with what the great writers have written. It is humiliating, but it is essential. If we are going to preserve and to create, that is the only way. And we are going to do both. We need not wait till the end of the war. We can begin now. We can begin, practically and prosaically, by borrowing books from public libraries; by reading omnivorously, simultaneously, poems, plays, novels, histories, biographies, the old and the new. We must sample before we can select. It never does to be a nice feeder; each of us has an appetite that must find for itself the food that nourishes it. Nor let us shy away from the kings because we are commoners. That is a fatal crime in the eyes of Aeschylus, Shakespeare, Virgil, and Dante, who, if they could speak—and after all they can—would say, “Don’t leave me to the wigged and gowned. Read me, read me for yourselves.” They do not mind if we get our accents wrong, or have to read with a crib in front of us. Of course—are we not commoners, outsiders?—we shall trample many flowers and bruise much ancient grass. But let us bear in mind a piece of advice that an eminent Victorian who was also an eminent pedestrian once gave to walkers: “Whenever you see a board up with ‘Trespassers will be prosecuted’, trespass at once.”