1930

“I have just exclaimed: “And now I can think of nothing else.” Waves, The: excitement of writing. But then she gets sick for most of February, and struggles to recover. More entries for illness. It’s amazing to see them pile up, and calculate how much of her life was spent either sick in various ways, or recovering, struggling to get her brain back in gear, and feeling ashamed of herself because Leonard “brushed off” the flu in “one day, and went about his business feeling ill.”

Back to the challenges of style and structure (with form: See structure).  She reads Shakespeare, William after writing, “when my mind is agape, and red-hot. Then it is astonishing. I never yet knew how amazing his stretch and speed and word coining power is until I felt it utterly outpace and outrace my own…Indeed, I could say that Shakespeare surpasses literature altogether, if I knew what I meant.”

At last, she finishes the first draft of Waves, The, “the greatest stretch of mind I ever knew.” This time, she reminds herself to find another project immediately, to avoid a plunge, “something imaginative and light.” (mental states: stabilized by writing) But instead she struggles with criticism, and wants to start revising, and… there is a long gap until August 20, when she starts to talk structure again. I check the complete diaries out of curiosity, and Leonard did not skip anything, there weren’t many entries, and what there is talks about socializing and mushrooms and newts in the bathroom.

Again, I’m amazed at all the week- and month-long interruptions in her writing life, all through every year. I read that Darwin worked about three hours a day, with much more consistently schedules, and the author was agog over how little that was, and look at his career! VW could only dream of such a consistent work life, even with no children, and hired help.

That’s only my impression though, not hers! “‘Nobody has ever worked so hard as I do”–exclaimed in driving a paper fastener through the 14 pages of my Hazlitt just now.” (productivity and time, use of) Sometimes she is frustrated by her inability to write, sometimes she travels and socializes and shops for a few weeks and regards it as “catching my breath.” Because she can.

She compulsively egosurfs, as much as an author could in this year. “It is presumably a bad thing to look through articles, reviews, etc. to find one’s own name. Yet I often do.”

Arnold Bennett.

She goes on revising, with various interruptions, one after being annoyed with Arnold Bennett at a party he gave with Ethel Sands–“Heaven knows I don’t care a rap if I’m on terms with B. or not.” But she writes two pages about what was said, which is going under conversations.  And now I want to reread Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown…  And read the Arnold Bennett I stacked up after being impressed and surprised by The Old Wives’ Tale, a few years ago…

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1929

200px-ARoomOfOnesOwn“A brilliant essay?–I daresay: it has much work in it, many opinions boiled down into a kind of jelly, which I have stained red as far as I can.” By mid May she has finished Room of One’s Own, A and handed it off to Leonard to read while she buzzes off to write Moths, The: see also Waves, The. But it takes months to get started. “I feel no great impulse; no fever; only a great pressure of difficulty. Why write it then? Why write at all?”

With a minor detour into concerns about her style in rereading old essays and revising Room of One’s Own, A she struggles to start this new novel. At times, her ideas seem cinematic. “Could one not get the waves to be heard all through? Or the farmyard noises? Some odd irrelevant noises…early morning light…” The more she thinks about it, the more she is drawn in and excited by her own ideas. Which is the answer to “why write at all.” “Everything becomes green and vivified in me…”

In September, Leonard goes to a picnic, and she stays home. She claims to be tired, because she wants the afternoon to think about her book (solitude: need for) and then feels lonely thinking of everyone having fun without her, which slides into brooding over how she’s 47 and can’t read without spectacles anymore and soon she’ll go through “the change of life” (menopause)… Leonard comes back and says the picnic wasn’t much fun anyway. And then finally her ideas start to take off, and I’m back making entries for structure and style.

But wow, here is Room of One’s Own, A again, subheading, attempts to predict reviews “It is a little ominous that [Forster, E. M.] won’t review it. It makes me suspect that there is a shrill feminine tone in it…I am afraid it will not be taken seriously.” Of course, it is. And she’s deep in the difficulties of Waves, The so it doesn’t matter that much to her anyway. “I press to my centre. I don’t care if it is all scratched out.”

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1928

A funeral and a two-day headache start this year, but then she whips up some ideas for what will become A Room of One’s Own, and finishes the first draft of Orlando. “There will be three months of close work needed, imperatively, before it can be printed; for I have scrambled and splashed and the canvas shows through.” She has a relatively work-free spring, seeing a lot of friends she doesn’t necessarily want to see, is “avid only of green fields, the sun, wine; sitting doing nothing.”

Hope Mirrlees and Jane Harrison

Home from a trip to France, where she feels her mortality, sense of, and begins to fantasize about pen and paper again, she runs into her friend Mirrlees, Hope and learns that Hope’s mentor and housemate, the scholar Harrison, Jane Ellen, has just died. “She lay dead…in that back room where we saw her lately raised on her pillows… exalted, satisfied, exhausted…and now to work and work, as hard as I can.”

Reading Othello she admires “the volley and volume and tumble of his words; too many I should say, were I reviewingHe abounds. The lesser writers stint.”

Orlando is done, and she is surprised when Woolf, Leonard almost likes it better than To The Lighthouse. She’s not all that thrilled by it herself, gets fed up with the revision process, feels she hasn’t tried hard enough with it but also can’t be bothered, and then the preorders aren’t much because booksellers think it’s actually a biography.

Leonard Xes someone else — MacCarthy, Desmond –because VW calls him “mouldy and…depressing,” talks about his missing tooth, the hole in his sock, and his arrogant convictions–“if his view is the right one, God knows there is nothing to live for: not a greasy biscuit.”

sales of Orlando leap the moment it comes out. It becomes incredibly popular, aristocrats have her to tea, and she’s under pressure to write more of the same. By December a third edition is underway, and she’s getting used to the feeling of having money to spend.

But the beautiful summer was unproductive. She’s tired of fiction, wants to write other things, can’t write, can’t read, becomes frustrated with her lack of productivity, starts to ferment new ideas again and think about the nature of reality again, and her approaches to style, so I have a lot of mulling over pages, deciding what she’s talking about without stating, per se. Waves, The is the next book brewing, but this year she’s still calling it Moths, The — so I have them cross-referenced. Her writing mind is back in gear, powering along: “I am surprised and a little disquieted by the remorseless severity of my mind: that it never stops reading and writing…is too professional, too little any longer a dreamy amateur.”

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1927

Here’s a good indexing illustration: on the first page of this year, Leonard replaced the word “Vita” with “X.”

Many people confuse indexes with concordances, which are lists of keywords found in the text.

But a good index maps the webs of concepts in a book. You can talk about death for a page without writing the word “death.”

An index also covers proper names, but if you ran keyword searches in this text for mentions of Sackville West, Vita, rather than pulling index entries while actually reading through the text page by page, you would miss this one.

I happen to be following along in the complete diaries, and so I noticed the redaction.

Virginia and Vita

I think he did it for his usual reason: Vita was still alive at the time of publication, and Virginia is saying things in her diary that she might not have said in person. But it’s a substantive mention–Virginia is evaluating Vita’s prose–so in it goes.

She finishes To The Lighthouse, is happy with it, and for once is not that anxious about reviews, just the opinions of her friends. Preorders (See sales ?) are over 1600, a record for her.

Ideas for her novel Orlando are coalescing in the form of a book called Jessamy Brides, The, a rather different idea she talks about at length, so I’m indexing both those titles and cross-referencing them.

She almost forgets that To The Lighthouse is coming out. When the reviews start coming she has a depressing one from Times Literary Supplement, The but then a slew of praise. “What is the use of saying one is indifferent to reviews when positive praise, though mingled with blame, gives one such a start on that…one feels flooded with ideas?”

Vita appears more often — Virginia and Leonard go for walks with her, go to the award ceremony where she is given a poetry prize, travel with her and her husband Harold to view the eclipse. This is more of a rest year, including her sudden plunge into writing Orlando (novel), which is one of her fun projects in between serious novels.

Outside of that she shops for houses, describes the village of Rodmell, socializes, plots for more income, and at the end of the year, reprimands herself for her narcissism–“am getting into the habit of flashy talk…to forget one’s own sharp absurd little personality, reputation and the rest of it, one should read; see outsiders; think more; write more logically; above all be full of work; and practise anonymity.”

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1926

“At last, at last…I am now writing as fast and freely as I have written in the whole of my life.” This is the year of To the Lighthouse. She evaluates herself (more for self-appraisal), chats (conversations) with Moore, George E. at a party about Hardy and James and Conrad and Tolstoy and Brontë, Anne.

“But what is to become of all these diaries…if I died, what would Leo make of them?…Well, he should make up a book from them, I think; and then burn the body.”

(Dear Leonard, thank you for only taking the first half of that instruction to heart.)

April 30 exists in A Writer’s Diary… but it’s not in my paperback edition of the diaries! Why not? What else is left out? And in this entry she talks about a trip to Iwerne Minster, and about how “yesterday I finished the first part of To The Lighthouse, and today began the second.”

Her newfound fluency in writing confuses her — she is aware of the technical difficulties of what she wants to do, and is stunned when it comes easily: “the most difficult abstract piece of writing…I rush at it, and at once scatter out two pages. Is it nonsense, is it brilliance?”

The Hardys and their dog

A long account of a friendly visit to Thomas and Florence Hardy and Wessex, their dog. He knew her parents. She wants them to talk about books and writing, but they keep talking about the dog. Nothing new under the sun. At the end, she gets his autograph, which is awkward, and he misspells her last name. But her overall impression is a good one: “Freedom, ease, and vitality.”

In the next entry, she goes back to thinking about her own art, and becomes more of an indexing challenge (consciousness: transcription of )

reading: living authors –she rarely bothers. Even though she’s reading the classic Clarissa, and is bored by it, but feels it’s important for no clear reason. Reading a current novel, “My wonder is that entirely second rate work like this, poured out in profusion by at least 20 people yearly…has so much merit…it will not exist in 2026; but it has some existence now, which puzzles me a little.”

What would you look that up under? second rate writing? I’ll stick it there for now, and cross-reference it with popularity because I have a feeling people may look for it there. Though most of her thoughts on popularity so far, concern how much it matters to her. And authors: living at least for now.

And at long last, here is a bit where she notices her own snobbery, and how it harms her powers of observation (self-appraisal) “My instinct at once throws up a screen, which condemns them… but all this is a great mistake. These screens shut me out.”

I am happy for her. This is part of what makes her first-rate.

She had more hobbies than people mention–knitting of course, and here she is wanting to make a shell frame for a mirror. We all contain multitudes.

“After tapping my antennae in the air vaguely for an hour every morning I generally write with heat and ease until 12:30; and thus do my two pages.”  time, use of, productivity, there’s a few places to put that. She has a distracting, pleasant summer, but she gets the book done, and by November she’s into the revision process again, six pages a day, “much of it very sketchy and have to improvise on the typewriter.”

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1925

“Rodmell was all gale and flood: these words are exact. The river overflowed…Often I could not face a walk.” Instead, she revises Mrs. Dalloway, the chilliest part of the whole business of writing, the most depressing–exacting.” revision process: dislike of

She gets home from a trip to the South of France, and is characteristically self-involved and anti-social about a car accident she witnesses in London–the underclasses again.

128

Jacques Raverat, self portrait

Her friend, the painter Raverat, Jacques, has died. She remembers him for a complimentary letter he wrote to her about the proofs of Mrs. Dalloway, and she paraphrases Montaigne, Michel de: “it’s life that matters.”

She envies the style of another Frenchman Proust, Marcel, and writes about her blissful trip with Leonard to Cassis, France. 

She has “bored into her oil well” this year–has more ideas, and more ability to set them down, than ever before. She has the hang of first drafts: “the actual writing being now like the sweep of a brush; I fill it up afterwards.” She finally has “faith” in her own novels, something new for her, she never before “thought them my own expression.”

Common Reader, The comes out almost at the same time as Mrs. Dalloway, and at first, she thinks it will sink like a stone. No comment from critics, or friends–until there is, and a lot of it is good.

Strachey, Lytton doesn’t like Mrs. Dalloway, though. Style and subject not in harmony, doesn’t like Clarissa, but also, “what can one call it, but genius?” He suggests she use her gifts to write something like Tristram Shandy instead. (Friends: writing advice of). On the other hand, he thinks The Common Reader is  perfect. And she didn’t like Clarissa much either, but “one must dislike people in art without its mattering, unless indeed it is true that certain characters detract from the importance of what happens to them.” characters: likeability of and likeability of characters. Second time that subject has come up.

“It’s odd that when Clive and others… say it is a masterpiece, I am not much exalted; when Lytton picks holes, I get back into my working fighting mood, which is natural to me. I don’t see myself a success. I like the sense of effort better.” More for criticism of her writing: emotional effects of So far that’s enough, but I can see the tide is shifting from negative effects to positive–we’ll see if that has to be broken down later.

Common Reader, The starts doing so well, she gets more requests to write criticism. She likes the money, but is distracted by plans for To The Lighthouse. And so much to read. And plans for a book about obscure people in English history, that she never wrote. And then she overdoes it all, faints at her brother-in-law’s birthday party, and spends two of her eight planned writing weeks at Rodmell on bed rest with more of her headache. More subentries for illness… “Never mind. Arrange whatever pieces come your way. Never be unseated by the shying of that undependable brute, life, hag-ridden as she is by my own queer, difficult, nervous system.”

Reading:  plans for, and more criticism, both hers, and by others of her. Bridges, Robert, Poet Laureate, “likes Mrs. Dalloway; says no one will read it; but it is beautifully written” —and so were women writers ever reviewed. How’s the legacy doing, Mr. Bridges?

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1924

Reading: plans for. She assigns herself almost no current books. When she does, they’re mostly for reviews or the hot new topic of conversation. But when she lays out reading for herself, it’s mostly classics and poetry. Poetry includes Shakespeare, two acts an evening. Her train of thought turns to aging: taste in books and –her tastes have changed from prose to poetry.

And here I am reading her. After five years working for a book recommendation site, it’s refreshing and encouraging to be reminded that the constant hype machine of publishing, the pretty covers and author interviews, are the floodwater rapids of literature, with whatever depths there may be concealed beneath the froth. And that there are still deep clear all-season pools full of fish to explore…to overextend that metaphor.

More plans and schedules for reading and writing. A whole year laid out to finish Mrs. Dalloway, put her aside for three months, finish a book of essays, revise the novel, and have them come out one after another the next spring.

A move to Monk’s House, Rodmell gives her writer’s block.  “A change of house makes me oscillate for days.”

sitting_room_-_monks_house_-_rodmell_east_sussex_england_-_dsc05197-640x427

She makes herself feel better about her unsteady mental states by ascribing them to her superior sensitivities, denigrating the lower classes again, the reverend’s wife, etc. People like that “never quiver.” As if she could know.

I suspect she would snub me to death if we could meet. Much as I love her writing, and envy many things about her abilities and circumstances, I’m content to have all this time and space between us. But that’s true of so many artists and writers whose work I adore. The connection is at least half my imagination.

“But it’s a question of work” she says. 250 words a day of fiction, then The Common Reader, then her planned reading. All interrupted by the death of Conrad, Joseph, and a wire from the Times Literary Supplement asking her to write him up, which she does.

On a walk one day, she has a standoff with some cows. “I waved my stick and stood at bay; and thought of Homer as they came flourishing and trampling towards me”  Should I index the cows? They stuck in my brain overnight. I’ll stick them in under the Greek literature they made her think of, and deal with them later.

Her writing plans are thrown off by visitors, effectively invited by one of her servants, Hope, Lottie who thought she’d like to see her niece, Stephen, Ann. Virginia is thwarted, frustrated by the interruption, but also finds Ann “wonderful and charming.” Which is children for you. When they leave, she finishes Mrs. Dalloway and reflects on the style, structure, revision process. What will the reviews be like? They’ll call it disjointed, and “I suppose there is some superficial glittery writing.” But it doesn’t matter, she’s happy, “it seems to leave me plunged in the richest strata of my mind.”

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1923

“I’m over peevish in private, partly in order to assert myself. I am a great deal interested suddenly in my book.”  It is June already in 1923, and the book is Mrs. Dalloway.

mw72163

She wants to “bring in the despicableness of people like Ott” — her supposed friend, Morrell, Ottoline. I am 54 pages into this book and have finally hit the point where the work picks up speed. Most of the main characters and themes have been introduced, and I’m starting to get a feel for the shape of this index. Still, so many people, and new ones keep cropping up, for instance here is the name Sackville West for the first time, but it isn’t Vita yet, it’s her novel-writing cousin, Edward. I’m going to leave him in for the novel, and because it’s interesting to see him here before Vita.

But I’ve decided to leave a lot of the others out. If people are interested in the minor friends, they can look them up in the diaries and letters. I have to keep in mind that the main point of this index (the metatopic!) is her writing life.

“To get to the bones, now I’m writing fiction again I feel my force glow straight from me at its fullest.” That stumped me for a bit, until I went back to the sentence before and noticed I’d skimmed past the word “excitement.” mental states: excitement of writing. One of those dissections that kills the thing–but the index is supposed to point you to the inspiration, not embody it.

More about reviews and criticism of her work. But this year she finds that a bad response to one of her essays makes her less inclined to please others,  makes her more determined to be herself. This might be because she’s in the thick of writing Mrs. Dalloway.  Even when she can only write 50 words in a morning doing the madness parts. She’s also realizing new things about structure, and how she can’t do it all consciously. “One feels about in a state of misery–and then one touches the hidden spring.”  planning of novels …. backstory… and also Lubbock, Percy who wrote a book on the craft of fiction that she and her friends obsessed over. It is out of print now.

I still don’t know what Leonard’s criteria were in editing this book, it’s very haphazard. He leaves out book talk, and leaves in these bits about how much she dislikes Ottoline (who died three years before Virginia). I am sure I could do a better job of composing a book for writers out of her diaries and letters myself. There’s probably a “(dead) writer (s’ private thoughts) on writing” series in that idea. However, for that I’d need to see some cash.

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1922

Peacock, Thomas Love. “Doubtless, Peacock is a taste acquired in maturity.” Her dead brother Thoby liked his novels, but she was less enthusiastic in her youth. “I wanted mystery, romance, psychology, I suppose. And now more than anything I want beautiful prose.” aging: taste in books and

NPG x13093; Thoby Stephen by George Charles Beresford

Thoby Stephen by George Charles Beresford 1902-1906

Also Stephen, Thoby.  Is this really the first mention of her promising favorite brother, dead at 26 of typhoid? She just wrote a whole book about him? But I skim the first forty pages, and it does appear to be.

On to Scott, Walter and a description of her friend Dickinson, Violet who is is happy, and also ready to die.

Books, books, books. She is reading La Princesse de Clèves (novel) “reading classics is generally hard going.” It’s beautiful but too perfect, and thank god she is not reviewing it. She reads a lot of other reviews instead. “The best brains in England (metaphorically speaking) sweated themselves for I don’t know how many hours to give me this brief condescending sort of amusement.”

She is not impressed with Ulysses. She admired the first 2 or 3 chapters, then became irritated and bored. “An illiterate underbred book it seems to me” …another of her tirades about the repulsive and dimwitted underclasses. Why on earth does Tom Eliot like it so much?

A nice discussion of how to “rock oneself back into writing.”

exercise

reading

writer’s block: cures for

As the light fades, she records a conversation with Eliot about Ulysses among many topics (added to the main heading for conversations, and subheadings for many others, including style).

The Jacob’s Room: publication process has been harrowing and depressing, as always, but she gets the best possible letter from Brace, Donald and his praise, plus the offer of a contract from someone other than her stepbrother, brightens her right up.  Discussion of her reading “with a purpose” and how at forty she is finally learning how to maximize her productivity, though of course she doesn’t put it that way. “The secret is I think always so to contrive that work is pleasant.” Hm.

More praise for Jacob, and with that, she’s back on top of everything. “Though the surface may be agitated, the center is secure.”

Next come the bad reviews. “An elderly sensualist” says Daily News. But, she’s already moving on to Mrs. Dalloway, and doesn’t want to think about it anymore. “I expect I could have screwed Jacob up tighter, if I had foreseen; but I had to make my path as I went.”

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1921

So much self-appraisal, anxiety, aging, and vanity! It’s a diary. I’m starting to think those main headings may overflow with subheadings, and need a lot of disentangling to break down. For now, I’ll just keep adding to them. And remember there is such a thing as over-indexing. Just because I have plenty of time, and all the space in the world, doesn’t mean anyone needs 20 entries per page.

Boredom is a problem in indexing. At least for me. There’s the data entry aspect, simple repetition combined with close attention to detail.  And you’re always struggling to comprehend the author and how their ideas string together across the book, as well as how others might describe those ideas. It gets boggling at times, the brain gets weary.

When that happens, I scan through my headings to look for new patterns, try not to be too perfect, get things in badly if I can’t think of a way to do it well, know I can’t predict everything and will go back over it later. My MLIS advisor said she’d rather eat ground glass. The pleasure when you get all the bits into place is enough for me though, it’s probably a little like coding. It’s a job for those who love certain forms of complex order and tidiness.

And now I should put in a photo of my dumpster of an office for contrast, but, no.

Going on–an interesting little discussion of how Woolf instinctively manages her time. She is unsettled by visitors, and anxious about  reviews for her new story collection, Monday or Tuesday. So anxious she spends a page trying to predict what Times, The and “serious evening papers” will say. “I shall be treated very shortly with sarcasm…too much in love with the sound of my own voice; not much in what I writer; indecently affected; a disagreeable woman… I shan’t get much attention anywhere. Yet, I become rather well known.”

I hope that made her feel better, that she clapped the book shut and got on to something else, writing, reading, darning. Needlework comes up more often than you might think.

But, next entry, she’s in the middle of writing Jacob’s Room and stalls out again. She’s a failure, washed up, old…nobody likes her story collection.

But why is it important to be popular? Not for the sake of an established reputation but “to be kept up to the mark…that people should be interested and watch one’s work.” She thinks she’ll know when to quit, that she’ll know if she’s obsolete. But ultimately it’s all vanity, and she needs plenty of hobbies outside of writing to give her an outlet when her mental state declines. I can sympathize with that. She’s more cheerful the next day, 50 copies ordered by the wholesaler.

Tea and brioche with Lytton at Verrey’s Restaurant [where Dickens once ate, and which closed in the 1960s, I think]. “gilt feathers; mirrors; blue walls.” They sit in a corner and discuss nonfiction vs. fiction writing, and where they each stand in literary history vs. writers such as Carlyle, Thomas.

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Verrey’s Restaurant, Regent Street, 1926

She talks to Keynes, Maynard for 90 minutes and wishes she “put down what people say, instead of describing them. The difficulty is that they say so little.”

More talk about praise and boasting–are all famous people like this?

Lady CarlisleHer cousin “Lady Carlisle” has died, after losing almost everything, including “her hope for humanity.” Who? Looking her up, I find the ‘Virginia Woolf Monk’s House photograph album‘ at Harvard.

Then her obituary makes me think she deserves a book to herself. Opponent of the Boer War, promoter of Home Rule, temperance and women suffrage. Carlisle, Lady Rosalind (née Stanley)

Next is an unkind/kind portrait of one of her more ignorant (but endearing) doctors, Vallence, Herbert. She is forbidden to walk or work again, “chained to my rock,” snapping at Leonard, who escapes to mow the lawn. Reduced to reading the sports pages, she compares some cricketer to Ajax, and wishes she could just walk across the room.

Freed, she finishes Jacob’s Room and puts the draft aside for stacks of other writing, reviews, essays… “will my fingers stand so much scribbling?” An editor refuses to let her use the word “lewd” in her review of The Wings of the Dove and she wonders whether pandering is worthwhile, or if she should “go on writing against the current…somehow the consciousness of doing that cramps one…and how much time I have wasted!”

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