Preface

Not mine, there’s been enough of that. Leonard Woolf’s.

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When Virginia Woolf died, he became her literary executor. He chose not to immediately publish her diaries in full, and in this preface he explains why. Rather than publish a sanitized “caricature” of the 26 volumes of her personal diaries to save the feelings of  the living, he went through them and extracted “practically everything that referred to her own writing.”

A Writer’s Diary was published in 1953, about 12 years after Virginia’s death. Leonard took time and care with it. His preface is a carefully thought out work of personal integrity. He does not gush. He does not bare his heart for you, or even his shirt sleeves. Calm and professional, he explains his editorial decisions, addressing every challenge that might be raised. Virginia Woolf’s artistic standing was still in question in 1953, and he says so, and lays out a measured argument that resists any accusation of partiality. Having stated the controversies, he quotes a respected professor: “she was a great artist,” “she did supremely well what no one else has attempted to do,” “[her] world will survive as the crystal survives under the crushing rock-masses.” A paragraph later, having built himself a solid foundation, Leonard steps up on it to face you: “Unless I had agreed with Professor Blackstone, I would not have edited and published this book. She was, I think, a serious artist and all her books are serious works of art.” He expands on this, he cites specific titles, he goes on for most of a page, and finishes as calm as he began:  “I put forward this opinion, not as of any value, but as an explanation of my publishing the book.”

He paragraphs there, and ends with some editorial technicalities. He has said what he has to say.

But indexing is not about admiration. I have to back off and ask myself: Is the preface indexable?

Prefaces are not always indexed. Hans Wellisch says:

The preface or foreword is at best a brief recommendation written by a good friend of the author or by a more or less well known authority in the field who could be persuaded to say a good word about the work and at worst just a piece of puffery. Generally none of this should be indexed.

Ouch. But he has a point. This particular preface is not puffery, and is well worth reading. However, it is 3 1/2 pages at the front of the book, and it is backstory, not meat. I often ask the editor or author of a book if they want me to include the preface. But because this index belongs to me, I here make my own decision to skip it.

Next: page one. I begin to pick things up.

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