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.”



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.”









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.


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!”









An oddly short chapter. I glance at the complete diaries and truly do not know what criteria Leonard used, so much reading and writing not included. However. She begins with her birthday again. She is 38. “A great deal happier than I was at 28; and happier today than I was yesterday having this afternoon arrived at some idea of a new form for a new novel.” Which will be Jacob’s Room, a new main heading.

“I figure that the approach will be entirely different this time: no scaffolding; scarcely a brick to be seen; all crepuscular, but the heart, the passion, humour, everything as bright as fire in the mist. Then I’ll find room for so much–a gaiety–an inconsequence–a light spirited stepping at my sweet will.”

I have to say, this isn’t exactly writing advice as we know it. But it is helpful to read as a writer, to watch her feel her way toward a new way of forming a novel, how that process is more vision and sensations than hardware.

“The danger is the damned egotistical self…” I’m going to put in a main heading for ego: as obstacle in writing and see if more turns up.  Indexing also requires a certain amount of feeling your way, the sense that an idea is important to the author when you first encounter it. Stick it in, see if it comes up again, you can always take it out later when you edit. And I’m going to give ego a see also self-appraisal and again resist “narcissism!” Dang it though, I’m going to put it in anyway because I’ve thought of it twice, and that means someone else may think of it. I’ll just redirect it, as I keep doing, with See self-appraisal and See ego and see where it all takes me. Again, a lot shifts as I go, and will even more in the final edit.

She imagines this new book will take hands with Kew Gardens and “Mark on the Wall, The” and dance in unity with them. “What the unity will be I  have yet to discover…” isn’t that a lovely image of an author’s works. Matisse popped right into my head.


But, that’s a free association step too far. Back to Virginia. She evaluates her self, past and self, future and is critical but kind with both.

Others are critical and kind with her new essay on Henry James and she is irritated with an old man (65, she looked him up), who attacked it and insinuated that she must be one of James’ “sentimental lady” friends. She is mortified, but also puts it down to being “a woman writing well, and writing in The Times.”  She is philosophical about it too, that there is always a grain of truth in criticism, and she is “damnably refined” when she writes for that paper.

Beginning a new book, and the process of that — so many intertwined thoughts and emotions, so many questions for me on how to phrase them so that others can find them! Emotions I might not index for a client with limited space, but I think they are important here, so I’m doing them. Putting them all in for later editing. Determination, doubts, beginning a new book, new book, beginning a, process of writing, difficulty of writing… I don’t know, time will tell. She compares writing a book to walking a long distance, the excitement at first, turning to doubts, turning to steady determination.

More books, more authors. Some ad hominem about Conrad, Joseph which I will show to my 17 year old. He has to read Heart of Darkness for school this month, and keeps appearing in doorways saying “why?” and “frickin’ racist.”

Some thoughts on entertainment value in Don Quixote and now that I have that main heading I realize she was just talking about that quality in her own fiction, I overlooked it, and have to go back.  And then also intention, of writers.

She charges ahead with Jacob’s Room. They have a visit from T. S. Eliot, and she stalls out, can’t write, gets depressed. And then of course she’s depressed about everything: money, lack of children, living so far from everyone, the price of groceries, aging, Ireland… “And with it all how happy I am–if it weren’t for my feeling that it’s a strip of pavement over an abyss.  New heading for happiness. I have to go back again and look for where I missed it, because looking back to the start of this entry, there it is! She’s not known for it, though she did have a lot. Good to note where it appears.







1919, part 2.

April. Virginia ditches Moll Flanders to visit London, where she observes the lower orders through the eyes of Defoe, Daniel. Class irritations aside, I love when a book does that to me. She runs into “Morgan” ( Forster, E. M.), who flinches. She orders him to read Defoe.

There is a long entry about Peace Day in July, in which Virginia expresses her disgust and disdain for the general public, “sticky stodgy conglomerations of people” “docile herds” –the sort of thing that makes me not want to have her to the dinner party. Why is this in here? It’s not about writing. Maybe Leonard admired her descriptions.

Much more about the publication of her essay collection, Kew Gardens, which she and Leonard published themselves (Hogarth Press) printed themselves, and of her novel Night and Day. anxiety of  publication also many names of friends with the subheading opinions of her writing. And, praise, dependence on. More entries for self-appraisal, plus “see also”s between it and anxiety of publication which is gaining subentries all the time! Narcissism crossed my mind too, but no, aren’t we all, and those other headings will cover it.

Night and Day (novel) is out, her friends have their beaks in it, she’s not as scared as she thought she might be, “more excited and pleased than nervous.” And in fact they all like it, and so does the Times Literary Supplement. Forster is not so sure though, and this upsets and then pleases her. Criticism, emotional effects of. He comes to dinner, and explains himself intelligently. We should all be so lucky.

E. M. Forster at Monk's House

E. M. Forster at Monk’s House

Waterlow, Sydney is there too, and was “completely upset” by it, in a good way, it seems. More entries for them, and for friends, various publications, and criticism.

The rest of her writing year is distracted by reviews, good and bad. Checking the more complete diaries, I see she talked about them even more in entries not included here! Maybe Leonard thought she looked insecure. I wish he had included all of them though, for the sake of completeness, and because her insecurities soothe mine.