No flu this January, but a late start, on the thirteenth, with some reflection on aging and plans. “Can we count on another 20 years? I shall be fifty… and sometimes feel that I have lived 250 years already, and sometimes that I am still the youngest person in the omnibus. (Nessa said that she still always thinks this, as she sits down.)”

Difficulty of writing becomes more intense for her, “Things I dashed off I now compress and re-state.” This may be in part to the death of her dear friend Strachey, Lytton, and her renewed sense of futility due to grief. “I wake in the night with the sense of being in an empty hall: Lytton dead and those factories building. What is the point of it–life–when I am not working– suddenly becomes thin, indifferent. Lytton is dead, and nothing definite to mark it. Also they write flimsy articles about him.”

Still, in February she is writing criticism, and full of ideas. The next entries are in May, and show her thinking how to respond to critics of her own work, followed by a serious emotional disintegration: “I’m screwed up into a ball; can’t get into step; can’t make things dance; feel awfully detached; see youth; feel old; no, that’s not quite it: wonder how a year or so perhaps is to be endured. Think, yet people do live; can’t imagine what goes on behind faces. All is surface hard; myself only an organ that takes blows, one after another, ; the horror of the hard raddled faces in the flower show yesterday; the inane pointlessness of all this existence: hatred of my own brainlessness and indecision….” she goes on like this, and for this indexer, it mostly goes under illness, mental with some scraps under the other people in her life, and reading: inability to read which is always one of her dangerous symptoms.

But, never mind. I can’t make this work. There is a reason I stalled out ten years before her death, and it’s not just apprehension of rereading my way toward that note left on the mantelpiece.

In indexing, the last stretch of pulling entries often goes very fast, and requires less analysis, because the themes are clearly established and the book itself is racing to the end.

And I am ultimately dissatisfied with this project. I have not been able to find what I was looking for: a way to dramatize the writing process of indexing as something more than data entry. The work that I believe does this best is by a better indexer and much better teacher than I will ever be: Facing the Text by Do Mi Stauber.

What I was after originally, was an index that would turn A Writer’s Diary into a more useful book for writers who want to know, as I did when I picked it up again and turned to the absolutely crap index, what practical insights and companionship it has to offer. What she has to say about planning, and structure, and first drafts, and revision, and criticism, and reading lists, and all she got done in limited hours with unpredictable health.

So I am breaking this log jam by saying: enough. I will finish this index at a normal speed, and post it for anyone else who may ever want it.



“My head is not in the first spring of energy…curse my influenza.”

I have not touched this project, or this blog, in over a year. At first I blamed the beginning of the school year, then a new book project, the holidays, illness, lockdown brain, and months of general distress. But I have lost track. Indexing projects normally take two weeks! The editing will require some extra attention.

I think another reason that I flinched away from pulling entries for these last few chapters of A Writer’s Diary, and the close reading required to do so, is that I realized this will be the last decade of her life, rich and dense, but last. Her productivity despite limited writing time and chronic mental and physical illness is a significant part of why I love her diaries. This year, I have not wanted to think about her final downward spiral.

However. I want to finish this index.

The entries Leonard included for this year start on Wednesday, January 7th. She is on the couch again, getting over the flu again. She is starting to finish Waves, The, and while having a bath, is struck by an idea for a new book that will become Three Guineas, “about the sexual life of women: to be called Professions for Women perhaps–Lord how exciting!”  And who hasn’t done this, who couldn’t picture the meme: the new idea throws her off the trail of her current book, and she has to fight free of the distraction to get her draft done.

She turns 49, sees an airplane in a field, and reads the next day that three men were killed in the crash. “But we went on, reminding me of that epitaph…when I sank, the other ships sailed on.”

Most of the year is taken up with her revision process for Waves, The and the start of Flush. Despite her usual anxieties, by September she has gotten her usual raves from Leonard and most of her friends, and the professional reviewers love it too. Including one for a paper called Action. I had to look it up: Oswald Mosely’s fascist newspaper ran book reviews?

“Really,” she writes ” this unintelligible book is being better “received” than any of them…And it sells–how unexpected, how odd that people can read that difficult grinding stuff!”

But then sales drop to “50 or so: after the great flare up when we sold 300 in one day…What has happened is that the library readers can’t get through it and are sending their copies back. So, I prophesy, it will now dribble along til we have sold 6,000 and then almost die, yet not quite.” As usual, she’s underestimating, it will sell 7,000 by the end of this chapter.

Forster’s praise is especially encouraging to her, and in November she is exhilarated and full of ideas. “Oh yes, between 50 and 60 I think I shall write out some very singular books, if I live…What a long toil to reach this beginning…!”



“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 egosurfs compulsively, 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…



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.”





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.”




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.”





“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.”








“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.


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?





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.”


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.”




“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.


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.