I m slowly wading my way through Virginia Woolf s body of work and, by extension, through the intricacies of her brain and her sensibilities It is not an uncomplicated liaison when I read her fiction, I occasionally glance around during the reading process, appreciating bits here, doubting other pieces there marvelling at her imagery and insight, yet sometimes feeling frustrated at her refusal to throw me just a tiny bit of plot, just a small shard of a realistic character trait, a little something that induces me to invest in her stories One reviewer, she admits, describes her style asso fluent and fluid that it runs through the mind like waterwhich is the closest I can come to a description of how her prose feels to me.
But when I read her non fiction, well, I m both in awe and a little bit in love In this book, we are granted insight into, especially, her craft and her creative powers but also into her life, her friends and her demons, her gradual rise to fame, her own ambivalent attitude toward it, and into her final days She airs opinions that are sometimes unnuanced or that I humbly disagree with, e.
g that literature is not a matter of development but of prose and poetry I deeply appreciate a deliberate take on form, but I also prefer deliberate content and development of story, of people otherwise it remains poetry to me She does admit to learning that she could do scenes but not plots No surprise there In this book no plot is needed At times her sentences are shockingly profound, at other times simply gorgeous The list of examples of the latter is endless, but here are a few to savour Life piles up so fast that I have no time to write out the equally fast rising mound of reflections the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on steadily Doubts creep in.
But to be well and use strength to get out of life is, surely, the greatest fun in the world.
I am laboriously dredging my mind for Mrs Dalloway and bringing up light buckets.
Joy s life in the doing I murder, as usual, a quotation I mean it s the writing, not the being read, that excites me I m the hare, a long way ahead of the hounds my critics.
What a vast fertility of pleasure books hold for me.
I was a little taken aback by her blatant disparagement of other authors Mansfield, Joyce, James, the list goes on , but she is also critical of her own ability from time to time And as she never criticized Forster, I didn t care so much In fact, she mentions him with a certain fondness every time his name crops up Morgan , and as Forster was one of my first loves in English literature, I cannot help but appreciate that tendency of hers Her best sentence about Forster may be the following Morgan has the artist s mind he says the simple things that clever people don t say I find him the best of critics for that reason.
On that note, she writes that intelligent criticism is to be encouraged Yes, I thought That ought to be a quote on the goodreads site Perhaps it already is Then it deserves to be read.
There are other authors whom she expresses something like love for I savoured and wallowed in those parts Shakespeare takes centre stage, but there s also a wonderful scene where she and Leonard visit Thomas Hardy A valuable aspect of the book, indeed, is when we hear about her own reading habits, her views on contemporary literature, her comparison of Turgenev and Dostoevsky etc.
Interestingly, as her books were published by Hogarth House, the Woolfs own publishing house, her books never fell under the critical gaze of an editor We hear of how she typed them up, how Leonard only read the books after she was completely done with them and how they themselves had x number of copies printed depending on how many were ordered.
As we progress into the second half of the book, Virginia Woolf is visited and by her incertitude, her ups and downs, her despair, while simultaneously being and in the public eye It saddened me deeply when she muses on what exacerbated her depressions I think the effort to live in two spheres the novel and life is a strain to have to behave with circumspection and decision to strangers wrenches me into another region hence the collapse.
I wonder if the beginning of World War II also underlined to her some of life s enormous sadness or if it was a complete coincidence that she committed suicide in the second year of the war The war is like a desperate illness, she wrote The Woolfs home in London was bombed to smithereens, and so she spent the last days of her life in the country, at Monk s House, where they could still hear the bombers and where, she wrote, we live without a future.
For readers who are interested in the writer Virginia Woolf, this is an absolute must read It was one of those books which made me impatient to read on and discover and yet also stop and savour her words and her thoughts and not rush through it because there is only one first time for every book.
Virginia WoolfOn January 1, 1953, Leonard Woolf completed his Preface to A Writer s Diary, a compilation of extracts from the 26 volumes of diaries that Virginia Woolf wrote from 1915 until 1941, with the last entry written just four days before her death This book was published before the five volume set of Woolf s diaries that is still in print today Leonard Woolf makes it clear that, especially since so many of the people whom Woolf wrote about were still alive at the point, it was important for him to avoid publishing the personal diary entries Instead, Leonard Woolf selected excerpts that focused especially on Virginia Woolf s writing about writing, fiction as well as criticism There s something very powerful about reading through Woolf s characterizations of her writing process in one volume, covering decades of her development as a novelist and a critic As such, this volume is an ideal book to read if you are fascinated by Woolf s creative process, if you are a writer looking for inspiration, or if you are interested in Woolf s diaries, but want a taste of her writing before you make the commitment to read the complete published editions of her diaries which I plan to read through this summer There are some strong themes and topics that emerge from A Writer s Diary One is Woolf s strong commitment to writing and revising, even in the face of poor health She describes the highs and lows she experienced at every stage of the writing process, from her initial conceptualization of a new novel or essay often while she was completing another project , to her struggles to pinpoint her vision for her novels and to realize it in prose, to her commitment to re writing and revising, always looking to condense her writing, to cut away any extraneous words or passages, to realize the heart of her vision for each novel or essay or biography Woolf struggled to find a rhythm to her writing and reading that would sustain her through the very difficult periods when she had just completed a long work, and when she was waiting to learn what its reception would be among friends and critics alike She describes having at least two writing projects going at one time, along with some very ambitious reading projects, sometimes tied to her critical essays, and sometimes part of her development as a writer, to learn from others.
As I mentioned above, Woolf writes at length about her unease over the critical reception of her own books Over time, and with accolades behind her, this becomes a slightly less difficult struggle, but she never completely shook off her concern over how others, friends, family, critics, and the reading public, thought of her work and of her place in literature How best to handle reviews of her work To what extent should she write for external approval How could she judge how good her writings were when her own assessments of them could shift by the hour All of the topics I mention above would be fascinating enough, but for me the true joy comes in reading Woolf s beautiful prose I couldn t resist posting something like 15 excerpts in updates when I was reading this book, and that was a result of my being selective Here are some of my favorite passages Woolf writes about her approach to writing a diaryWhat sort of diary should I like mine to be Something loose knit and yet not slovenly, so elastic that it will embrace anything, solemn, slight or beautiful that comes into my mind I should like it to resemble some deep old desk, or capacious hold all, in which one flings a mass of odds and ends without looking them through Woolf s aspirations for her writingAnyhow, nature obligingly supplies me with the illusion that I am about to write something good something rich and deep and fluent, and hard as nails, while bright as diamonds Woolf s description of the relationship she seeks between her writing and the substance of lifeSo the days pass and I ask myself sometimes whether one is not hypnotised, as a child by a silver globe, by life and whether this is living It s very quick, bright, exciting But superficial perhaps I should like to take the globe in my hands and feel it quietly, round, smooth, heavy, and so hold it, day after day I will read Proust I think I will go backwards and forwards The dual nature of life solid and fleetingNow is life very solid or very shifting I am haunted by the two contradictions This has gone on for ever will last for ever goes down to the bottom of the world this moment I stand on Also it is transitory, flying, diaphanous I shall pass like a cloud on the waves Perhaps it may be that though we change, one flying after another, so quick, so quick, yet we are somehow successive and continuous we human beings, and show the light through But what is the light I am impressed by the transitoriness of human life to such an extent that I am often saying a farewell after dining with Roger for instance or reckoning how many times I shall see Nessa The importance of revisionAt Rodmell I read through The Common Reader this is very important I must learn to write succinctly Especially in the general idea essays like the last, How it strikes a Contemporary, I am horrified by my own looseness This is partly that I don t think things out first partly that I stretch my style to take in crumbs of meaning But the result is a wobble diffusity and breathlessness which I detest Reading and discoveryNow, with this load despatched, I am free to begin reading Elizabethans the little unknown writers, whom I, so ignorant am I, have never heard of, Pullenham, Webb, Harvey This thought fills me with joy no overstatement To begin reading with a pen in my hand, discovering, pouncing, thinking of phrases, when the ground is new, remains one of my great excitements The efforts to pin down ideas when writingIt is all very well, saying one will write notes, but writing is a very difficult art That is one has always to select and I am too sleepy and hence merely run sand through my fingers Writing is not in the least an easy art Thinking what to write, it seems easy but the thought evaporates, runs hither and thither Here we are in the noise of Siena the vast tunnelled arched stone town, swarmed over by chattering shrieking children Her thoughts of what she wants to achieve and develop in The Waves referred to here by its early title The MothsOrlando has done very well Now I could go on writing like that the tug and suck are at me to do it People say this was so spontaneous, so natural And I would like to keep those qualities if I could without losing the others But those qualities were largely the result of ignoring the others They came of writing exteriorly and if I dig, must I not lose them And what is my own position towards the inner and the outer I think a kind of ease and dash are good yes I think even externality is good some combination of them ought to be possible The idea has come to me that what I want now to do is to saturate every atom I mean to eliminate all waste, deadness, superfluity to give the moment whole whatever it includes Say that the moment is a combination of thought sensation the voice of the sea Waste, deadness, come from the inclusion of things that don t belong to the moment this appalling narrative business of the realist getting on from lunch to dinner it is false, unreal, merely conventional Why admit anything to literature that is not poetry by which I mean saturated Is that not my grudge against novelists that they select nothing The poets succeeding by simplifying practically everything is left out I want to put practically everything in yet to saturate That is what I want to do in The Moths It must include nonsense, fact, sordidity but made transparent And one last inspirational quote, which captures the magic, the beauty, the sadness, and the wonder of this volumeThen as I was walking through Russell Square last night I see the mountains in the sky the great clouds and the moon which is risen over Persia I have a great and astonishing sense of something there, which is it It is not exactly beauty that I mean It is that the thing is in itself enough satisfactory achieved A sense of my own strangeness, walking on the earth is there too of the infinite oddity of the human position trotting along Russell Square with the moon up there and those mountain clouds Who am I, what am I, and so on these questions are always floating about in me and then I bump against some exact fact a letter, a person, and come to them again with a great sense of freshness And so it goes on But on this showing, which is true, I think, I do fairly frequently come upon this it and then feel quite at rest Virginia Woolf An Invaluable Guide To The Art And Mind Of Virginia Woolf, Drawn By Her Husband From The Personal Record She Kept Over A Period Of Twenty Seven Years Included Are Entries That Refer To Her Own Writing, Others That Are Clearly Writing Exercises Accounts Of People And Scenes Relevant To The Raw Material Of Her Work And Comments On books She Was Reading Edited And With A Preface By Leonard Woolf Indices scritch scratch scritch scratch dash scritch scratch scritch scratch semi colon scritch scratch scritch scratch inkblot the trusty nib flounders a moment then wades through the puddle of ink and on to the end of the lineto the end of the pageto the end of that year s diary and though it flounders sometimes along the waythe trusty nib keeps on scratching through the diariesuntil half way though the last it flounders finallyNow for The Longer Review and apologies in advance.
Reading a diary is like being in a room with someone who thinks they are alone And even though they think they are alone, and feel quite safe talking to themselves aloud, we see them glance in the mirror from time to time to see how they look when they are speaking It can t matter how they look but they check all the same, just in case How much just in case is present in Virginia Woolf s diary, thekindly blank faced confidanteshe turned to in good times and in bad In March, 1926, aged forty four, she wroteBut what is to become of all these diaries, I asked myself yesterday If I died, what would Leo make of them He would be disinclined to burn then he could not publish them Well, he should make up a book from them, I think and then burn the body I daresay there is a little book in them if the scraps and scratching were straightened out a littleThis is dictated by a slight melancholia, which comes upon me sometimes now and makes me think I am old Yet, as far as I know, as a writer I am only now writing out my mind She was right on all counts She lived to be fifty nine and wrote five novels, some of her most famous essays, many short stories, the second series of The Common Reader, a biography of the artist Roger Fry, plus fifteen years worth of diary entries And Leonard Woolf did edit her diaries after her death in 1941, selecting the sections on writing, and some on reading, which he then published as A Writer s Diary full of little gems like thisYou see, I m thinking furiously about Reading and Writing A Writer s Diary starts in 1918 when Woolf s second novel, Night and Day was about to be published, and it covers the most important years of her writing life I for one am very grateful to Leonard Woolf for both the editing and the publishing It is very exciting to get to read about the writing process as it is happening, and about the writer s reaction to the reception of their work as it is published.
As a reader, I m rarely drawn to the biographical details of a writer s life except where they are so closely linked to the writing that an understanding of one requires an understanding of the other In the case of Virginia Woolf, it seems to me that biographical details are simply not relevant to an appreciation of her writing She may have used life experiences as material for her books but the reader doesn t need to know which episodes are fact and which are fiction the writing carries the day almost entirely on its own It is interesting that we don t often seek to know the intimate lives of artists the way we sometimes do with writers we accept an artist s work as it is, simply placing it in its epoch and appreciating its technique and its merits in relation to its contemporaries The parallel with the artist is particularly relevant in Woolf s case the main agenda in her novels is her art The novels make political points certainly, but it is done without stridency it never gets in the way of the style of the writing or the shape she isarchitectingEven when she makes political points in her non fiction, her phrasing is always perfect and her voice remains serene she examines the field as a scientist or an anthropologist might, and sets out her conclusions In both her fiction and her non fiction, there is this firm focus on the writing style I think she would have abhorred any search for intimate details about the personal life behind that writing style.
So what does Virginia Woolf say about the process of writingif writing it is this dash at the paper of a phrase, this sweep of a brushIn 1923, when she is working on the first draft of Mrs Dalloway, she writesBut now what do I feel about my writing One must write from deep feeling, said Dostoievsky And do I Or do I fabricate with words, loving them as I do But to get further Have I the power of conveying the true reality Answer these questions as I may there remains this excitement to get to the bones, now that I m writing fiction again I feel my force glow straight from me at its fullest After a dose of criticism I feel that I m writing sideways, using only an angle of my mind The other angles of her mind were constantly focused upon the current novel she was working on, or upon the germ of an idea for the next oneWhy not invent a new kind of play as for instance Woman thinks He does Organ plays She writes They say She sings Night speaksAs we read through the diaries, we watch such seeds grow and change that particular seed grew into Orlando Soon afterwards, she began mentioning another theme moths She spoke of those moths again and again, spoke of them hovering at the back of her brain, and finally I realised that she was shaping the playpoem that would become The Waves More of her diary entries concern The Waves than any of her other books, except perhaps To the Lighthouse I find it significant that they are the two I rated the highest of the entire ten And so, there was always a story in the making, even before she had finished the previous one, and the diaries were where she coaxed these seeds of stories into the light As we can see from the quotes, Woolf wrote the diaries in a kind of shorthand, quite unlike the way she writes in her novels and essaysIt strikes me that here I practice writing do my scales yes and work at certain effects I daresay I practiced Jacob here and Mrs D and shall invent my next book here for here I write merely in spirit great fun it is too, and Old V of 1940 will see something in it too She will be a woman who can see, old V.
, everything than I can, I thinkShe registers her thoughts on the spot, her nib following the swerves of her thinking, sensitive to every shift of mood, and very often the mood mentioned is one of exhilaration, of the high she experienced from creating phrases The notion of immense satisfaction,rapture, electric shocksgained from writing is repeated over and over again and most often in relation to the periods when she was engaged on fictionGreat content almost always enjoying what I am at, but with constant change of mood I don t think I m ever bored Sometimes a little stale but I have a power of recovery She needed every power of recovery that she could muster when it came to the reception of her novels After Night and Day came out to unenthusiastic reviews in 1919, she wroteI ought to be writing Jacob s Room and I can t I m a failure as a writer I m out of fashion old shan t do any better.
a damp fireworkLater, while still working on Jacob s Room, she notedElliotT Scoming on the heel of a long stretch of writing two months without a break made me listless cast shade upon me and the mind when engaged upon fiction wants all its boldness and self confidence He said nothingabout Jacob s Roombut I reflected how what I m doing was probably being better done by Mr JoyceBy 1939, even though she had some huge successes behind her, and had had books written about her, she was still easily cast down by criticism and brooded about her writing reputation having been damaged by Windham Lewis and Gertrude Stein, and about how she was seen by some critics to beout of date.
unlikely to write anything good again second rate and likely to be discarded altogether I think that s my public reputation at the moment It is based largely on C Connolly s cocktail criticism a sheaf of feathers in the wind About reading contemporary reviewers such as Cyril Connolly, she writesWhen I read reviews I crush the column together to get at one or two sentences is it a good book or a bad And then I discount those two sentences according to what I know of the book and of the reviewer But when I write a review I write every sentence as if it were going to be tried by three Chief Justices I can t believe that I am crushed together and discounted Reviews seem to me and frivolous The truth is that writing is the profound pleasure and being read the superficial Whatever about being read, reading itself was a tremendous pleasure She mentions reading certain authors again and again Dante and Proust were two such She not only reread her favourites over and over, she liked to read them alongside other books, and the books she had going at once, the better she liked it In one of her letters, she saidI am reading six books at once, the only way of reading since, as you will agree, one book is only a single unaccompanied note, and to get the full sound, one needs ten others at the same timeDue to her association with The Times Literary Supplement as an occasional reviewer, she claims to have learned eventually to readwith a pen and notebook, seriously There are frivolous moments as well as serious ones in her diary life a line from an old song is tossed out several times like a repeated theme in a piece of music it reveals a different Virginia from the one we usually seeAnd what do I care for a goose feather bedThe line is from the well known ballad about the Lady who leaves her Lord and her comfortable house and goes off to share a life on the road with the RaggleTaggle Gypsy O Interpret that how we like, it is clear that Virginia liked her comforts and was pleased to have made enough money from her writing to eventually afford certain luxuriesI enjoy epicurean ways of society sipping and then shutting my eyes to taste I enjoy almost everythingCoexistent with the epicurean was a restless spirit constantly questioning itself, sometimes finding only blacknessWhy is there not a discovery in life Something one can lay one s hands on and say This is it My depression is a harassed feeling I m looking but that s not it that s not it What is it And shall I die before I find it It is at this point that the reviewer might be tempted to end this review by presuming tritely that Virginia Woolf never did find it But no, this reviewer thinks she had it in front of her all the time, and that she knew itNothing makes a whole except when I am writing A Writer s Diary, unlike Woolf s fiction beautiful though, is an easy book to read One can see what she has lived through from 1918 to 1941 The book is aptly titled it is primarily about words, mind, books, artists, writing, and how these myriad things at once possess and liberate a sensitive soul like hers There are a few things, among many other, that particularly make me stop and reflect to know her better What one immediately recognizes in her work, even when her work is not really understood or only partly read, is the brilliance of mind that is at work In her diaries entries, we glimpse that mind She comes across as someone who is wholly immersed in words, drawn to them immensely Life seems to have no meaning if one cannot give shape it through words to express her becoming Such an extraordinary ambition could be liberating and rewarding, but it could also whip the person indulging it this constant struggle to better life, to live it fully by capturing its ever eluding, ever mobile essence In one of her entries, for instance, a rather casually selected example, she thinks of wording a floating cloud in these words The clouds if I could describe them I would one yesterday had flowing hair on, like the very fine white hair of an old man At this moment they are white in a leaden , I find some entries particular poignant in which she mentions what comes between her and the word world she seeks to tame The phases when she could not write due to ill health, and times when non creative processes usurp her time which she only wishes to spend writing and thinking things I guess as she was aging she became and restless with thoughts of body and time, Such a fecund mind, rippling with ideas and books in it, is tied to very real limitations In one of her entries, she writes about a dying person, but her way of seeing gives a peep into her own fears of what lays ahead what it all comes to in the end She observes, he is sinking into old age, very shabby, loose limbed, wearing black woollen mittens His life is receding like a tide slowly or one figures him as a dying candle, whose wick will soon sink into warm grease and be extinct These entries also show how vulnerable writers generally are Throughout the book, she claims that criticism of her work does not matter, that she does not care much, but we also see that she cares and gets affected by bad reviews However, I trust her when she says she does not care as much as its reverse She also mentions that writing is what one lives for It is through writing that one drives a supreme pleasure In many diaries, we see how concern she is often about the sales of her book 1200 copies, 2000 copies Now reading this in 2018, these are also aspects that make her identifiable and endearing with ordinary mortals, that she is not only someone who wrote Mrs Dalloway it is a pleasure to see the little girl, even momentarily, in her who is so powerfully overshadowed by the formidable adult writer in her I am also quite moved by how she responded to Joyce s Ulysses to her this book seemed thin, diffuse, pretentious, brackish, even underbred in the literary sense, pointless To her, it all felt as if a young boy is scratching his pimples on page after page Clearly, she was quite stunned by Joyce s achievement but found it hard to acknowledge it Even toward her last entries, she remains occupied with his work and finally accepts his genius which I assume she has noticed, to her bewilderment, when she first lays her eyes on Ulysses It was all very clear to her even then While reading her thoughts I was a bit surprised that she hardly wrote about her relationships about, love, gender, and sexuality I wondered if the book is a compilation of only her selective diary entries pertaining to the writer s struggles and ruminations on her art But finally, I did see gender and sexuality, casually but powerfully, being mentioned in small paragraphs I saw someone who wrote A Room of One s Own making astute observations on men s behavior and how men occupy space As for sexuality, there is again a brief but telling claim that friendships between women are superior, private and comforting than between man and woman All this, of course, sated my gratuitous curiosity.
Even before I started reading her book, I knew a few things about her life, the most unfortunate being the manner of her suicide For this reason, probably, I noticed that throughout this book images and metaphors of water appear in all sort of ways One also feels that there is nothing important to her than words Maybe certain heights or territories come with their own challenges and fears it might be lonely there What shall I write now Whom shall I read now At a certain point in her life either the words were not there any or they had gone unruly wholly unmanageable The only comforting thing, then left, was to walk into a river.
I have to wonder at my timing on this one Here I am, picking up one of the most perfect books for spurring the self on to writing during the merry month of NaNoWriMo, only to finish in the midst the most recent surge of action in the great Gr debacle a debacle wholly embittered by the concept of self published authors Now, I d like to go the traditional rout of publishing myself, but still It gives both this review and my dream of writing for a living an air of antagonism, watch your step mince your words or be misunderstood severely.
Or that could be me thinking too much.
But see here, though, that s what this whole work is all about Thinking about writing, and when the person doing the thinking is Woolf, well One hesitates to define one s principles about the too much thinking business, for on one side lies her suicide and on the other, her body of work And if you ve ever had the privileged pleasure to experience her work, you know what I m talking about.
What I m actually attempting to talk about, here, in this review, is harder to say The comfort I feel in comparing myself to Woolf is eerily seductive and not nearly as obsequiously awestruck as I would like it to be I mean, Woolf Bloomsbury group Only one of the greatest prose artists to grace this poor world of ours, a life led during the interwar period filled with famous names, famous intrigues, and famous writing Eurocentric and even despairingly Anglocentric, to be fair, and her easy disparagement of others and her half handed hypocrisy on women s rights set my teeth on edge, but my god This old English lady who drowned herself fifty years before I was born understands me, down to the marrow of my meaning of life I thought, driving through Richmond last night, something very profound about the synthesis of my being how only writing composes it how nothing makes a whole unless I am writing now I have forgotten what seemed so profound.
To reiterate the perfection above, writing is both everything and nothing, depending on whether I m paying attention to my self or the grander scheme of things A fervor delving into the very core of existence s delight, or a waste that asks the ultimate question of why I m still bothering with everything in general Once upon a time, if given the chance of control or perhaps even some means of getting rid of the nihilistic face of the coin completely, I would have taken it These days, I m not so sure.
This compilation of cut outs from a 27 year run of personal record is chock full of that feeling, that sense of one s heartbeat relying on the pace and pound of words both writing and already written, a heartbeat that is sensitive in all the ways both right and wrong It is not practical It is not objective It is everything to do with how a question of how I write put by a unwitting bystander is going to set me off on a complete and utter rhapsodizing on the power of literature in every facet of life It is both unbearably personal and the manifesto of my character that I would proclaim to all, if I got the chance to For, as you all know, literature means publishing, and publishing means business, and it is a very rare case indeed where those as devoted as Woolf to their craft avoid having their soul sucked out by the reality of writing for a living Advertising, academia, pick your grindstone and hang on for dear life and the slow weathering down of passion in the face of life.
Did I mention that this book is not practical Good This isn t a creative fictioning self help book, for all its sociocultural periphery This is a lifeline.
Woolf was lucky to have a living situation such as hers I am lucky for her being lucky enough to create such a body of work of not only reading and writing, but commentary on said reading and writing, especially writing Especially how intimately and horrifically her mental state was tied to it, in as much a way as anything one lives for becomes Which makes the state less of a tragedy and of a best of all possible worlds, except not, except Maybe Or one could stick with that s life That is a much honest answer, one that if you re lucky spools out enough years for the ink to spread out and flow.
I d say , but really, what else is there to say but writers, read this Readers, read this As for me You see, I m thinking furiously about Reading and Writing I have no time to describe my plans.
My copy of A Writer s Diary I tried to post a photo, but Goodreads just couldn t deal with whatever it was I had to offer has a forest of little tags poking out from the side All the passages I ve marked As a writer, I move between despair and joy on a daily basis A good day of writing leaves me scoured clean and refilled with peaceThere is some ebb and flow of the tide of life which accounts for it though what produces either ebb or flow I m not sure but the stress of rejectionandof praise is such an invasion of the external world into my inner equilibriumthe worst of writing is that one depends so much upon praise One should aim, seriously, as disregarding ups and downs a compliment here, silence thereThe only way to right the imbalance is to shut out the world and offer myself up to the page To sit and write until my limbs are stiff, my eyes ache, my brain empties outThe truth is that writing is the profound pleasure and being read the superficialThen, to take a walk, letting the words sift from my head down to my toes When I return home, I have room for the words of othersThe way to rock oneself back into writing is this First gentle exercise in the air Second the reading of good literatureA Writer s Diary show the decades of a writer s life unfolding in real time the highs and near shame of success the deep, quiet pleasures of the life of the mind the fear and resignation of failure, which is usually far a product of the writer s imagination than of the external worldArrange 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 What would Woolf make of the cult of personality she has becomeNow I suppose I might become one of the interesting I will not say great but interesting novelists What would we have made of her work, what could she have offered us, if mental illness had not had the final say, if she could have found her way to a different final chapterA thousand things to be written had I time had I power A very little writing uses up my capacity for writing I remarked to another writer what an inspiration this book is to me, what comfort I have found in Woolf s own struggles and doubts She reminded me how things ended for Woolf That she took her own life How strange a response She missed the point entirely Instead of being haunted by Woolf s end, I think of Mary Oliver s poem, The Summer Day Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious lifeOliver asks Here is how Woolf would have answeredNow is life very solid or very shifting I am haunted by the two contradictions This has gone on for ever will last for ever goes down to the bottom of the world the moment I stand on Also it is transitory, flying, diaphanous I shall pass like a cloud on the waves Virginia Woolf passed like a cloud on the waves But her words have become moments upon which we all stand, strengthened, made taller by the foundation of her genius And we look up at those clouds, mouthing, Thank you.
A full review to come.
It has arrived However most of the, Likes, below referred to a quote of Woolf s in an update status I entered Then using the magic of my technical skills I lost Sad A period of web mourning, yet it appeared again in the review below.
What we have here is a reviewer who has been kidnapped I m sure it will be in tomorrow s papers But how to get out to write the review Is there anything here to use to be resourceful Only words More words They mount threatening to crush me as they form before me into ideas, a life Am I inside of a diary How strange But do I want to escape These words and ideas around me, covering me, are brilliant They are honest Touching them, their touching me, they glitter with the glowed wand of creative light It is escape that would be containment This is where to be.
She writes What sort of diary should I like mine to be Something loose knit yet not slovenly, so elastic that it embrace anything, solemn, slight or beautiful that comes into mind I should like it to resemble some deep old desk, or capacious hold all, in which one flings a mass of odds and ends without looking through I should like to come back, after a year or two, and find that the collection had sorted itself and refined itself and coalesced, as such deposits so mysteriously do, into a mould, transparent enough to reflect the light of our life, and yet steady tranquil compounds with the aloofness of a work of art A fine thought to keep in mind when opening this diary but beware your fate may be similar to mine There is no caution sign Follow me There is much to be said.
This is a collection of her entries culled from the twenty six volumes from the years 1915 1941, the year of her death, by her husband Leonard Woolf This raises a number of issues Virginia Woolf was clear from the beginning that no one else would be privy to this diary but herself and years ahead her elder self, therefore no reason to be anything but honest and objective Can any one of us human critters, even the great VW, be totally free of the subconscious sway, the way we would like to see ourselves and the minute etching and scraping of events past to fit into our frame of the budding image Then there is her husband and his unspoken agenda, possibly probably not known to him for the selections and their cumulative effect in presenting his picture of his deceased wife She committed suicide She walked out into the sea I imagine his thoughts, memories, were quite complicated.
This is important information which I unfortunately did not include in my update status Fortunately GR Friend Proustitute pointed this out before I rambled my merry way possibly leading others to believe this was the entire diary when only a portion Much grateful for being rescued before walking before walking into a wall.
I believe despite its fractioned existence, the distortions, omissions, amplifications, this is a work that stands on its own A separate collection forming a narrative around her relationship to her own work, the process she developed or was encumbered upon her through natural organic entreaties, the people she associated with including writers, painters, her conflicting relationship with the outside world as seen through the eyes of her artistic realm, scenes of that outside world and its landscapes described in the beauty of words painted, the limitations of a mental instability and physical maladies, and what she read an influential part of her daily existence If taken for what it is these diary excerpts form a narrative work impelling the reader within the mind of a significant writer Each entry, even about her commonplace day is about writing, containing her gifts with her pen, and always at work seeing her world Every page so far contains inspiration for reading, writing The only mar is when she feels the obligation to receive and pay visits Otherwise her world would consist of the scenes gathering in her mind and the need and pleasure of penning them on paper.
More complicated than that She conjures with death Flits about hiding amongst its shadows.
There is another kind of death Does she fear looking inside to find nothing This the reason for the continous visiting and being visited Her fear of being alone Yet she fills blank pages with an outpouring of her world, the world of imagination This does not appear to be some psychological defense of projection The world of imagination is the real world Her real true self resides there Looking inside may prove fruitless but writing across the white pages, then typing what she has written, is the act of discovering and expressing the Self She exists within the printed words, the empty spaces, accumulating into a bound manuscript The arc of her sweated battle.
Writing is to keep living Through form she can put the novel together as a substitute for putting her wayfaring emotions together, to put her strident inner life in order.
Her writings contain her inner self which resists the tug and pull from the other side Once the rope snaps she gushes forth A manic romp of creativity, then sensitivity to its echoed return.
In the end this is a book of navigating the inner and outer Is it navigation or a battle She believes herself tied to the city life of visits and being visited upon Her writing, no matter how well guarded is inextricably twined into the reception from friends, family, publishers She relies on husband Leonard Yet she is only truly herself in the solitude of writing, reading The outer world means little until it means a lot The world she chooses is the world of her imagination Even out in the world beyond the borders of herself she pulls the objects, the people, into her readerly scope describing and depicting as though writing or the collecting of material within her net to be used at a later time.
The classic battle that so many of us here on GR discuss the outside world is where life takes place and books exist to augment the experience versus the life of imagination This is where books are the essence of living a life of meaning and that the world is there to only fulfill the necessities, having no drama than the brushing of one s teeth Yes, tooth brushing is something needed to be done but conversations about it might run thin and dry This is a choice we all make with our varying formulae to produce a unique customized balance VW makes her battle quite clear from moment to moment and day to day, in her lyrical prose Since writing for no one other than her older future self it appears that she thinks and therefore writes in a natural swirl of metaphor, simile, analogy Her style may be an un style The flow of liquid words may be the unfolding of her mind in its continuity Armed, this is what she goes into battle with fierce beneath the lyric path of her words.
These diary entries brim over with life, with hunger, with a passion that cannot be contained, with the conflicted need to absorb it all the lonely walks in the Sussex countryside, the visual and sonorous chaos of life in the city, of incessant travel, mental and otherwise, the unstoppable flow of time, the transience of things, the galloping rhythm of emotions, sensations and the simultaneity of memory, past and present in one s conscience, the tedium of discussions and routine, the truth about daily life without embellishment Virginia sat at her desk and wanted to condense it all into poetry and leave out whatever that was superfluous She never rested She pushed herself to the limit, squeezed out her mind and existed fully only when she was writing Writing as a means of being She became inebriated by the exuberance of words and was carried away by the enthusiasm of getting closer to the voice that would finally give a physical shape to her dispersed, hyperactive senses Working soothed and provided purpose to an otherwise futile reality, it gave her a reason to be.
But when the last page was done, revised, rewritten and typed out, almost manically, the vertigo of impending emptiness oppressed her, and incessant self doubt erased all sense of wholeness or achievement.
The vain, arrogant, scathing writer became a vulnerable woman, conflicted about her own expectations and with an almost obsessive need for validation The constant search for meaning made her restless, abstracted and prone to introspection She devoured books compulsively, classics and contemporary literature, and had no trouble scoffing the likes of Joyce, Hardy or Bernard Shaw, but she wasn t harsher with any other author than she was with herself She kept track of her book sales, she was easily humiliated by negative reviews and dreaded the reactions of her close friends in the Bloomsbury group The vulnerability shown in these diaries bespeaks of a woman aware of her writing prowess but also mindful of her limitations, something one might not expect to see in the diaries of her male contemporaries.
As years pass and the entries get closer to the onset of WWII, the collapse of Woolf s world seems to match her increasing mental frailty The constant fear of imminent bombings during the Blitz overpowers her creativity Her writing becomes rushed and it loses the quality of a safe haven Woolf s hunger to seize meaning through writing wanes and a lulling indifference takes hold of her former urgency.
Where to draw the line between the woman and the writer Between imposed circumstance and deliberate choice Maybe one wouldn t exist without the other Some might think Leonard Woolf s selection of diary entries show a fragmented account of Virginia s intimate thoughts, but for this reader, they are than a censured portrait of an artist They present a fair testimony to the great joys and uncertainties of being a writer, of surrendering to an unknown vision and committing one s life to seize it without compromising the fleeting quality of its beauty.
Published by Leonard Woolf in 1953, A Writer s Diary compiles literary extracts from Virginia Woolf s full diary the short collection s entries feature the writer s plans for her own books her reactions to other writers works character sketches and other exercises and philosophical musings about literature and society Not a single part of the diary reads as superfluous or superficial Even at her most informal, Virginia wrote thoughtful and brilliant prose, and Leonard included only the best parts of the many volumes of his wife s diary The hyper mediated character of Leonard s editing to some extent mythologizes Virginia as a flawless writer, obscuring certain facets of her character that appear clearly in the full diary, but it also successfully introduces members of a vast audience to the personal writings of one of the twentieth century s greatest English novelists essayists The entries concerning the composition of Mrs Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, and The Waves stand out as highlights of the book.