The Question of Things Happening: The Letters of Virginia Woolf 1912 - 1922.

Virginia and Leonard Woolf on their wedding
day, 10th August 1912.
I'm in the middle of reading a six volume set of the letters of Virginia Woolf - 
The Question of Things Happening (1912 - 1922)
A Change of Perspective (1923 - 1928)
A Reflection of the Other Person (1929 - 1931)
The Sickle Side of the Moon (1932 - 1935)
Leave the Letters Till We're Dead (1936 - 1941)
I'm currently approaching half way through the third, but I did want to say a few words on the second volume, The Question of Things Happening. The first volume, The Flight of the Mind, left off with Virginia Woolf announcing her marriage to the author and civil servant Leonard Woolf to a few of her friends; The Question of Things Happening picks up with her informing a few more friends and thanking them for wedding gifts. A few days later they leave for Somerset, then France, Spain, and Italy, so the August 1912 collection of letters is in fact largely a few postcards. When they return half-way through September the letters resume their usual length and frequency, and we learn through Virginia's eyes the first ten years of her marriage, the publication of her first novels The Voyage Out (1915) and Night and Day (1919), and the founding of their publishing house, the Hogarth Press, in 1916.

I said of the first volume of letters that the most striking were those to Violet Dickinson. In the second volume it was the letters to Vanessa Bell that stood out the most. Vanessa, three years older, had lived with Virginia from her birth (1882) until 1907, and so until then the two would have talked. From then, their correspondence becomes much longer. After Virginia's marriage, the letters between the two are so fascinating in the day-to-day trivia. In other letters, Virginia shows herself to have become quite a skilled and entertaining letter writer, but in the ones to Vanessa they're almost more authentic, there's not always the show or flair, just a simple gathering of thoughts on her daily life as a newly married woman.

All that said, the sisters did still see and talk to each other frequently, and as with all the other letters there was a sense of something missing. The important things, it seems, were discussed in person, and so one cannot get a full view of Virginia Woolf merely from her letters, her personality and self were fragmented throughout her diaries, novels, essays, letters, and the one thing we can never have access to - her conversation. Still, we see the many people in her life: in this period, Jacques Raverat, Vanessa's husband Clive Bell (with whom some suspected Virginia was having an affair), Lytton Strachey, Gwen Darwin, Lady Ottoline Morrell, Rupert Brooke, and a great many others beside. We also see the impact of the First World War on her and her life, and her thoughts on the end of it all. Tantalisingly, the volume finishes with a letter to Vita Sackville West, with whom she had one of literature's most famous affairs:
Dec. 28th [1922]
Dear Mrs Nicholson,
I hope you will not think me very grasping if I complain that 'Knole', which you said was being sent to me, has never arrived.
No doubt they got the address wrong. It should be
Hogarth House
Paradise Road
Richmond.
I have been reading some of your poems in the new Georgian book with great pleausre; and so can't help dunning you in this war in order that I may get more from your last book.
Yours sincerely
Virginia Woolf
Very dull indeed, but I can say (now I'm half way through the third volume) they become a great deal more fascinating!

And so, however splintered, there's a lot to be learned about Woolf's character. We see how happily married she is, her struggles, her pettiness, her love of gossip, and, I'm sorry to say, how very two-faced and breathtakingly snobbish she could be. Whatever the case she was a remarkable and talented woman, and I love reading these letters. The first volume I enjoyed, but this second volume was a wonder to read.

Comments

  1. trouble with the web printing protocols..

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  2. there it went... anyway, for the third try, i should quite like reading her letters: sometime in the near future i hope... once i heard VW talking via an old recording about one of her books... her accent was so thick it was barely comprehensible. it's on the web somewhere...

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    Replies
    1. Sorry you're having trouble commenting, hope it's resolved. Blogger comments can be so tricky.

      Yes, I heard that recording - it's a tough one, I struggled to understand in parts. Her accent was a distraction, but then I guess I'm not used to upper middle class people ;)

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