A Change of Perspective: The Letters of Virginia Woolf 1923 - 1928.

Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West.
Continuing my read of the letters of Virginia Woolf, I've now passed the half-way point having finished A Change of Perspective, the letters from 1923 to 1928.

This was by far the section I looked forward to the most as it covers, in my opinion, Virginia Woolf's golden era:
It's also one of the more interesting periods as it also covers her affair with the poet, novelist and aristocrat Vita Sackville-West. This, however, was not until 1925. Though the volume begins with a letter to Vita (which praised her Knole and The Sackvilles, 1922), the beginning is more concerned with the reception of her third novel Jacob's Room (October 1922) in which Virginia moved from a traditional, Victorian / Edwardian style of writing to the modernist style we now associate with her. She was also in the early stages of writing Mrs Dalloway (which Woolf had planned to call The Hours) whilst being involved in a translation of Tolstoy's works and T. S. Eliot's writing career. She also, sadly, found herself mourning the death of Katherine Mansfield (she died on the 9th January 1923): very few of the letters between the two authors appear to have survived. And so the letters, as one would expect, carry on much in the same vein as the second volume: a holiday to Spain breaks them up somewhat, as does Virginia's poor health at the time, but we see Virginia Woolf as an established writer and publisher, and married (at the beginning of the volume) for eleven years. Everything was settled.

And so this volume shows the letters of a writer who had, essentially, 'made it'. What's interesting though is there are but few clues as to her artistic side: we learn of a few ideas, then the completion of a project and it's reception: any letters on the development of such projects are few - clearly writing was a deeply personal endeavour. But of course these letters are far from mundane, and this volume shows the developing friendship between her and Vita that would turn into a love affair and lead to Virginia writing Orlando, a mock-biography of Vita. That novel / biography was not only a testament to their love, but also became one of the most important works of the 20th Century. It had another purpose however: by the time Virginia came to writing it, her affair with Vita was beginning to taper off somewhat and Vita became involved Mary Garman Campbell: note Virginia's letter to Vita telling her of her plan -
Yesterday morning I was in despair.... I couldn't screw a word from me; and at last dropped my head in my hands: dipped my pen in the ink, and wrote these words, as if automatically, on a clean sheet: Orlando: A Biography. No sooner had I done this than my body was flooded with rapture and my brain with ideas. I wrote rapidly till 12... But listen: suppose Orlando turns out to be Vita; and it's all about you and the lusts of your flesh and the lure of your mind (heart you have none, who go gallivanting down the lanes with Campbell)....
Writing Orlando rather 'secured' Vita for a period and gave Virginia a legitimate excuse to pry into her favourite subject.

All in all then, it's a another great volume and I'm already half-way through the fourth - A Reflection of the Other Person (1929 - 1931). Virginia's focus has once again shifted: as Violet Dickinson was the focus of the first volume, Vanessa Bell in the second and Vita in the third, the composer Ethel Smyth dominates the fourth.


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