Thursday, 7 June 2018

A Reflection of the Other Person: The Letters of Virginia Woolf 1929 - 1931.

Virginia Woolf by Lenare (1929).
A Reflection of the Other Person is fourth volume of the letters of Virginia Woolf edited by Nigel Nicholson and Joanne Trautman. Unlike the previous three (The Flight of the Mind, The Question of Things Happening, and A Change of Perspective), this volume covers just a few years, 1929 - 1931, when Woolf wrote and published The Waves and was working on The Common Reader Second Series.

This covers the period of her friendship with Ethel Smyth, the composer of The Wreckers (1906) among many other works. Virginia met Ethel in 1930 (though she had seen her before in 1919) and their friendship was fast-moving and intense. Ethel, when they met, was seventy-two, Virginia forty-seven (just days away from her forty-eighth birthday): her affair with Vita was over, though there are some indications that she wished it wasn't, and still there were clear suggestions of jealousy at Vita's other women. The great and domineering presence of Ethel must have been a distraction, and Ethel fell in love with Virginia, a love that was not reciprocated. Nevertheless their friendship continued but Ethel became ever more demanding, leaving Woolf exhausted. In 1931 they ended up arguing - judging by Virginia's letters not only to Ethel but also Vita and Virginia, it was an absolute shouting match and Virginia did not hold back her many criticisms and frustrations with Ethel's behaviour. Many strong words were exchanged, but, remarkably, the friendship survived, though one cannot fail to notice a difference in tone within Virginia's letters.

For that - for Virginia's frustration, Ethel's need, and the odd glimpse of sadness at the end of her affair with Vita, there is some sadness in these letters. But that's not all of it: there is the letters on The Waves, where either Virginia thanks those who expressed their admiration, or explains (or tries to) to those who didn't (something, if memory serves, was absent regarding her former books, perhaps with the exception of Orlando). And, just to add to that sadness, this volume ends on the grave illness of one of Virginia's dearest friends - Lytton Strachey, whose death is the first event of the fifth volume of Virginia Woolf's letters - The Sickle Side of the Moon (1932 - 1935).

4 comments:

  1. I'm finding your posts on Woolf fascinating. x

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    1. I'm glad :) I hope you get to read these some day!

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  2. i read The Waves at some point but i'm darned if i can remember much about it, except it was a sort of history of a family... i think... but i went through a Lytton Strachey period (which i'm not entirely out of) in which i firmly concluded that he was the greatest writer i'd ever seen... read... his essays seem so perfectly organized and his sentence structure is idyllic: and he has perfect control over innuendo and suggestion; he was really talented, imo...

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    1. The Waves largely went over my head I'm afraid. But it was good, just hard! Not read much Lytton Strachey, never seen to come across him much in bookshops. I do remember you like him though so I do keep an eye out :)

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