The Sickle Side of the Moon: The Letters of Virginia Woolf 1932 - 1935.

Virginia Woolf by Man Ray, 27 November 1934.
The Sickle Side of the Moon is the penultimate volume of the letters of Virginia Woolf edited by Nigel Nicholson and Joanne Trautman and it covers the years from 1932 to 1935, when Virginia Woolf was between 49 (three weeks before her 50th birthday) and 53. In this period Woolf published The Common Reader Second Series (1932) and Flush (1933) and her only play, Freshwater (1935) was performed at a party in Bloomsbury. This was also the period she began work on The Years (1937) and the Three Guineas (1938).

There was something very sad about this volume of letters. With each volume so far there's been a focal point: Violet Dickinson in the 1888 - 1912 letters, Vanessa Bell in the 1912 - 1922 letters, Vita Sackville West in the 1923 - 1928 letters, and Ethel Smyth in the 1929 - 1931 letters. There was no such focus in these, and in fact some of Virginia Woolf's closest friends were fading away. Vita Sackville West had, on an emotional level, distanced herself from Virginia already, and in the previous volume Virginia had distanced herself somewhat from Ethel Smyth (though the letters remained frequent, the tone had definitively altered). Sadder still, other life-long friends had died. Lytton Strachey, a few days before her 50th birthday, and then, not long after she wrote to Carrington about Strachey's death (saying "As long as you are there, something of the best part of his life still goes on"), Carrington committed suicide, the day after having Virginia Woolf to lunch. Roger Fry then died in September 1934, which was also a huge blow for Virginia, and there is the feeling that she felt her life was being chipped away, friend by friend, something that would continue in the final years of her life. As this played out, the rumblings of the Second World War began to be heard, and Woolf mentioned Adolf Hitler several times, even noting that whilst in Germany she came close to seeing him face to face.

Because of all of this, it was almost an uncomfortable read knowing some of the anguish she suffered, but despite it all Virginia Woolf kept writing letters to her friends and many of them were still chatty, fun, and full of gossip. There are several times in the entire collection where Woolf noted that her letters were written fairly quickly and never read through, and there were times when this apparent carelessness caused some tension between her and the recipients, but still she was an excellent writer of letters and they were, as ever, a pleasure to read. As soon as I finished I went on to read the final volume, Leave the Letters Till We're Dead (1936 - 1941), which I'll write about next week.

Comments

  1. placing all those negatives in one paragraph makes her suicide easier to understand... i hadn't thought about it in that way: tx...

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    1. It's more intensified in the final volume, which I'll go into in the post. It's all very sad...

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  2. I really, really feel you'll like Testament of Youth, o. Vera was a contemporary of Woolf's: they each wrote for Time & Tide. (Totally off topic. Just putting in a word.) :)

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    1. Yes they met as well. There's a letter from Virginia to Vera and I can't remember it properly... I'd get it but the pup is asleep on my knee. Typical Woolf - it was a nice letter to her, but in another letter to someone else she called Vera a chatterbox.

      I promise I'll read Testament - just got a few more I want to read first, but I'll be starting it this week for sure! :)

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    2. Ok, now I have to read all the letters just to find that!

      Apparently Woolf loved Testament of Youth but didn't much care for Brittain's "flinty mind." That's a paraphrase because I can't recall exactly how she put it. I ADORE Brittain's flinty mind! :)

      That's so funny she thought Brittain was a chatterbox. Brittain tended to talk when she regarded a person's mind worthy. Otherwise she'd become quiet, from what I've read. Or at least, she feared she did.

      Also, apparently Brittain's arguments on pacifism & feminism inspired Woolf -- I believe within The Three Guineas. But I can't recall. That's from a bio on Brittain I just read called "Vera Brittain: A Feminist Life."

      I haven't read Brittain ever saying anything disparaging about Woolf. She seemed to hold in high regard. She doesn't refer to her as friend -- she just references her as an acquaintance somewhere in her letters, I think.

      Yay for starting Testament!!!

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    3. Here are the mentions:

      FROM THE SICKLE SIDE OF THE MOON

      #2788: To Ethel Smyth, 6th Sept '33:

      Rebecca has written on Pankhurst; not so much flesh on the bones as yours; and Vera Brittain has written a book which kept me out of bed till I'd read it. Why?

      #3068: To Ethel Smyth, 8th Oct '35:

      I heard from Vera Brittain, a heart broken letter poor woman. And I'm told (not by her) that what killed poor Winifred was first an African germ, which they thought was cured; then Vera B's father jumped into the Thames and drowned himself; Vera and W. spent several days searching for the body; found it; Vera broke down thereupon; Winifred was sent to look after the children; suddenly the germ revived; she was too exhausted to struggle, and so died; but this comes only second hand.

      FROM LEAVE THE LETTERS TILL WE'RE DEAD

      #3578: To Vera Brittain: 2nd Jan '40

      Dear Vera Brittain,

      It was very good of you to send me your book [Testament of Friendship]. I waited to thank you until I had read it. And now that I have read it I feel that, thanks to you, I know her much better than I did before. I was puzzled by something about her when we met - I think I only saw her two or three times. I felt that she was oddly uncertain about something important - perhaps you'll understand. I think I see now what it was. And having never read her books because I felt this, I'm now going to. I am very grateful to you for giving me this fresh insight. Its so seldom that a biography does that, but yours does. More than ever it makes me feel, as I did when I read a book of her letters, that she was only at the beginning of a life that held all sorts of possibilities not only for her but the rest of us.

      Thank you again.

      Yours sincerely
      Virginia Woolf

      #3579: To Ethel Myth: 16th Jan '40

      But, tho I wrote Vera a polite letter, I didn't somehow enjoy or wholly like her Life: too petty and that horrid little reviewer's gossip; she had a good deal more to her than V.B. saw, and was no more a writer (to my mind) than a barrel organ is a string quartet. But it was a scrambling gasping affectionate book: and W.H. deserved a better.

      #3582: To Ethel Smyth: 1st Feb '40

      Yes, I'd like to look at South Riding, if its no trouble to you to send it on. I think I meant that W.H. was a barrel organ writer. Vera is a scrambling and enthusing chatterbox, but of course very competent.

      And by the way I LOVE Testament of Youth! Really enjoying it and looking forward to this afternoon when I might, if I'm lucky, have time to read a good chunk :D

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    4. PS - apologies for any typos - I've got a new keyboard and I'm still not used to it :)

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  3. Thank you SO MUCH for taking the time to share these, o! Now I know I must read all of Woolf's letters, as you have. I dislike her remarks on Winifred and Vera at the end -- good grief! I haven't read Winifred's novels yet, but her poetry is BEAUTIFUL. Absolutely lovely. I have South Riding on the way.

    I'm currently reading Brittain's Testament of Friendship and I absolutely love it. I didn't know Winifred Holtby, of course (ha ha), so I can't say how true or accurate the depiction is. Woolf may know better than me on that point. But the book is truly lovely and has made me want to get to know Holtby.

    I'm SO HAPPY to know you are loving Testament! I think it has finally beat Gone with the Wind as my favorite book.

    Sending a grateful hug!! <3 xx

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    1. I want to read WH's novels too! And yes, that's fairly characteristic of VW - there'll be one charming letter to someone, then on the next page that someone is being bad mouthed.

      I'm annoying with myself about Testament of Friendship - I had the chance to buy that but I decided to be "sensible" and didn't. A foolish mistake. This is why I don't go for these 'book buying bans' people do, I don't care how vast my TBR pile is, I really don't :)

      Still loving Testament. A five star read thus far, but I'm not sure I would choose it over GWTW :)

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