Friday, 20 November 2009

Virginia's diaries

Here's a woman after my own heart:

15th Jan 1915

We are dining early, and going to a Hall - an unheard of dissipation - though there was a time when I went out to operas, evenings, concerts &c, at least three times a week. And I know we shall both feel, when it's over, 'really a good read would have been better.'

I love reading diaries though these are sometimes quite allusive and enigmatic and it would probably help to know more about the various members of The Bloomsbury Group.

It goes without saying that VW can really write like an angel, with clear and beautiful descriptions of complex mixed emotions as well as everyday life and scenery. I'm only halfway through (1924) but am already struck by how extremely busy and hardworking VW and her husband Leonard are: writing novels (of course), journalism, politics, reading and reviewing, printing and binding books for their own Hogarth Press, and, despite the comment above, pursuing a hectic social round of concerts, parties, visits to family and friends as well. And VW is frequently too unwell to get out of bed. Maybe she was just driving herself too hard (though of course she did have servants).

Some critics have interpreted Leonard's possibly overzealous care for his wife's health as a way of controlling her:

I could not stay at 46 Gordon Square (her sister Nessa's home) last night, because L. on the telephone expressed displeasure. Late again. Very foolish. Your heart bad - and so my self reliance being sapped, I had no courage to venture against his will.

Elsewhere, however, she says how much she loves and relies on Leonard. It's tempting to try to read between the lines and second-guess people's motivations, but how can we ever really know another person's life, even by reading their personal diaries? The thoughts and feelings expressed in diaries are inconstant, endlessly changing things, which though written, can never really be nailed down exactly. Then another day comes along, the kaleidoscope is shaken up again, the light falls from a new angle and everything seems different.
Reading a diary is almost like living a second life, sometimes feeling envious and sometimes feeling grateful for not having to live the diarist's.

Any recommendations for other good diaries when I've finished these?


  1. Interesting review. I've never read any books by Virginia Woolf. I really should. For another good diary book, I recommend the Journals of Sylvia Plath. I found it riveting.

  2. I like your comments on reading diaries and how the diarist can never really be nailed down. I have fond memories of wandering through Virginia Woolf's diaries, I would be in the library supposedly studying but would often end up wandering to the shelves and pulling out the Woolf diaries, escaping into her world when I should have been working.

  3. Mrs B. Yes, I was fascinated by Sylvia Plath's journals. She really is frighteningly honest, isn't she, her hatred for some people, and even describing the joys of picking her nose...! And her descriptions always so apt and so brilliant.
    Book pusher: Yes, diaries are hard to put down, aren't they? Like real life but condensed and therefore less tedious than real life.