It was pretty much the best day of summer thus far, weather wise, yesterday, sudden rain notwithstanding. Gaurav and I took advantage of the occasion to drive to a used book store in Port Colbourne (more accurately, Gaurav drove, while I offered occasionally insightful, but mostly snide remarks from the passenger seat).
At the book store proper, I was, of course, on my best behaviour, browsing, but leaving books on the shelves. I’ll be moving soon, and adding more books to the library is irresponsible. Also, I suspected once I reached the Virginia Woolf section it would be All Over.
My suspicions were apt. It’s difficult to leave behind an American first edition of the first volume of Woolf’s diaries: particularly when the ex libris inscription takes the form of my name.
I’ve made it through the first six weeks, which, as editor Anne Bell points out, forms a kind of “prelude” to Woolf’s endeavour at diary writing. Bell notes that after this six weeks, Woolf descends into an “aggressive and violent period” of madness. While this madness is not necessarily present or predictable in Woolf’s writing (the last entries record Woolf going to tea and buying a “ten & eleven penny blue dress”), one does have the sense that Woolf was, occasionally, a frustrated and angry person:
Considering that my ears have been pure of music for some weeks, I think patriotism is a base emotion. By this I mean (I am writing in haste, expecting Flora to dinner) that they played a national Anthem & a Hymn, & all I could feel was the entire absence of emotion in myself & everyone else. If the British spoke openly about W.C.’s, & copulation, then they might be stirred by universal emotions. As it is, an appeal to feel together is hopelessly muddled by intervening greatcoats & fur coats. I begin to loathe my kind, principally from looking at their faces in the tube. Really, raw beef & silver herrings give me more pleasure to look upon. (“Sunday 3 January,” 5)
Another entry from 5 January reads similarly:
The Times has a queer article upon a railway smash, in which it says that the war has taught us a proper sense of proportion with respect to human life. I have always thought we priced it absurdly high; but I never thought the Times would say so. […] I bought my fish & meat in the High Street — a degrading but rather amusing business. I dislike the sight of women shopping. They take it so seriously. Then I got a ticket in the Library, & saw all the shabby clerks & dressmakers thumbing illustrated papers, like very battered bees on battered flowers. At least they are warm & dry: & it rains again today. The Belgians downstairs are playing cards with some friends, & talk — talk — talk — while their country is destroyed. After all, they have nothing else to do — (7-8)
There’s enough to be angry with: the war, the frivolity of female roles, Woolf’s exhaustion at maintaining a household and entertaining socially, and (elsewhere in the entries), the effect this exhaustion has on the quality of her writing (“I wrote all the morning, with infinite pleasure, which is queer, because I know all the time there is no reason to be pleased with what I write, & that in 6 weeks or even days, I shall hate it,” 9). It’s fascinating to see how much she restrains the anger in her writing, comparatively, in her fiction and essays; even in anger, however, Woolf writes with wit and satire. One more reason to admire her, I suppose.
7 July 2009 ~ St. Catharines
Woolf, Virginia. The Diary of Virginia Woolf: Volume One, 1915-1919. Ed. Anne Olivier Bell. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977.