Book review: ‘The Diary of Virginia Woolf, vol. 2’

‘The Diary of Virginia Woolf, vol. 2’

As you might expect, volume two of Virginia Woolf’s diary picks up pretty much where volume one left off, taking us through the years 1920 to 1924.

During this period, Woolf’s confidence as a writer seems to be growing. She records working on Mrs Dalloway, analysing what she is trying to achieve with what was to become, perhaps, her most famous work.

As in the previous volume, Woolf also records her interactions with her extended ‘set’ and its bewildering array of characters. More than once, she assesses her relationship/rivalry with the novelist Katherine Mansfield. Shortly before Mansfield moves abroad and, soon afterwards, dies, Woolf describes how Mansfield was the only other female writer she knew with whom she could have serious conversations about their craft:

And then after noting my own callousness, of a sudden comes the blankness of not having her to talk to. So on my side the feeling is genuine. A woman caring as I care for writing is rare enough I suppose to give me the queerest sense of echo coming back to me from her mind the second after I’ve spoken. Then, too, there’s something in what she says of being the only women, at this moment (I must modestly limit this to our circle) with gift enough to make talk of writing interesting.

In this volume, we also discover what Woolf thought of James Joyce’s Ulysses (unimpressed, but conceding she might change her mind), and T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (much more impressed). There are also analyses of some of her friends, including a particularly detailed one of the mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell. Woolf also records meeting Vita Sackville-West for the first time, and being tipped off that Sackville-West might have the hots for her.

At one point, I was also surprised to read of Woolf dining with Ernest Altounyan, whose surname I immediately recognised: Altounyan’s children were later to become the inspiration for the Walker children—the Swallows—in Arthur Ransome’s classic Swallows & Amazons.

Towards the end of this volume, to Woolf’s great delight, she and her husband, Leonard, finally move back to Bloomsbury from the London suburbs. As the builders are refurbishing the new home, she records:

So I shall have a room of my own to sit down in, after almost 10 years, in London.

She also records her thoughts on the value of keeping a diary:

It strikes me that in this book I practise writing; do my scales; yes & work at certain effects. I daresay I practised Jacob[’s Room] here,—& Mrs D[alloway] & shall invent my next book here; for here I write merely in the spirit—great fun it is too, & old V[irginia] of 1940 will see something in it too. She will be a woman who can see, old V.: everything—more than I can I think. But I am tired now.

As with the first volume of the diary, I enjoyed this volume very much indeed, and look forward to working my way through the rest.

Note: I will receive a small referral fee if you buy this book via one of the above links.

Richard Carter

A fat, bearded chap with a Charles Darwin fixation.

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