Mrs. Dalloway said she would write the screenplay herself

“I foresee, to return to The Hours, that this is going to be the devil of a struggle. The design is so queer & so masterful. I’m always having to wrench my substance to fit it. The design is certainly original, & interests me hugely.” VW, diary, 19 Jun 1923, p. 249.

Since the first time I noted this quotation, I finished reading Mrs. Dalloway. No sooner finished than I knew I’d have to read it again. Finding an entire scholarly essay about an episode of which I had no memory actually got me going. I’ve also watched the film adaptation, and when you remember that “the design is certainly original” you have to wonder how anyone could produce such a banal treatment of it. But then you have to wonder, too, how one could produce an excellent treatment. Is it mandatory to meet the unconventional with the unconventional? Art with art? And who was the intended audience?

Eminence and Immortality

“How far has our set justified its promise? Lytton maintains that in ourselves we are as remarkable as the Johnson set, though our works may perish — still we’re at the beginning of our works.” VW diary, p. 64

It would be interesting to know if Boswell compared his own set to anything preceding it, or if he distinguished between set and Club. And if by set, Strachey meant The Club, then we have to compare Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell to Reynolds, etc, and immortality certainly falls short. A discussion on immortality was the context for the quotation above in September 1920 (recorded in Virginia Woolf’s diary). Lytton was the believer, and Leonard Woolf the skeptic. “It was an amusing talk,” wrote Virginia, and it apparently included comparisons involving Madame de Sevigné and Macaulay.

 

http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portraitLarge/mw85227/The-Memoir-Club

Quotations from recent reading

“A feeling of depression is on me, as if we were old & near the end of all things.” VW, diary, 2 Aug 1924, p. 307. The rest of the entry makes it clear this was just a mood, but the metaphor captures much of my own mood in the second half of this second decade of the 21st century.

 

“I foresee, to return to The Hours, that this is going to be the devil of a struggle. The design is so queer & so masterful. I’m always having to wrench my substance to fit it. The design is certainly original, & interests me hugely.” VW, diary, 19 Jun 1923, p. 249.

“…[Ralph Partridge] behaves like a bull in a garden. And with it he is malicious. He is a male bully, as L[eonard] says. I am reminded of the tantrums of Adrian & Clive. There is something maniacal in masculine vanity.” VW, diary, 28 Jul 1922 (and yet, Ralph was called Ralph because Lytton Strachey re-christened him, and Ralph let him do so, and then named his own son Lytton – a son who married VW’s great-neice. But it’s the last sentence that is the quotation here, only it needs context. Oddly, RP doesn’t have his own wiki, only a link redirecting to the entry for Frances – he literally only exists in the stories about the other BG members).

 

“It is fatal not to write the thing one wants to write at the moment of wanting to write it. Never thwart a natural process.” VW, diary, 2 Oct 1918

In a letter from Lytton Strachey to Leonard Woolf, two very remarkable events are reported: one is Rupert Brooke’s election to the Cambridge Apostles, and the other is the play-reading group that the Stephen siblings and their Cambridge alumni friends have formed:

p. 139 “If only Clive were a little less Clivy, it would be perfect…”

the editor of VW’s early diaries places the first play-reading in December, 1907. Leonard Woolf was in Ceylon at this time.

1919

After deciding to sync up my reading of Virginia Woolf’s diaries, letters, and essays, I’ve finally reached that point – and the last piece of reading to that end was a very long and unusual essay, titled “Reading.” Believed to have been written in 1919, an important year in Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s lives, it was only published some time after her death. It bears re-reading, as it is dense and woven out of both literary criticism and a form of reminiscince or memoir. At times a stream of consciousness bubbles up from beneath the surface, and by the end of it, one feels to have wandered or been led into “Monday or Tuesday” territory. In the beginning of 1920, VW started on the writing of Jacob’s Room. I had started this some time ago but set it aside in order to catch up the essays and other writing. This has turned out to be a profitable course, because everything up to 1920 has been preparation. And there comes a deep influence from Vanessa Bell’s painting, and the artistic side of Bloomsbury, that began with the post-impressionist exhibitions a decade earlier, that VW soaked in or perhaps marinated herself in, until Jacob’s Room began to gestate. For this observation we are indebted to Justyna Kostkowska. I have tried not to spoil my naive readership of each novel, but the temptation is great and the PDFs are so easy to reach. This was not possible 20 years ago when I read Nabokov, when I was not a librarian, when JSTOR was only gestating, when I was really and in many ways naive.

 

Kostkowska, Julia. “Studland Beach and Jacob’s Room: Vannessa Bell’s and Virginia Woolf’s experiments in portrait making 1910-1922.” Partial Answers: Journal of Literature and the History of Ideas, 9 (1), 79-93. 2011.

The Lives

Lyndall Gordon writes in the acknowledgements section of her biography of Virginia Woolf, “A new life would be superfluous if, with undue modesty, [Quentin Bell] had not declined to assess her writing.” This is exactly what impelled me to find additional biographical reading, even though Bell’s portrait of his aunt is clearly drawn and satisfying. My reading of Nabokov twenty years ago was supported superbly by Brian Boyd’s critical biography, and I had assumed that there would be two if not three excellent equivalents in the case of Virginia Woolf. But it is not as simple – nothing in Bloomsbury, I now see, is at all simple. However, Nigel Nicolson’s biography is concise, and so far, is eminently readable. He writes from a distance only slightly greater than Bell’s, being the son of VW’s lover and friend Vita Sackville-West. I did expect it to be more of a tome, but it is very small. One little coincidence is worth noting, that Nicolson was the British publisher of Lolita.

Both Quentin Bell and Lyndall Gordon won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for their efforts. A too-quick glance reveals that only Queen Victoria is also the subject of two winning biographies, one of course written by Lytton Strachey. Virginia Woolf’s father Sir Leslie Stephen is also the subject of an award-winning life on the list. Other VW-connected prize winners are G.M. Trevelyan, Lord David Cecil, Geoffrey Keynes, and H.A.L. Fisher. Before this expedition, I wouldn’t have noticed them as a set, and while E.M. Forster would have stood out among the fiction prizewinners, Bunny Garnett would not. And speaking of the latter, there is a letter VW wrote in 1915 to Duncan Grant, shortly after she recovered from a serious bout of illness, that introduces him to the name David Garnett. Is there a name for when a reader sees a little seed of fate that the writer could not possibly imagine? It’s not serendipity – some form of irony? And then there is the panopticon that one wishes to create out of all their letters and memoirs.

Post script: I couldn’t resist adding The Bloomsbury Group by Frances Spalding to the mix. This is the danger of working in a well-stocked university library. I’m saving her work on Duncan Grant for some future time. His art, and that of Vanessa Bell, have begun to draw me in to what is, but should not be, the less visible legacy of Bloomsbury.

Right brain, left brain: Duncan Grant and Maynard Keynes in 1913.

 

Categorizing Woolf (Leonard Woolf, that is)

That categorizing should even exist in a hypertext, online encyclopedia is worthy of more study (this proposition will make a lit review of wikipedia and knowledge organization inevitable, of course).

When added to the articles on individuals, the Wikipedia categories, found at the very bottom of the foot of the page, begin to act as tokens of culturally constructed classification that may or may not be warranted by the life or personality of the person in question. Even more, they may not be warranted by the way most people hope to find new information. Some of them may even be said to be marks of ownership. Below are the categories to which Leonard Woolf’s article has been assigned by (presumably) various wikipedians. It is interesting that not only is “Bloomsbury Group” a category, so is “Virginia Woolf.” These are categories that both arise from the subects themselves, and provide more insight into their place in culture and history, if applied well to all relevant articles. But there there are things like birth year and death year, categories so large that the discovery of meaningful connections is not the point – making the list, I think, must be the point. And I really don’t know what to make of the Sri Lankan categories, and I am too tired and timid at the moment to peek into the talk pages.  [Note – I have since learned enough to guess that LW made a good impression as a colonial officer, and is being honored by this inclusion].

Categories that could be applied, if they exist, would include British / English / Jewish printers, British / English / Jewish publishers, Cambridge Apostles, Members of the 1917 Club, People Who Lived in Sussex, People Who Lived in London, and so on. This line of thought highlights the category of Jewish Socialists, with its disturbing suggestion of a lurking anti-semitism, and indeed, if other categories of socialist are left out (Fabians notwithstanding), it seems to me to give the list an accidental and unnecessary anti-semitic tinge. I suspect as well that members of some groups and clubs get lists in Wikipedia, which is where you’d put Apostles and the 1917 Club, while a less formal movement like the BG becomes a category. Just to experiment with a potential career as a categorizer, I have since added “English publishers (people).” It seemed too big an omission to leave unfilled. And where does it stop? If Virginia Woolf is herself a category, why not the Hogarth Press? It feels like a struggle to define correctly more than to inform, to insist that Leonard Woolf means this as well as that, and to continue the work of biography that belongs properly to the (hyper)text of the article per se.

Categories (as of April 2, 2017):
1880 births
1969 deaths
Bloomsbury Group
English Jews
English memoirists
English writers
Stephen-Bell family
British Jewish writers
People educated at St Paul’s School, London
Alumni of Trinity College, Cambridge
Members of the Fabian Society
British Jews
Jewish socialists
British civil servants in Ceylon
Sri Lankan Jews
Sri Lankan people of English descent
20th-century English novelists
Virginia Woolf

Postscript: I have since found a quotation from Edmund Gosse, cited in Anne Olivier Bell’s introduction to VW’s diairies (Bell is overdue for a wikipedia article of her own, category: English centegenarian art historians and editors). Gosse categorizes Leonard Woolf in 1924 from a very non-neutral point of view: “…a perverse, partially educated alien German, who has thrown in his lot violently with Bolshevism and Mr. Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’…” It is quoted to indicate the difficulty that VW’s father’s literary friends had with the new, post-impressionist world being built up by her and her circle. Post-impressionist, oddly, was never picked up (beyond art) to cover Bloomsbury and other movements. Indeed, Bloomsbury could be meant to signify the combination of letters and art that was modernist on paper and post-impressionist on canvas, with cross-pollination, as VW’s recorded thoughts on Cézanne’s influence testify.

Woolf on Wednesday

Because I’m reading Virginia Woolf this year. And probably next year. Friends (@celsius1414.com) share things that need more sharing.

If I wish to add some cooking and eating to the reading, the Guardian provides plenty of help. (The Manchester Guardian, as Woolf would have written; I have learned that she wrote a number of her earliest articles and essays for a Church of England paper also called the Guardian). There are also suggestions and analyses available in the literature, for example, the following from an article discussing Woolf’s repurposing of Mansfield: “In each of these stories, in a scene whose details reveal how patriarchy secures women’s cooperation in their own disempowerment, female characters devour a tasty roast fowl whose fate symbolizes their own.” (Nardin, Jane. “Poultry for Dinner in Katherine Mansfield’s ‘Prelude’ and Virginia Woolf’s ‘The Shooting Party’.” The Midwest Quarterly, no. 3, 2011, p. 293.)

Some librarians still get to answer wonderful reference questions like “What brand of typewriter did Virginia Woolf use?” Yes, I’m honestly jealous.

Finally, Ursula K. Le Guin, in Steering the Craft, quotes Woolf on “the mystery at the very center of what a writer does,” and also notes that “there is going to be more Virginia Woolf in this book than any other author.”

“Style is a very simple matter; it is all rhythm. Once you get that, you can’t use the wrong words. But on the other hand here am I sitting after half the morning, crammed with ideas, and visions, and so on, and can’t dislodge them for lack of the right rhythm. Now this is very profound, what rhythm is, and goes far deeper than words. A sight, an emotion, creates this wave in the mind, long before it makes words to fit it…”

Rare books in detective fiction

About to recommend Hans Tuzzi to yet another librarian, I realized that I was more than half way to a llist of detective stories featuring rare books. So, time to make a list.

Sayers, Dorothy. Whose Body? The very first Lord Peter mystery begins with the interruption of a shopping trip to snap up some incunabula…as one does. The only Lord Peter mystery to be out of copyright in the US.

Tuzzi, Hans. Il Principe dei Gigli. Technically, this story features rare book librarians, not rare books.

Leon, Donna. By Its Cover. Nothing worse can happen to a special collection or rare book library than to have a successful thief on the inside. Set in today’s Venice but with nods to Aldus and Venice’s rich book and printing history.

From the intrepid @marccold on Twitter:

Dewey Decimated by Charles A. Goodrum;  Murders in Volume 2 by Elizabeth Daly;  Nun Plussed by Ralph McInerny; much of the Lord Peter Wimsey short fiction; and The Name of the Rose. This last makes me ambivalent, because it’s been so long since I’ve read it that I can’t remember if there was an idea of rare books within the narrative. Lost or missing texts are similar, but I had in mind rare books as collectibles after the advent of printing. That said, on the grounds of the Baskerville connection (Birmingham or Baker Street, either will do), to say nothing of fondness for the young Christian Slater, Eco’s work fits.

Opening the Ozarks

Opening the Ozarks: first families in southwest Missouri, 1835-1839, by Marsha Hoffman Rising is a genealogical tour de force – each of the first 1000 settlers in southwest Missouri seen through a careful examination of their primary sources, especially land and court records. Their families are explained and reconstructed through censuses and wills. Their origins traced, where possible, to the states and counties whence they came. Those of us with ancestors covered in these four volumes owe a great debt to the author. We can start to repay it by learning how to do genealogy according to the standards that make it reliable. In addition, we can review the entries most pertinent to ourselves, and offer corrections and additional information where necessary. In my case, it was a surprise to read that my 3rd-great-grandparents, S. M. and Mary (Goodin) Gilmore, “had no issue.” I suspect the sentence was misplaced, and might have been intended for a sibling. There is a web site with corrections to Opening the Ozarks that is readily findable, but it looks like there’s a lot of work still to do.

This is why publishing a vast set of genealogical proofs in four print volumes, in the 21st century, should be called into question. In a work this vast, and no matter how carefully prepared and edited, there are bound to be a considerable number of errors and gaps. And one suspects that the editorial process needed to catch most of the errors would have set publication back two decades. A web site of errata is helpful, but also not ideal, even if most libraries have wifi, and assuming you find the web site while using Opening the Ozarks. There is a digital image edition of Opening the Ozarks, but its use is limited to those users in certain libraries (LDS Family History Centers, for example). A wiki edition would permit expansion of the scope of the work to include families who didn’t own property, or who were themselves enslaved as property under the law. This would also give due recognition to the sociological aspect of the work that guided its inception.

A wiki edition of the entire text, even if editable only by the American Genealogical Society, could provide a solution. It would also allow for the work to be continued, with just as much care, into the next 1000 settlers and beyond. This work already deals with a large number of the persons listed in the 1876 Atlas of Greene County, a work that is begging to move from merely being digitized, to being made into a digital resource (linking from each parcel on the maps to the equivalent 1870 census pages, for example).

60 Beans of Genius

It is Anton Schindler who attributed Beethoven’s counting of 60 beans to an “Oriental” fastidiousness (meaning Turkish or Arabic). But what if the instructions for the newfangled brewing device said “use 60 beans.” Then it’s nothing to do with Beethoven at all, not a quirk, not a mark of personality. And Schindler says nothing about the amount of water used, or how the coffee was actually brewed, or how many cups Beethoven drank. Moreover, we know that Beethoven worried perpetually over money. Maybe he was trying to be frugal.

Fortunately, there is another source that states “glass bowl,” which is just enough information to tell us that Beethoven probably used a vacuum pot. Although worried about money, he was not poor, and this is another example, along with metronomes and the latest pianos, of his openness to new things, or at least to improvements in things. Dr. Karl von Bursy visited Beethoven in 1816, at 7 a.m., and reported, “I found Beethoven at this writing-desk with a piece of music paper in front of him and, beyond it, a glass bowl in which he was making his coffee.” (Beethoven, Letters, Journals, and Conversations, ed. Michael Hamburger).

Fastidiousness is not a quality that appears in most of first-hand accounts of Beethoven, and Schindler’s reputation as a memoirist has long been a poor one. But other sources indicate a variety of rules that Beethoven had in regard to food and household affairs, including the one that no dish of food be brought out to the table once a meal with guests had begun. Beethoven’s tendency not to trust others to do things right also supports the notion that he would count the beans out himself.

We have made coffee with 60 fastidiously counted beans, and it’s not a lot of coffee at all, nowhere near a Starbucks venti. For an excellent and detailed account of the history of coffee making, we direct the reader to Kathryn McGowan’s blog, Comestibles, and to the posts on Coffee Preparation Through the Ages.