Along with Hermione Lee's massive bio of Virginia Woolf, I've had the first volume of her diaries sitting on my shelf for a rather long time. When I started reading the bio, I also took down the diary and started reading it, a few pages at a time.
Well, again, what was I waiting for? It shouldn't come as any surprise that the author of To the Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway would have interesting diaries. and they're interesting for so many reasons--from a writerly perspective, from an early-20th-century perspective (especially as regards the end of WWI), from an upper-class-British perspective. And also from the perspective of a writer who suffered mental health issues. Shortly after beginning these diaries, Woolf had a terrible breakdown. As she slowly recovered, she returned to her diary, but writing mostly just a few lines about the weather, about whether or not they could pick mushrooms. As she continued to improve, she continued to expand her thought process. It reminded me greatly of the recurring theme in Hamilton of "I wrote my way out."
Woolf seems very unreserved in this diary. She shows many sides of herself: The insecure writer, the high-thinking intellectual, the snobbish (especially about servants), the socially observant. There are wry moments, like when she notes that one of the problems with London being bombed during the war was the difficulty of finding things to talk about with the servants while sheltering in the cellar. We see lots of gossipy things about Katherine Mansfield, E.M. Forster, Maynard Keynes. There are moments of foreshadowing, which, technically, were not foreshadowing, since Woolf couldn't know in 1919 that there was a lot of truth in the rumblings that Germany couldn't be trusted to keep the peace. And political asides that are only too relevant today:
"These conclusions were forced on him by the dismal & degrading spectacle of the Peace Congress, where men played shamelessly, not for Europe, or even for England, but for their own return to Parliament at the next election."
She worries about the reception to her writing. She complains about the number of people who want to visit, and how vacuous many of them are. She circles round Katherine Mansfield and a tentative friendship with her. She's bitchy, and yet no one can draw a vision of a visitor in just a few words the way she can. Snobbish? Oh my God yes. Sometimes appallingly so.
And yet--it's just all so interesting. And I am so ready to launch into Volume 2. Which my father kindly gave me for Christmas.
Have I mentioned that I do all my father's Christmas shopping for him?