Georgie came, Harry went

Frank Kermode

  • A Passionate Apprentice. The Early Journals of Virginia Woolf, 1897-1909 edited by Mitchell Leaska
    Hogarth, 444 pp, £25.00, October 1990, ISBN 0 7012 0845 7
  • A Very Close Conspiracy: Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf by Jane Dunn
    Cape, 338 pp, £16.99, October 1990, ISBN 0 224 02234 2

Seven journal-notebooks from Virginia Woolf’s early years, six in the Berg Collection of New York Public Library and one in the British Library, are here reprinted without omissions. The editor has done his job with almost extravagant care, providing quantities of information it is just conceivable somebody might want most of. His attention to detail is exemplified by the way in which, as he transcribes, he puts in a lot of sic’s, some after apparently innocent words like ‘omelette’; more puzzlingly, he awards one to ‘Bosphorus’, himself spelling it ‘Bosporus’, though when the versatile Miss Stephen spells it that way a few pages on, she gets another sic. And with so many of them flying about one can’t help noticing places where they are needed but are absent. Mr Leaska has written a long, informative and devout introduction, filling in much necessary biographical detail – if much really is still necessary – and drawing attention to any hint or prefiguration, in the work of the apprentice, of greater things, and more agonising events, to come. Here and there he seems to overdo it, suggesting, for instance, that from entries in which the youthful diarist confesses to feeling cross (‘To bed very furious and tantrumical,’ ‘I was extremely gruff – unpleasant’) we may conjecture that it is her illness that is causing the page ‘to crackle with rage and frustration’. People who write about Virginia Woolf appear to be especially prone to sentimental over-interpretation of this kind, and one suspects that their heroine would have loathed them for it.

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