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Unraveling Virginia Woolf: A Journey Through Her Diary

Virginia Woolf commenced a habitual practice of journaling at the age of 36, persisting until her demise at 59. Would one anticipate the diary of a stream-of-consciousness artisan to be disorderly, fragile, replete with intimate details and fragments? Contrary to such expectations, Woolf’s journal presents itself as a modest and candid chronicle of her ruminations and emotional states.

Within its pages, we witness the contemplations of a female wordsmith grappling with her own craft amidst both adulation and disparagement; we observe her paradoxes. At times, she remains indifferent to external judgments, asserting, “I shall write as I please,” while at others, she admits to “seeking out mentions of my name in articles and comments.”

Moreover, she meticulously documented her descent into despondency and mental anguish within her diary, candidly articulating her battles and quests amidst the shadows. Nevertheless, she persisted in her writing, faithfully transcribing her anguish, vexations, and moments of pride until the twilight of her existence.

Monday, January 20, 1919

I envisage transcribing the diary afresh upon acquiring a new notebook, thus forgoing any elaborate New Year embellishments. This time, it wasn’t a lack of funds but rather of vigor that hindered me, for after a fortnight confined to bed due to a tooth extraction, I found myself bereft of the strength to venture to Fleet Street. The sinews of my right hand have convalesced, allowing me to engage in rudimentary tasks.

Curiously, I find my mental disposition improved compared to a month prior, yet the act of writing remains arduous. The fortnight spent in bed was a consequence of a tooth extraction, and the ensuing headaches—persistent and fluctuating, akin to a January mist—proved draining. For subsequent weeks, I could only muster an hour of writing each day.

With Leonard absent now, my productivity for January has markedly diminished, affording me the opportunity to expend accumulated time today. Nevertheless, I am acutely aware that maintaining this diary hardly constitutes writing, particularly upon revisiting entries from this year. The wantonness and disorder therein shocked me; I wrote hastily, unsteadily, at times halting abruptly, engendering discomfort. Such impetuosity is scarcely endurable. Yet, were I not to write with a swiftness surpassing that of the fastest typewriter, were I granted the luxury to pause and deliberate, I’d scarcely write at all.
The merit of this method lies in its capacity to preserve fleeting thoughts I might otherwise discard in moments of hesitation—diamonds amidst the ashes. Imagine a fifty-year-old Virginia Woolf endeavoring to pen her memoirs, only to find herself unable to fashion a single sentence. In such a plight, I’d counsel her to approach the hearth, where I’d permit her to consign these volumes to the flames, their conflagration a cause for jubilation. Yet, I cannot help but envy her; she fulfills a task I yet endeavor to prepare for. Few things would afford me greater contentment.

Contemplating this, I am filled with a sense of solace. My impending thirty-seventh birthday, this Saturday, no longer instills dread. For the elder Virginia Woolf (though she’d protest vehemently, for fifty is deemed advanced age, notwithstanding my concurrence that she remains far from old), this marks an opportunity for rejuvenation. I resolve to formulate plans for the ensuing year, utilizing each evening of this week, despite the forfeiture of my liberty, to ruminate upon my present friendships and expound upon the qualities of my companions. Furthermore, I aspire to evaluate their endeavors and prognosticate their future works. The woman of fifty shall ascertain the accuracy of my judgments. Alas, this evening has already extended beyond measure (a mere fifteen minutes, truth be told).

Monday, May 12, 1919

The height of the publishing season dawns, and henceforth, Murray, Eliot, and I shall undergo scrutiny. Perhaps owing to this, I find myself conspicuously devoid of motivation. I perused the manuscript excerpt of “The Chronicle of Kew” with meticulousness. Upon its vexing conclusion, I found myself adrift, its contents appearing mundane and inconsequential. I fail to comprehend Leonard’s profound admiration for it; he deems it the pinnacle of my short stories. This appraisal prompted me to revisit “The Spot on the Wall,” revealing numerous flaws therein.

Sydney Waterlow once opined that the chief affliction of writers lies in their excessive reliance on external approbation. Indeed, this short story garnered scant acclaim. Such reflections discomfit me. At this early hour, praise is scarce, rendering the act of writing arduous.

Fortuitously, this despondency abated after but half an hour, and once ensconced in the act of writing, I found myself undistracted. Truth be told, the caprices of external praise and critique are capricious; one’s equilibrium should remain impervious to favor or reproach. Orders have been placed for Murray’s and Eliot’s tomes, yet mine have found no takers. The principal cause lies in the divergence of my artistic predilections from those of my peers. Other sources may underlie this bewildering mood, yet they remain shrouded in obscurity. Life’s vicissitudes may be explicable, yet the fount of triumph or defeat eludes me.

Saturday, July 19, 1919

Anticipating Peace Day, I contemplated the necessity of penning something, though uncertain whether it warranted the attendant preparations. Seated by the window, raindrops nearly tracing a path down my brow to the foliage below, I awaited the commencement of the Richmond parade. The dignified town councilors would soon traverse the thoroughfares, though met with scant adulation. I felt akin to a linen drape adorning a solitary chair.

The countryside beckoned to all, leaving me ensconced in solitude, listless and despondent. Naturally, we eschewed the parade, our vista restricted to the refuse receptacles at the town’s periphery. The deluge persisted until but half an hour prior. The servants, however, savored a splendid morning, perched upon Vauxhall Bridge to witness the spectacle. Generals, soldiers, tanks, nurses, and bands paraded for two hours, extolled for their unparalleled grandeur—an event rivaling the Zeppelin air raids and etching itself as a zenith in the annals of the Boxall family.

I refrain from judgment; in my estimation, this celebration serves but to mollify and console “the populace”—now marred by inclement weather, the organizers shall be compelled to proffer supplementary diversions. It is this disillusionment that fuels my discontent. Such celebrations are meticulously choreographed, imbued with political machinations, bereft of genuine sentiment.

Moreover, these proceedings are contrived, devoid of aesthetic sensibilities, mere perfunctory gestures. The servants insisted on procuring novel trinkets to surprise us, though I suspect a desire for ostentation motivated their actions. London bore witness to a similar spectacle yesterday, with well-fed, perspiring throngs meandering about Trafalgar Square like rain-soaked bees, swaying through adjacent streets.

Amidst this, one singular sight captured my attention—the lengthy banners adorning Nelson’s Column. They fluttered languidly, stirred by the gentle zephyrs, devoid of artifice, reminiscent of the tongue of a colossal dragon, caressing the air with deliberate, graceful movements. Theaters and concert halls brimmed with colossal glass ornaments, glistening in anticipation—yet the true spectacle awaited illumination. Despite the allure of the nocturnal revelry, sleep proved elusive; the cacophony of fireworks resounded outside, their glow pervading the chamber. (At present, the sky remains swathed in taupe, the tolling of Richmond’s bells notwithstanding—though church bells evoke nought but matrimonial rites and Christian sacraments.)

I concede, it borders on petulance to convey these sentiments with such despondency, for optimism and worldly convictions ought to reign supreme. Hence, when the hour arrives to celebrate a birthday, regardless of personal tribulations, one must feign merriment in the nursery. Years hence, one may candidly acknowledge the charade. Should these docile lambs discern the ruse for themselves, pledging to avert its recurrence—might such a prospect warrant elation? I recall the dinner at the 1917 Club, and Mrs. Besant’s discourse proved a profound disappointment. Any restraint in her words peeled away the gilded veneer, revealing naught but banality. Hobson scoffed in response.

This statuesque, somber matron, her crown of white curls crowning a substantial visage, assumed an air of levity upon speaking, likening the illuminated, festive ambiance of London to Lahore, Pakistan. She proceeded to castigate us for our purported injustice toward the Indian cause, thereby identifying herself as “them” rather than “us.” Though her delivery remained composed, eliciting applause from the club members, I found her argument somewhat tenuous. Her oration resonated as though recited from a manuscript, even the bouquet of flowers she brandished seemed contrived.

Increasingly, I find solace solely in the ranks of artists. These social reformers and philanthropists feign benevolence and camaraderie, yet harbor intolerance and narrow-mindedness, beset by desires more revolting than those they condemn in us. But do I belong among them?

Monday, January 26, 1920

Yesterday marked the anniversary of my birth. Candidly, I find myself far more content at thirty-eight than I did at twenty-eight, and today’s contentment surpasses that of yesterday. This afternoon, I chanced upon a novel form, a revelation that invigorates me. Should events within this yet-unwritten tome birth one another, with interpretations spanning not mere pages but two hundred or more, would it achieve the fluidity and grace I seek? Could it encompass all facets of existence while adhering to thematic coherence, possessing both structure and cadence? Might it embrace the entirety of human emotion?

Yet, uncertainty gnaws at me: to what extent can this form accommodate the breadth of human sentiment? Do I possess the requisite mastery to employ it within a novel? This endeavor demands an entirely novel approach. Absent a framework, devoid of visible scaffolding, everything appears nebulous. Yet within this nebula, the inner workings, genuine emotions, and entire spiritual realms of characters gleam as bright beacons amidst the mist. I shall arrange them with precision, and they shall traverse into my tender heart with buoyant steps and joyous leaps.

Yet, uncertainties persist, entangled within my heart’s recesses. Dare I, for now, entertain assumptions? Envision “The Spot on the Wall,” “The Kew Gardens Chronicle,” and the Unwritten Novel capering in harmony with a certain cohesion. The true nature of this phenomenon remains to be unearthed. The subject of the new novel yet eludes me, though I discern the novel form I chanced upon two weeks prior harbors immense promise.

Yet, I am wary that excessive egotism may mar the artistry, mindful that egotism eroded the formal elegance of Joyce and Richardson’s works. Can I adopt a broad and laissez-faire approach, erecting a protective barrier around the novel to preclude the encroachment of narrowness born of self-restraint? Perhaps, having accrued sufficient experience in the realm of literature, I am now equipped to furnish readers with pleasure in its myriad forms. Regardless, continued exploration and implementation are imperative; this afternoon, a glimmer of hope beckoned. Indeed, the effortless conception of “The Unwritten Novel” hints at the existence of a new path to traverse.

Monday, October 25, 1920 (Commencement of Winter)

Why does life abound with tragedy, akin to a precipice’s precipitous path? Peering into its depths, I am seized by vertigo, pondering the route to its nadir. Yet, why do such peculiar musings ensnare my thoughts, dissipating upon utterance?
The stove crackles, heralding our evening’s entertainment: “The Beggar’s Opera.” Yet, the abyss looms ever closer, defying closure. A sense of impotence and futility pervades. Seated upon Richmond’s expanse, I resemble a solitary beacon amidst the fields, casting illumination amid the darkness. When I write, my melancholy ebbs. Why, then, do I not write with greater diligence? Alas, vanity intercedes. I yearn to feign accomplishment, if only in my own estimation. Yet, this is not the crux of the matter.

Forlornness festers within me, compounded by my childlessness, solitary existence, middling literary pursuits, burgeoning expenditures, and advancing age. I am wont to scrutinize my woes to their depths, ruminating excessively upon personal quandaries. The passage of time vexes me. Yet, I must persevere! And yet, the act of writing quickly engenders fatigue; I can scarce read for long ere the compulsion to write seizes me. Here, solitude reigns supreme; I would scarcely brook intrusion.

Journeys to London prove taxing. Nessa’s progeny, too mature for convivial tea parties or zoo excursions, are constrained by paltry allowances. Trifling as these concerns may seem, they underscore the somber reality of existence. At times, I perceive our generation’s life as unduly melancholic—daily newspapers abound with tales of woe, a disconcerting spectacle. One is certain to encounter news of MacSweeney and the Irish Rising, or perhaps a labor strike. Misery permeates every facet of life, confined betwixt these walls, or worse, ignorance reigns supreme.

Alas, my tribulations persist unabated. I contemplate resuming work on “Jacob’s Room” in hopes of alleviating my despondency. Evelyn’s forthcoming article looms large, yet my present efforts leave me unsatisfied. Oh, how I yearn to craft it with finesse, to eschew the precariousness of treading alongside the abyss.

Wednesday, August 16, 1922

I ought to persist in my perusal of “Ulysses” and articulate my impressions thereof. Presently, I have traversed two hundred pages, a fraction of its entirety. The preceding chapters, particularly 2 and 3, alongside the segments antecedent to the cemetery scene, proved captivating, defying disengagement. Yet, retracing my steps, the portrayal of an agitated collegiate’s acne-related tribulations perplexes, leaving me disenchanted, exasperated, and disheartened.

And Tom, dear Tom, how could he liken this tome to the likes of War and Peace! To my eyes, the author seems bereft of linguistic finesse, lacking discernment. He resembles more a self-taught laborer. Such individuals, we know, are prone to despondency, obstinacy, arrogance, vulgarity in speech and deed, invariably culminating in vexation. One can savor cooked fare, so why indulge in the raw? Only anemic souls, such as Tom’s, would extol such bloodied works. I, being of sound mind, found the book wanting, and thus, shall return to the classics. My stance may evolve, yet this critique stands as my guiding principle. I have placed a marker within the tome, denoting the completion of two hundred pages.

As for my own literary endeavors, I grapple with “Mrs. Dalloway,” making scant headway. This haste ill befits it; it demands compression. In ten days, I penned four thousand words of annotations on Paston’s works, setting a personal record. Yet, upon review, it amounts to little more than shorthand. Abiding by my prompt turnover rule, I shall pause briefly before resuming work on “Mrs. Dalloway” (surely, this lady shall beckon forth a cavalcade of characters, such is my presentiment). Subsequently, I shall delve into Chaucer, aiming to conclude the first chapter by early September. Then, perhaps, a return to Greek literature beckons, contingent upon future deliberations.

Should “Jacob’s Room” languish in obscurity Stateside and be overlooked in Britain, then I shall find solace in my own realm. The sight of wheat fields ripe for harvest evokes this sentiment, though I am uncertain of its pertinence. Yet, now that I no longer contribute reviews to The Times Literary Supplement, I need not fret over propriety of expression. Might I resume this endeavor in the future?

Wednesday, April 8, 1925

In this moment, I find myself enveloped in a complex array of emotions. Having returned from the serene expanses of the South of France to the vast, mist-shrouded tranquility of London—such was the impression last night. Yet, starkly contrasting this sentiment is the harrowing sight I beheld this morning: a woman, clad in brown, crushed beneath the weight of a car, her anguished cries echoing incessantly in my ears.

I stood frozen, unable to offer aid, while bakers and flower vendors rallied around her. The world, I concluded, is cruel and devoid of compassion—a realization that weighs heavily upon me. The woman, in her brown attire, traversed the sidewalk when a scarlet sports car careened, robbing her of life’s precious breath. “Oh, oh, oh,” echoed her agonized cries. Later, while visiting Nessa at her new abode, Duncan’s obliviousness rendered him incapable of comprehending my turmoil. Nessa, too, attempted to draw parallels between this accident and Angelica’s misfortune last spring. Yet, I reassured her that it was but an anonymous passerby clad in brown, and we proceeded to inspect her new home with measured composure.

Amidst my literary pursuits, news of Jacques Refrat’s demise reached me—an event that, ironically, ushered in one of the happiest days of my life. Have I made any strides during these months? Alas, my endeavors pale in comparison to Proust’s. His work, which I’ve recently immersed myself in, captivates me.

Platts, marked by an amalgam of acute sensitivity and unwavering perseverance, possessed an ability to discern subtle nuances even in the hues of butterfly wings. He is resilient as catgut yet ephemeral as a fluttering butterfly. His influence, I fear, instills within me a disdain for every word I pen. As I lamented, Jacques now lies in eternal repose; his passing, unexpectedly, stirred within me a torrent of emotions. Amidst company—Clive, Bea Howe, Julia Strachey, and Dadier—I received the news. Yet, I am disinclined to pay homage to the Grim Reaper. I prefer to exit a room, engaged in frivolous banter. Death, to me, signifies not farewell or capitulation but a departure into the shadows. Yet, the specter of nightmares it conjures is unsettling.

All I can do now is confront death with equanimity—a task of utmost importance. Increasingly, I find solace in echoing my own Montaigne-inspired mantra: “Life is precious.”

I await with bated breath the lasting impression Cassis will leave upon me. There, amidst rocky terrain, we would bask in the morning sun after breakfast. Leonard, hatless, would perch upon the rocks, pen in hand, his knees drawn up. Once, he espied a sea urchin—a crimson spike swaying gently. In the afternoons, we’d traverse hillside and woodland paths.

On one occasion, the distant hum of a car led us to discover a road winding along the mountain’s base, leading to the port of La Ciotat. This rugged path, flanked by craggy peaks, exuded a magnetic allure. Another time, avian chirrups filled the air, though my thoughts drifted to croaking frogs. Scarlet tulips adorned the landscape, mingling with verdant vineyards upon meticulously terraced fields. The crimson peaks, interspersed with unfamiliar fruit trees burgeoning with buds, lent the vista a hue of rose and lavender. Occasionally, we’d chance upon houses—angular structures, painted in hues of white, yellow, or blue, shuttered windows concealing their secrets. The road, meandering past these abodes, occasionally hosted stacks of rocks—a peculiar sight amidst pristine surroundings.

In the port of La Ciotat, colossal orange vessels bobbed upon cerulean waters. Ringed by bay after bay, the landscape boasted somber lime-hued domiciles, their lofty heights and peeling facades testament to bygone splendor. Potted flora adorned rooftops, a splash of green amidst the urban tableau. And amidst the streets, adorned with bright headscarves and cotton dresses, youths whiled away their days in conversation and leisurely strolls.

At present, men toiled in the central field, laying the groundwork for a grand square. The Cinderella Hotel, a resplendent edifice of alabaster walls and crimson-tiled floors, harbored no more than eight guests at a time. The ambiance within evoked myriad associations within me—a realm suffused with frigidity, propriety, and refinement, where interpersonal dynamics assumed an air of strangeness, as if human nature were distilled into a set of norms, fashioned to navigate exigencies. Here, strangers convened, united by a common claim to belonging, though beneath this veneer, interconnections remained tenuous. Yet, Leonard and I could not envision a happier demise. None shall ever claim that I have not tasted the fruits of felicity.

Yet, few can pinpoint the precise moment of their happiness or articulate its source. Even when engulfed by its embrace, one can only declare, “This suffices; naught could be better.” At times, I am given to superstition, imagining even the gods themselves to be envious architects of happiness. Yet, when unexpected fortune graces our lives, its essence is undeniably altered.

Saturday, March 20, 1926

Yesterday, I pondered the fate of these diaries in the years to come. What shall Leonard do with them should I pass? Certainly, he shan’t consign them to the flames, yet publication seems an improbable prospect. I proposed he compile them into a book and consign the originals to the pyre. If these sporadic musings and reflections were to be collated, I venture to assert that my diary could burgeon into a modest tome.

Alas, a faint specter of despondency occasionally casts its pall upon me, imparting a sense of agedness and unattractiveness. I am prone to nagging, it appears. Yet, as a wordsmith, I find that only now do I truly articulate myself.

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