Virginia Woolf – An Appreciation (1941)

4e2b6da99ff0d5c9f24dfefdfec9abfcFound- a press-cutting from The Observer – April 6th, 1941 a week after the suicide by drowning of Virginia Woolf. This ‘appreciation’ accompanied a memorial poem by Vita Sackville-West. It was by the now slightly forgotten critic Basil de Sélincourt.  Virginia Woolf notes in her diary how she was heartened  when he praised her novel The Waves (1937). It was said to be her favourite review. There is a good photo of Selincourt at the National Portrait Gallery by Lady Ottoline Morrell.

An Appreciation – Basil de Selincourt

The loss of Virginia Woolf is not only a grave blow to English letters, but will also be widely felt by many who had no personal acquaintance with her. It was not for nothing that she collected her brilliant, or radiant, studies in Criticism under the title “The Common Reader”. The originality of her mind and the acuteness and range of her perception never isolated her, never led her to forget that the foundation of the literary art is sympathy, that we write to be understood, to make our vision carry. True, the reading of her novels can be a strenuous exercise, but it is an exercise in intimacy. The greatest of them, “The Waves,” most of us must be content to wonder at; we can hardly hope to comprehend it. But however we may be baffled by work of hers, we have never been offended. Its elusiveness is the elusiveness of nature. Her waters are limpid as the sea’s on a solitary shore; her phrase has the decisiveness, the crisp outline of a shell. Her horizons only are unfathomable. She has preferred to keep here even for herself a quality of mystery, as if the greatest communication a writer has to make were the sense of an incommunicable infinite, of a truth always present wholly, and therefore never seizable in any part.  Continue reading

In Memoriam Virginia Woolf (1941)

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Found - a press-cutting of an 'In Memoriam' poem written by Vita Sackville-West and published in The Observer on 6 April 1941 a week after her friend (and lover) Virginia Woolf had drowned herself in the River Ouse. It is odd that this version of the poem is not online (except possibly at a cash-for-knowledge site which reprints a version from the Winnipeg Tribune from May 17 1941 which may or may not be the same.) There is some suggestion that the free version available online was found at Sissinghurst in Vita's tower/study. From that version, presumably a later revision of the Observer poem (or just possibly an early draft) I have printed the changed words in square brackets. The word 'smell' in the tower version is surely wrong...'Mrs Brown' must be taken as representing 'unknown people.' The  lines:

How small, how petty seemed the little men

Measured against her scornful quality.

the same in both versions, have been praised as being particularly acute.

IN MEMORIAM VIRGINIA WOOLF

Many words crowd, and all and each unmeaning.

The simplest words in sorrow are the best.

So let us say, she loved the water-meadows,

The Downs; her books; her friends; her memories;

[her friends; her books;her memories]

The room which was her own.

London by twilight; shops and unknown people;

[shops and Mrs Brown] 

Donne's church; the Strand; the buses, and the large

Swell of humanity that passed her by.

[Smell of humanity]

I remember she told me once that she, a child,

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The Air of Bloomsbury 3

The last part of an article found in a Times Literary Supplement from 1954 - a very lengthy anonymous review of J.K. Johnstone's The Bloomsbury Group. This part is good on on their attitude to mysticism (see Cambridge conviction). At the time there was still a debate as to whether the Bloomsbury Set actually existed. In Clive Bell's slightly irascible article in Century in February 1954 What was 'Bloomsbury'? he continually asks whether it actually existed - as far as he could see it was just 'a dozen friends..between 1904 and 1914 (who) saw a great deal of each other...' He names these '...the surviving members of the Midnight Society -Thoby Stephen (died in the late autumn of 1906) Leonard Woolf...Lytton Strachey (who actually lived in Hampstead) Saxon Sydney-Turner, Clive Bell. There were the two ladies. Add to these Duncan Grant, Roger Fry, Maynard Keynes, H.T.J.Norton and perhaps Gerald Shove...certainly Desmond and Molly MacCarthy and Morgan Forster were close and affectionate friends but I doubt whether any of them has yet been branded with the fatal name..' Bell refers to these as the 'old gang' and names a few younger candidates: David Garnett, Francis Birrell, Raymond Mortimer, Stephen Tomlin, Ralph Partridge , Stephen Sprott, F.L. Lucas and Frances Marshall ((later Mrs Ralph Partridge). This review is anonymous but is certainly by someone who knew his (or her) stuff.

Yet as temperaments appear to run in families they retained a passionate individualist faith, though without obligations. 'We were,' says Maynard Keynes, 'in the strict sense of the word immoralists, we recognized no moral obligations on us, no inner sanction to conform or to obey.' It was this rejection of tradition, combined with 'comprehensive irreverence,' which made them suspect to the outer world. lt was 'I think a justifiable suspicion,' he says, and proceeds with admirable candour, wit and yet loyalty to show that there was something both brittle and far too narrow in their early views, and perhaps dubious about their later lives, when 'concentration on moments of union between a pair of lovers got thoroughly mixed up with the once rejected pleasure.'

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