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A Virginia Woolf Word Portrait by Akron, Ohio artist John Sokol received as a Christmas gift in 2016. The words of “A Room of One’s Own” form her visage.

How did Virginia Woolf celebrate Christmas? What thoughts did that day bring to her mind? I thumbed through the edited versions of her diaries to find out.

Editor Anne Olivier Bell includes explanations of where Virginia and Leonard were at Christmas through the years. But while the edited diaries include three entries for days near Christmas, only two of Virginia’s entries were written on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

Here is a synopsis of where the Woolfs spent Christmas from 1917 through 1940, along with what they did and what Virginia wrote.

1917: Leonard and Virginia are at Asheham for Christmas, the rented country house in East Sussex where they spent weekends and holidays from 1912 until 1919. (D1 93)

1916-1922: No mention of the Woolfs’ Christmas is included in Volumes I or II of the edited diaries.

1923: Leonard and Virginia spend Christmas at Monk’s House in Rodmell, Sussex, the 16th-century home they began occupying in 1919. (D2 278)

1924: The Woolfs are again at Monk’s House, arriving on Christmas Eve and bringing Angus Davidson with them. Virginia had collaborated with Quentin Bell to produce a Christmas Supplement to the Charleston Bulletin. It recorded scenes in the life of Duncan Grant. (D2 327)

1925: The Woolfs spend Christmas at Charleston, since Monk’s House is in the midst of alterations. Virginia and Quentin again collaborated on a written piece, this time depicting scenes from the life of Clive Bell. (D3 53)

Vanessa Bell painting of Woolf knitting in an armchair at Asheham

1926: Virginia and Leonard spend Christmas in Cornwall at Eagle’s Nest, Zennor with Ka and Will Arnold-Forster. (D3 119)

1927: The Woolf take the train from London to Lewes on Christmas Eve, then drive to Charleston. They spend three nights there before going back to Monk’s House. Vanessa and Clive are away, spending Christmas with his widowed mother in Wiltshire. (D3 169)

1928-1930: No mention of Christmas is included in Volume III of the diaries for these years.

1931: The diary for this year includes the only entry written on Christmas Day. It reads in part:

Friday Xmas morning

Lytton is still alive this morning. We thought he could not live through the night. It was a moonlit night . . . This may be the turn, or may mean nothing. We are lunching with the Keynes’. Now again all ones sense of him flies out & expands & I begin to think of things I shall say to him, so strong is the desire for life—the triumph of life…

Talk to L. last night about death: its stupidity; what he would feel like if I died. He might give up the Press; but how one must be natural. And the feeling of age coming over us: & the hardship of losing friends; & my dislike of the younger generation; & then I reason, how one must understand. And we are happier now. (D4 55)

1932-1935: The Woolfs are at Monk’s House for Christmas. In 1933, Vita Sackville-West and her two sons are guests for tea. (D4 133, 195, 266, 360)

1936-1938: Virginia and Leonard are again at Monk’s House. In 1936, they have lunch and tea with Lydia and Maynard Keynes, beginning a Christmas tradition. This year, the tea is at Tilton. In 1937, the Woolfs host lunch for the four of them. In 1938, tea is at Tilton and Christmas dinner at Charleston. (D4 44, 122, 193)

1939: The Woolfs are at Monk’s House and bicycle to Charleston in a fog for Christmas dinner. (D4 252)

1940: At Monk’s HouseVirginia pens a two-part entry dated Tuesday 24 December, which contrasts the soberness of life during wartime with the natural beauty of the countryside.The second portion reads in part:

[Later] 24th Dec. Christmas Eve, & I didnt like to pull the curtains so black were Leonard & Virginia against the sky…and then the walk by the wall; & the church; & the great tithe barn. How England consoles & warms one, in the deep hollows, where the past stands almost stagnant. And the little spire across the fields…

Yes, our old age is not going to be sunny orchard drowse. By shutting down the fire curtain, though, I find I can live in the moment; which is good; why yield a moment to regret or envy or worry? Why indeed? (D5 346)

The doorway to Virginia Woolf’s bedroom on a sunny July day at Monk’s House, Rodmell, Sussex.

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Anne Olivier Bell, art scholar, Bloomsbury matriarch, widow of Virginia Woolf’s nephew Quentin, and editor of her diaries, died yesterday at the age of 102.

Bell also helped Quentin pen his 1972 biography of his aunt and the two were instrumental in saving Charleston Farmhouse, preserving it for future generations of Bloomsbury scholars and fans.

In addition, she was known for playing an instrumental role in saving European art from the Nazis during World  II, serving in the Monuments Men effort.

As a result of her marriage to Quentin, Olivier moved into the heartland of the Bloomsbury milieu and, having inherited its values, became one of the most vigorous (and vigilant) guardians and promoters of the Bloomsbury revival. – “Anne Olivier Bell obituary,” The Guardian, July 19, 2018.

Read The Guardian obituary.

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