Posts Tagged ‘Virginia Woolf letters’

A CNBC story reports on a collection of Virginia Woolf’s letters and other items that is for sale en bloc for $4 million. The letters are beingCNBC letter sold by Glenn Horowitz Bookseller in Manhattan.

They include letters from Woolf to her nephew Julian Bell, as well as letters from Leonard Woolf, Vanessa Bell and Vita Sackville-West.

The most poignant, said Horowitz during the CNBC interview, is one written by Vita Sackville-West, describing Woolf’s suicide and the days leading up to the discovery of her body. “It’s really one of the most touching collections of letters I’ve had the privilege of handling,” Horowitz said.

The private collection was built over a period of 40 years by William B. Beekman, who started collecting Woolf items as a Harvard undergraduate before Quentin Bell’s 1972 biography brought her renewed interest from the academy, according to Horowitz’s site. Included in the collection are items that span Woolf’ life, such as photographs, letters, inscribed books and dust jackets.

Although the CNBC story put the value of the collection at $4 million, the Horowitz website prices it at $4.5 million. The collection was put on the market and exhibited in East Hampton last July.

In 2011, Horowitz published a digital catalog of Bloomsbury materials to its website. Virginia Woolf, The Hogarth Press, and The Bloomsbury Group contains more than 150 first editions, association copies, letters and more.

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Anne Fernald posted a message to the VWoolf Listserv directing us to Sarah Funke Butler’s post on The Paris Review website that discusses a letter Woolf wrote to her nephew Julian Bell in 1929.

Patricia Laurence, author of Julian Bell, The Violent Pacifist, a monograph in Cecil Woolf Publishers Bloomsbury Heritage Series, added her insights to the listserv discussion:

“The poem that Woolf refers to in her letter is probably “Chaffinches” published in the Songs for Sixpence Series, 1929, Cambridge. Julian’s early poetry was not marked by `modernist’ or `currency’ in subject, diction, rhythms or metres. His promise in `Chaffinches’ is marked rather by his Hopkinesque description of birds:

Startled, flock after springing flock they rise
With rustle of beating wings as as each flies
The sudden coverts flicker white,
In drooping, jerked finch flight
Of rise and fall: Stray chinking call.

“Nature description and the pastoral came naturally to him in poetry and letters, and when in Paris in 1930, `his first experience of a large town’, made him not a modernist but `fiercely naturalist….sending…[him] to watch all the gulls and sparrows of Paris.” Romanticism (what he viewed as “emotionalism”) and modernism (currency) were anathema to him, and the consciousness of “the chasm in the road’ after the Great War is absent from most of his poetry–though he is of the Auden generation.

“Nevertheless, though he may not have been as talented as others in Bloomsbury, he was not given much encouragement by his family.”

The letter is part of a Virginia Woolf collection currently held by Glenn Horowitz Bookseller, Inc., which features a photo titled Virginia Woolf Goes to the Beach on its home page.

Woolf items are featured in two of Horowitz’s catalogues: The Robert Reedman Collection of Virginia Woolf and Bloomsbury and Virginia & Leonard Woolf. The company also offers Vita Sackville-West and T.S. Eliot catalogues.

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I love getting post from abroad. Everything about it is charming: the feel of the envelope, the look of the stamps, even the fact that “U.S.A.” is included in the address.

I never rip it right open. I usually hold the letter in my hands for a minute, thinking about the long distance it has come, the water it has crossed, the person on the other end who has taken the time to sit down and put pen to paper.

Sometimes I have to wait for the right moment before I can open it. I never want to read a letter from abroad when I am agitated or in a hurry or distracted by some mundane matter.

But when the moment is right, I settle down on my favorite sofa, the one where the late afternoon sun slants across my shoulder. In that calm and quiet spot, I carefully slit open the envelope. I sip the words slowly, letting them swish around in my mind. I savor their flavor and their meaning. I note their nuances and subtleties. I picture the person who wrote it and the place where he wrote.

A letter, an old-fashioned handwritten letter from abroad, is something I can tuck in my book and read again later. It is something I can take with me wherever I go. It is something I can save forever, tied up with others like it, bound together and stored in a drawer.

So where is the Virginia Woolf connection in all of this? Well, we all know she wrote and received lots of letters — volumes in fact. Five of them sit on my bookshelf.

But two other things have made me think about letters. The first was a note I received from Cecil Woolf, nephew of Leonard and Virginia, who wrote to say that he and his wife Jean Moorcroft Wilson had spent 12 days in South Africa, where they spoke at the University of Capetown. Cecil’s talk was titled “As I Remember Them: Virginia and Leonard Woolf.” His missive was dated Jan. 26, and I thought about the significance of that date as well.

Cecil Woolf

The second thing that made me think about letters was the much-discussed news that Angelica Garnett has published a new volume of short stories, The Unspoken Truth: A Quartet of Bloomsbury Stories. These stories are not letters. But Garnett has been quoted as saying that the stories are autobiographical, not invented, for the most part.

Those things led me to ponder the similarities between real life and fiction and the differences between real life stories and the lives we share via letters. Both are edited, either formally or informally. Both alter the realities of our daily lives. Both stay true to those realities.

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