by Rosemary Leach
Thirty years ago I turned away from Virginia Woolf’s copious diaries, bored.
Early Covid, I downloaded everything Woolf wrote for $3.
Now, it all seems so alive and I cannot stop reading.
I follow her musings in the trashiest way; figuring out who was sleeping with whom, identifying with her obsession for her work with relief of friendship, raising my eyebrows over her insecurities about her shabby outfits, and looking up the meaning of “hirsute” more times than is reasonable.
Woolf opens her journal and tries a new pen. She vexes about leaky rentals, relates Sapphist (lesbian—I had to look it up) gossip. She routinely has to head out for watch repairs and cyclically laments a continuous fight with Nelly (domestic), dismissing and rehiring her repeatedly over 15 years.
All this is soothing and makes my own (copious and repetitive)boxes of journals feel somewhat less ridiculous.
With new money from her writing lining her pockets, Woolf was stymied purchasing a dress or a pair of shoes.
“When in doubt,” she mused,” I think one should buy it.”
In lionizing we forget that robust literary heroes might suffer little social humiliations.
Lord Gage snubs Woolf, reflecting, “Every class of person is interested to know what the king has for dinner, and there you are, the intellectual, doing just the same thing”.
And the tension between her desire to be alone to dive deep into work is juxtaposed with descriptions her textured but also depleting social life.
Sighing she reflects; “Never have I sat beside such driftwood as Mrs. Campbell.”
Would that history in school had been taught with the same juiciness, I might have paid attention. It never occurred to me that history included the lesbian orchestral conductors (Ethel Smyth), or the desperate circumstances of women seeking employment, who turn out to be miserable cooks.
The inclusion of a woman’s inner world might just have stopped me continuously passing notes in class about the (seriously not so fascinating) boy in the back row. Perhaps I might have seen some inspiring light, some spark of hope around the creative life I did not know awaited me.
Rosemary Leach paints and writes in Almonte Ontario.