"HAVE YOU MET ANYBODY OF SUCH BEAUTY YOUR EYES DANCED, AS THE WAVES DANCED, NO IT WAS THE STARS, WHEN SHAKESPEARE'S WOMAN—LORD LORD I'VE FORGOTTEN ALL I EVER KNEW—WAS BORN?": MAGNIFICENT ORIGINAL TYPED LETTER OF OVER 700 WORDS FROM VIRGINIA WOOLF TO HER NEPHEW, QUENTIN BELL, WITH A NUMBER OF SMALL CORRECTIONS IN WOOLF'S HAND
WOOLF, Virginia. Typed letter with autograph corrections. London, February 17, 1930. Two sheets of unlined blue paper, measuring 7 by 9 inches; pp. 4. $19,500.
Wonderful original typed letter from Virginia Woolf—with autograph corrections presumably in her hand—to her nephew, Quentin Bell, concerning her recent experience with illness; the uncomfortable responsibility of selecting manuscripts for the Hogarth Press; visits from various friends and relatives including Helen Anrep, Roger Fry, Vanessa (Nessa) Bell, Vita Sackville-West, and Elizabeth Watson; a difficult newspaper promoters' meeting that Woolf did not plan to attend; Vanessa Bell's artistic success; a call for censorship from Rory Mahoney; Woolf's nervousness about a lecture at the Royal Academy; plans to go to Cassis and an invitation to meet in Paris; a bevy of (occasionally silly) questions for Quentin; and the sunset.
This letter was written from Virginia Woolf to her nephew (Vanessa Bell's son), Quentin Bell. Bell would come to be known as "The Chronicler of Bloomsbury" (New York Times). He published a much-lauded biography of Virginia Woolf in 1972 ("a cornerstone of literary scholarship" (New York Times)) and published several other works about the Bloomsbury Group, including his own memoirs. The typed, unsigned letter, dated "17th Feb. 1930" from "52 Tavistock Sq.," reads (with original typographical errors and corrections presumably by Virginia Woolf): "My dear Quentin, I have been having influenza, and being in bed, could not write to you, because I could not type, and so the most amazing letter in the world (which it would have been) remains unwrutten. My brain was packed with close folded ideas like the backs of flamingoes when they fly south at sunset. They are now all gone—a few grey draggled goose remian [autograph slash across "i" in "remian"], their wing feather trailed and mud stained, and their poor old voices scrannel sharp and grating—that's [autograph apostrophe] the effect of typing; every sentence has its back broke, and its beak xxxxx awry. Nevertheless, as I want nothing so much as another letter from you, I must eke it out.
"I/am [autograph slash between "I" and "am"] sitting over the fire with masses of virgin—what d'you think I'm going to say?—typescript by my side; novels six foot thick to be read instantly or I shall [autograph "l" added to "shall] be knived by cadaverous men at Bournemouth [autograph "h" added to "Bournemouth"] whose life depends on my verdict; and amorous typists. They write because they cant have their nights to their liking. This is hard on me. They write to revenge themselves uponthe young men at the fish shop, or the young woman in red at the flower shop. So what news have I? Helen's [autograph apostrophe] been here; Roger's [autograph apostrophe] been here; and Nessa; and Vita; and just before I fell ill, your Miss watson. She is a nice girl—yes, I liked her. She stood fire from Roger very well. He was [autograph "s" in "was"] at his most sweeping and searching, raking her with terrific questions and denunciations. There was Julian's [autograph apostrophe] Mr Empson too—a black and red sort of rook, very truculent, and refreshing. None of your etiolated, sophisticated, damp, spotted, you know what I mean—Tonight there's a grand [autograph "r" in "grand"] meeting, which I cant [autograph "n" in "cant"] attend, of the new paper promoters, at Rogers. How young and ardent we all are at our age, flinging guineas on the waves and believing in the rule of reason and the might of art and the downfall of our enemies! [autograph exclamation point] But Raymond says the paper must be shiny; Roger says shine means shoddy; shine means Mayfair. Well you can fancy howthe argument goes and the tempers fly and the old friends are excoricated. I cant to go to Heals to see your picture, but was ill that moment; however if its there/next [autograph "e" and slash] week I shall try. Nessa has had a great success and members of the aristorcary xxxxx rend their gloves asunder competing for her pictures. My foreword has roused Mr Rory Mahoney as his name suggests to fury. He says I am indecent, and must be suppressed. Never mind, Sickert has asked me to foreword his show; and I'm now asked to lecture on Art atthe Royal Academy! only on Zoffany it is true, from the social aspect [autograph "p" in "aspect"], still it's the R.A., [autograph comma] and I am very much set up to think how a writer can be of /use [autograph slash crossing out "y"] in your sublime silent fish-world. Still, I shan't [autograph apostrophe]. No; I can't. I can only write gibberish—oh you cant think what gibberish my next book will be. I fancy you tactfully apologising and tapping your forehead when you hear people say, Is that your Aunt?
"I have a wild plan to go to Cassis next week to recover. If so, We [autograph "W" in "We"] migh meet in the gare de Lyons. and coming back recovered I should spend two or three days at the Londres and then we would sit in the spring light quizzing and fizzing—what fun, oh what fun. And why does one never do, instantly, the things ones thinks of?
"I am now drifting to the region/of [autograph slash] questions. What did you have for breakfast? Where did you dine last night and so on? And are you in love? [autograph "d" in "And"] And are you happy? And do you sometimes write a poem? And have you had your hair cut? And have you met anybody of such beauty your eyes dance, as the waves danced, no it was the stars, when Shakespeare's [autograph apostrophe] woman—Lord lord Ive forgotten all I ever knew—was born? [autograph question mark]
"Well here I will stop; Itis five oclock on a fine evening, and if I [autograph "I"] were a painter/I [autograph slash] should take mycolours to the window and do a brilliant little panel of the cl ouds over the hotel; how I should like bowling them round and filling them in with a fiery white [autograph "e" in "white"] and a bluish grey.
"Well dearest Quentin write me a [autograph "a"] nice long letter please.
"Your poor dear old dotty Aunt V. [Virginia Woolf]."
Woolf's letter offers astonishing insight into her life in February of 1930, just four months after the publication of A Room of One's Own. During that interim, she had lapsed once again into an ill state. Although she calls her illness "influenza" in the letter, she used this term as a catch-all for a recurring illness that would often leave her bedridden. During these periods, she suffered from fevers, headaches, insomnia, and dramatic weight loss. Occasionally, she would suffer from delusions and hallucinations. This ill health was frequently accompanied by manifestations of her bipolar disorder—a then-unnamed condition she alludes to by recounting her "close folded ideas… now all gone." However, Woolf's illness was not entirely psychosomatic; many scholars including Douglass Orr now believe that she may have suffered chronic health complications from an early bout of rheumatic fever. Certainly, a doctor enamored of quack medicine once pulled out three of her teeth believing that an infection in the roots was causing her illness. It was not and Woolf wrote angrily and at length about the loss, which forced her to wear false teeth. Indeed, Woolf's use of the clearly incorrect term "influenza" is interesting in itself: Woolf's mother died from rheumatic fever caused by the flu. Woolf may have recognized something her doctors did not. Once recovered from her early 1930 illness, Woolf returned to her regular work of writing novels and editing for the Hogarth Press. While here she complains about the pressure of selecting manuscripts, 1930 proved a successful year for the press with the publication of Vita Sackville-West's The Edwardians. Additionally, Woolf met with her friends frequently during the year. In this letter, she mentions receiving visits by artist Helen Fry and her husband, painter and critic Roger Fry; her sister, Vanessa Bell; her longtime companion and lover, Vita Sackville-West; a close friend of Woolf's nephews, Elizabeth Watson; and poet and literary critic William Empson. Woolf also states that she will not be attending a "grand meeting," thought she appears to know much of the business that would be conducted there and is adamant about avoiding yet another dust-up between Roger Fry and Charles Raymond Bell Mortimer (the former of whom was Vanessa Bell's lover and latter of whom was having a sanctioned affair with Clive Bell, Vanessa Bell's husband). Most of these individuals, including the last two, were members of the Bloomsbury Group, among whom arguments were as common as romantic co-mingling. Their primary (and often sole) commitment was to art. By 1930, the bonds between individuals in the group were beginning to fray and mental illness would go on to claim several members including Woolf. Yet, some, like Woolf and her sister Vanessa (mentioned in the letter) were having their greatest individual success. Woolf, in a foreword to a collection of her sister's paintings, managed to enrage Rory Mahoney, a fact she mentions in other contemporary letters. Nevertheless, here, she mentions her intention to forward a show by English painter and printmaker Walter Sickert, about whom she would later published a book in 1934. Clearly, mere criticism did not stop Woolf from continuing to produce work. In this letter, she mocks as "gibberish" her early progress on The Waves—an experimental book often judged as one of her best. Despite her career success, Woolf's physical and mental suffering led her to desire time away. She refers to her "wild plan to go to Cassis," ultimately a plan of limited wildness as she owned a cottage near her sister there and visited it often. The end of her letter finds Woolf in a playful mood, asking her nephew several silly question about breakfast and haircuts and his love affairs, a slightly frantic passage suggesting that she has not fully recovered from her earlier mental distortions. And, indeed, she would not, finally drowning herself after years of internal struggle in 1941. This letter was published in The Letters of Virginia Woolf: 1929-1931. Pencil notations reading "Tomkins Palazzo Orsini" and 1930 in an unknown hand.
Toned creases and a bit of splitting at creases to letter. Extremely good condition.