Becoming Virginia Woolf: Her Early Diaries & the Diaries She Read

Becoming Virginia Woolf: Her Early Diaries & the Diaries She Read

Becoming Virginia Woolf: Her Early Diaries & the Diaries She Read

Becoming Virginia Woolf: Her Early Diaries & the Diaries She Read


"Explores the history of Woolf's diaries, not only to reveal heretofore unremarked sources but also to trace her evolving sense of possibilities in diary-writing, possibilities which helped shape Woolf as a fiction writer. A must-read for devotees of Virginia Woolf."--Panthea Reid, author of Art and Affection: A Life of Virginia Woolf "This revealing book gives us a diarist with greater literary range than Pepys and affords us a second pleasure: the infinitely varied voices of the diaries Virginia read. They fascinate us as they fascinate her: those writers who encouraged, warned, comforted, and trained a developing genius."--Nancy Price, author of Sleeping with the Enemy "Lounsberry's deeply researched and gracefully written book shows not only Woolf's development into a great diarist but also her evolvement into the fiction and nonfiction writer revered today."--Gay Talese, author of A Writer's Life Encompassing thirty-eight handwritten volumes, Virginia Woolf's diary is her lengthiest and longest-sustained work--and her last to reach the public. In the only full-length book to explore deeply this luminous and boundary-stretching masterpiece, Barbara Lounsberry traces Woolf's development as a writer through her first twelve diaries--a fascinating experimental stage, where the earliest hints of Woolf's pioneering modernist style can be seen.
Starting with fourteen-year-old Woolf's first palm-sized leather diary, Becoming Virginia Woolf illuminates how her private and public writing was shaped by the diaries of other writers including Samuel Pepys, James Boswell, the French Goncourt brothers, Mary Coleridge, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Woolf's "diary parents"--Sir Walter Scott and Fanny Burney. These key literary connections open a new and indispensable window onto the story of one of literature's most renowned modernists.


A masterpiece. One of the great diaries of the world. So declared Quentin Bell, Virginia Woolf’s nephew, of her heart-stopping, boundary-stretching diary that serves as a doorway to her fiction and nonfiction. Woolf’s diary is her longest, her longest sustained, and her last work to reach the public. Diary scholar Harriet Blodgett calls it “a high point in English diary-keeping” and “a remarkable social document.”

Woolf begins her first extant diary at age fourteen in 1897, and her final entry comes at the age of fifty-nine, four days before her suicide in March 1941. Thirtyeight handwritten diary volumes are safeguarded today in the United States and England. Together they offer some 2,312 entries and 770,000 words—more words than any one of her novels.

Like a hidden gold mine, this diary reached readers in tantalizing segments across a half-century: from 1953 to 2003. As each vein of the mother lode appeared, it has been carefully scoured for Woolf’s references to her works or to the talented friends and family members who made up her storied Bloomsbury Group; scoured, too, for the wider circle of notables, including George Bernard Shaw, Vita Sackville-West, T. S. Eliot, and Ethel Smyth, who came to want to know her. The diaries have been sifted, too, for Woolf’s views on a range of subjects—from art to war. What remains now is to understand the diary as a diary: Woolf’s development as a diarist and her place among, and legacy to, the worldwide community of diarists she so greatly valued and admired.

However, challenges abound. Diaries are still “terra incognita,” French diary theorist Philippe Lejeune reminded us in 2004 (76). I will argue in this book that this fact made the diary particularly attractive to Woolf. Furthermore, as Lejeune also points out, “There is no such thing as a typical diarist” (154). Woolf’s diary itself shifts form radically—particularly across her first two decades as a diarist explored in this book. How to sort through and say something meaningful about such a variegated mass?

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