The last entry in the previous volume of Virginia Woolf’s diary left her sitting over the fire at Monks House, writing of The Waves: ‘it is I think rather good’; five years later to the day, 30 December 1935, the present volume concludes rather sadly with her contemplating the coming struggle of revising and condensing what had, after many baptisms and re-baptisms, become The Years.
Looking back at her career as a novelist from a distance of half a century, we may perceive that the publication of The Waves in 1931 marked the triumphant culmination of a progress, beginning with Jacob’s Room, in which Virginia Woolf explores ever more interesting provinces of what had become her chosen territory; and whether we think of To the Lighthouse or The Waves as the zenith of that happy exploration, there can be little doubt that the 1920s was a time of ever increasing mastery and ever increasing fulfilment, whereas the ’thirties, during which she completed The Years and wrote Flush, Three Guineas, and Roger Fry: A Biography, cannot be regarded as a period of equally prosperous creativity.
Nonetheless, at the outset Virginia was very far from considering The Years an unpromising venture: she was excited and absorbed by her conception. Flush she never took very seriously; and throughout most of the decade she is gathering material, sometimes in a spirit of jubilant ridicule, sometimes with deep anger, for that polemic which, after an array of tentative forms and titles (including On Being Despised and The Next War), finally became Three Guineas. The feminist note, scarcely audible in the previous volume, now sounds clear and often.
Her own medium is naturally the underlying concern of Virginia’s existence, and the triumphs and tribulations of this concern are expressed throughout this diary, whether in relation to her own work or that of others.
She wrote much less criticism than formerly (though she revised and published the second series of The Common Reader), largely because the success of her own books removed the necessity to make money in this way; but as always she read voraciously, including, it should be remembered, innumerable manuscripts submitted for publication to the Hogarth Press—that by now substantial enterprise which increasingly she felt to be a millstone round her and Leonard’s necks.
In 1931 they found a promising manager in John Lehmann, but after eighteen months he left (to return five years later), and her efforts to weaken Leonard’s attachment to his creation and to leave both of them freer were unsuccessful. But lest this dissension should be seized upon as a grain of support for the reckless mythology recently propounded, wherein Leonard and Virginia are depicted as mutually inimical—a theory which would be laughable were it not taken apparently seriously—these diaries should serve to convince the unprejudiced reader that, despite minor differences and disagreements which it would be surprising not to find between two such exceptional characters, her marriage was the bedrock of Virginia’s life: a truly fortunate, prosperous, and happy alliance.
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