Diary of Virginia Woolf: Giving the Years a Solid Foundation

As a form of the purest and most secretive form of private writing, the diary has long been dismissed as having little literary value because it is too trivial and lacks a rigorous structure. It was not until the 19th century that the diaries of writers such as John Evelyn and Samuel Pepys and Fanny Burnie were published in Britain. The research on diaries did not gradually attract people’s attention until the 1980s and 1990s, and some research diaries, especially works of women’s diaries, such as “The Hidden World of Women’s Diaries”, the first academic paper on diary research, were published one after another. Collection “Anthology of British Women’s Diary Writing”, etc., “The Poetic Form and Style of a Writer’s Diary” written by Anna Jackson analyzes the forms and styles of diaries including Sylvia Plath, Katherine Mansfield , Virginia Woolf and other writers’ diaries, and compared different versions. Research on Woolf fever has arisen abroad since the 1970s. However, in 2001, after reading Woolf’s diary comprehensively, Perdnicks believed that there was no academic book about Woolf’s diary. There are few related articles published. There are not many reviews of Woolf’s diary in our country at present, and her complete diary has not yet been translated and published.

1. Immediacy: The Form of Life Writing

Woolf’s diary was first selected and edited from 26 diaries by her husband Leonard Woolf, with nearly 158,000 words. It was published in 1953 under the title “A Writer’s Diary”. Elf’s diary about writing. The more complete and authoritative diary is the five-volume edition of The Woolf Diary (the latter three of which were compiled and published by Anne Olivia Bell, wife of Quentin Bell, son of Quentin Bell, son of her sister, Vinnessa). volume with the assistance of Andrew McNeillie), published between 1977 and 1984. It includes 30 handwritten manuscripts of Woolf, spanning the year from 1915, when Woolf was 33 years old, to before her suicide in 1941, and is by far the most authoritative and complete set of diaries. Later, some of Woolf’s scattered diaries were discovered one after another: seven of her earlier diaries, edited by Mitchell A. Leaska, were published under the title “Passionate Apprentices: Diaries of the Early Years”. It even includes a diary written in 1896, which should be the earliest dated. Barbara Longsbury pointed out that the diaries included by Anne Olivia Bell were mainly based on Woolf’s London diaries, but sometimes Woolf had two diaries at the same time, so “Wolf Diaries” About 76 diaries written by Ashheim are omitted from the book. In September 2002 Professor Tony Davies discovered that 7 diary fragments from 1909 that needed to be transcribed were kept in a drawer. He later compiled it and published it under the title Carlisle’s House and Other Sketches.

Diary is an important part of Woolf’s creation. For Woolf, diary is a form of “life writing”, and it is her most comfortable way of writing. Woolf started writing a diary officially at the age of 15 (1897) with her sister, Vinnessa, and her younger brother, Adrian, and journaling has been a part of Woolf’s life ever since. At the beginning, Woolf planned to write down one book every year, but because sometimes the book was not used up, he used the old one, so as not to leave many blanks and cause waste. She often used half an hour after afternoon tea to write, and often wrote a few words while waiting for the guests. She kept a diary very quickly, often jotting down the thoughts that ran through her mind. In her diary on January 20, 1919, when she talked about the feeling of reading her previous diary, she admitted that her handwriting was scribbled and she wrote hastily. . Although this kind of feeling is often inadvertently deviated from the topic, but if you think about it, you will not remember it. However, it is these “accidents” that are the treasures in the rubbish heap, allowing her to capture and display the trajectory of her soul from the calm daily life. Her diary is all-encompassing and varied in content: there are descriptions of daily life, such as weather, income, short-term parents, disputes with the maid, etc; Comments and opinions on other people’s works, thinking on literary works; as well as emotional changes and imagination in their own creations. Thomas Mallon classifies her as a “chronographer,” someone who writes down every detail. It seems that when you write it down, the days have traces of life, which can be stored on the bookshelf and can be withdrawn at any time. She sees the diary as a “slightly deep old table bucket or a large toolbox where we can grab a bunch of jumbled stuff without having to dig through the bottoms”. Woolf took journaling seriously and was often annoyed that he didn’t keep it: “Really, really—this is a shame—the 15 days of November have passed, and my journal isn’t getting any better”; “Shame! Shame! Shame! From April 27th to June 11th, I didn’t remember a word.”

Woolf likes to read other people’s diaries. She has read and reviewed the journals of John Evelyn and Samuel Pepys; in a letter to Sackville-West Vita dated February 14, 1937, she mentions her Reading the Tolstoys’ diary and writing down my feelings. By commenting on the diaries of others, Woolf gave this style high marks, arguing that it was:

The hiding place of the most secret self is the reverberation of the sweetest voices in life, without which even life itself would be poor, shallow and uninteresting. . . . its existence is so real, its comments are so valuable, its faults, mistakes, and vanities are so lovely, that to lose it… is to go to your own grave.

She also likes to read her own past diaries. In December 1919 she wrote: “Oh yes, I would love to read the diary of the past and keep on writing. See how it records a man, it almost has a face of its own.” The diary is A good carrier that can store time, resist forgetting, restore memory, and reminisce about the past. At 34, she imagined burning her diary to ashes when she was 50 with red eyes. Part of the reason for keeping a diary, she says, is for an older self; part of it is to give the years a solid foundation.

2. Literacy: an experimental field for innovation

Writers’ diaries are very different. Some are written for publication or for others to read. For example, Anais Ning allows others to read her diary, but this kind of diary often has too many fakes in it. The real diary is written for myself, so it records my state of mind more directly and frankly. Such diaries are also divided into two types: one is Gerard Genette The so-called “intimate foreign text”: the author talks to himself in the diary, and the reader can learn about the author’s past, present, and even the future, but “if you want to find out detailed and precise information about the creation of the work, it is likely to be Disappointing…Many writers don’t use diaries as a supplement to their creation, but to relax after work.” For example, Lu Xun’s diaries are so condensed that they rarely mention the articles they are writing; Italian writer Cesare Pa Wei Zhe never talks about ongoing creative writing or writing projects in his diary. This kind of diary has certain historical significance, but it is not literary; the other is that the writer discusses the problems encountered in the creative process and his thoughts on the development of literature in the diary. Through the diary, readers can understand the source of the writer’s creation. It is the code for deciphering the connotation of works, such as Kafka and Camus’ diary. They are literary notes prepared for writing, recording sentences, conversation fragments, novel ideas, etc. These fragments will appear in novels and essays in the future and are rich in literature. Woolf’s diary, from the very beginning, is not simply a record of daily life, but a conscious writing practice. She once said in her early years: “There are many ways to write a diary, and I began to disbelieve the description… I hope to write not just what I see, but what I think; to discover what lies beneath the surface. Generally speaking, diaries tend to be written in the first person, however, in the early diaries, Woolf recorded everything that happened in the tone of “Miss Jane”. Salvo believes that this is done to avoid constantly referring to himself, making people feel too narcissistic. Referring to yourself in the third person, you can incarnate as three people at the same time: “I am writing”, “I am being written”, and “Miss Jane”. This can be seen as Woolf’s initial attempt to show a multi-faceted self in his creation. In July 1897, the style of her diary changed further: the description of impressions and feelings increased. For example, when the account goes to the Parthenon and the Great Bazaar in Turkey, she doesn’t write who she was with or what she did, but the voice is always there, and the reader seems to hear them haggling over silk. In August 1899, Woolf began to write a diary, named “War Boy 1899”, and the style was different from before: each diary had a date, but it was written longer, and the description of the scenery and characters was more detailed. , with a sense of humour. By 1903, each diary had a title such as “Reflections on Social Success,” and even had appendices with page numbers, etc. The diary style of late 1919 began to stabilize, mature and endure. Woolf’s experimentation with various forms of diary is undoubtedly an exercise in literary creation, finding the best way to express himself, showing the “modern”

Woolf’s diary provides the most original samples for her creation, and she often intercepts materials from the diary for processing. Almost every one of her works can be found in the diary at the beginning of her creation and her thoughts on the process of writing the book, so there is a strong intertextuality between her diary and her works, so that many critics are analyzing her works. When writing works, often consciously or unconsciously, diaries are quoted as evidence. The moments of feelings and descriptions recorded in the diary kept appearing in her works, such as “Mrs. Dalloway”, which formed the prominent feature of modernist writers focusing on instant experience and reflecting the flow of time. Judy Simons says that the value of Woolf’s diary “is not just a source of material for her novel, but, as a text, is fundamentally essential to her modernist artistic practice”. Therefore, “the diary serves as a nurturing and nourishing space for Woolf’s intellectual development”.

Woolf’s nephew, renowned biographer Quentin Bell, called his aunt’s diaries “one of the greatest diaries in the world,” noting that they were in no way inferior to “The Waves” or “To the Lighthouse.” Indeed, many of the passages in Woolf’s diary are beautifully written and precise, with vivid descriptions of the people around them. For example, she wrote with great interest the scene of a friend’s sister coming to dinner on a Sunday, and the image of a timid, comical and pitiful nerdy “poet” popped up on paper. Her description of her husband’s creation on November 13, 1917: “L started writing the book two days ago and has already written two chapters. He is like the reaper I used to see from my window in Ashheim. , circle after circle, without haste or slow, until finally the small piece of valley left in the middle is harvested, and then everything is done.” In a few strokes, the husband’s rigor, diligence, and perseverance were described, but it also implied that To make fun of his lack of talent. Such descriptions of friends and relatives abound in the diary. The writing style of Woolf’s diary is also reflected in her work. She often uses dashes in her diaries, as well as in her novels: in a sentence, to indicate ambiguity and uncertainty; at the end of a sentence, to indicate duration, openness, etc. Woolf once embedded the form of a diary into his works. For example, he interspersed a diary in his early short story “Ms. Joan Martin’s Diary”, and at the same time used a flashback narrative technique. Because the language was a bit long-winded, it was not accepted by the publishing house at that time. . But when he wrote “Legacy” later, the writer used the diary left by the heroine as clues to string together the whole story, and the language was concise and much more sophisticated. Judy Simons believes that the diary is Woolf’s most comfortable literary style, “the cornerstone of her entire literary career”.

3. Veracity: not entirely reliable historical writing

Recording is a major feature of diaries. It should record true feelings. It is precisely because of this truth that diaries have a special charm that distinguishes them from other styles. Woolf’s diary records many contacts with modern writers, artists, publishers, etc., and provides fresh materials for people to understand the artistic scene inside and outside the Blooms Barry literary circle at that time. This is beyond doubt. However, as far as the diary itself is concerned, is it necessarily true? “There is no definite answer to this.” Quentin Bell made it clear in the “Introduction” of “The Diary”. Diaries are not the same as history, and it is not advisable to examine history based solely on diaries. Quentin’s father, Woolf’s brother-in-law, Clive Bell, once warned future generations not to take everything written in the diary seriously:

Sooner or later, Virginia’s diaries and letters will be published… While the reader enjoys reading, he must let him, especially those who want to write histories and biographies, remember what the author said and did to some people It may be imaginary.

He recalled one night when Leonard read a segment of his diary aloud to a few old friends, and stopped abruptly. Clive said, “This paragraph you read was a little too freewheeling about the weakness and weirdness of the people sitting here today. “Yeah,” Leonard said, “that’s not a reason for me to stop yet. I’m also skipping a few paragraphs because none of them are true. “Diaries are inherently subjective expressions, and cannot be objective records of the objective world. For a writer like Woolf, who pays more attention to subjective reality than objective reality, a little thing may trigger a thousand emotions, and it is unpredictable. Poetic expressions may be objective and fair, and some exaggeration, one-sidedness, and even subjective imagination are unavoidable. Therefore, when analyzing his works, you must be careful if you select materials from diaries as evidence of opinions or actual situations. It must be discriminated; when citing it as a historical material, it should also try to keep the false and retain the true, and must not be equated with objective facts.

In March 1926, Woolf pondered what her husband would do with her diaries if she died: “He probably won’t burn them, and he wouldn’t publish them. Well, I think maybe make a book out of them and burn them. A book; I dare say a book can be made out of it: just get these doodles neat.” After Woolf’s death, her husband did select and publish a book, “The Diary of a Writer.” . He deleted the descriptions of daily trivia and parents; he also deleted the graffiti of some writers when they were emotionally unstable; he also deleted the comments on the writers of the same period and the opinions on some articles (because some writers are still alive, for fear of causing unnecessary disputes or troubles, misunderstandings). Although Leonard aimed to make the world understand Woolf’s creative philosophy or process, he did miss something important: the colorful and authentic diary no longer exists, the writer’s inner struggle and confusion, despair and The complacent, reckless true temperament and so on are gone. What is presented to the reader is just an image of a dry writer who is constantly thinking about literary creation, more serious and less intimate. Due to various concerns, the diary will be reserved when it is published: to avoid or cover up the shadow of the writer’s human nature, and to deliberately elevate the spiritual realm; to refine and polish the text, so that the self-talk without chapters presents a unique order and purity. In this way, the text is neat and logical, but the most important feature of the diary is missing: the writer’s flesh-and-blood emotional life. And this is the most attractive part of the diary, and it can best reflect the true temperament of the writer. What’s more, some seemingly trivial and boring records will inadvertently bring unexpected incentives to future generations. Sylvia Plath said that she was obsessed with writing and housework, and felt that she was too vulgar and practical, and that she could be happy for a long time by baking an apple pie, and blamed herself for this. But when she read Woolf’s diary about “cleaning the kitchen” and “making cod and sausages,” she breathed a sigh of relief: because great writers are not without their fingers, and family life and writing are not Fire and water are incompatible. She felt like her life could be: books, children, goulash. From Woolf’s five-volume edition of “Wolf’s Diary”, we can see that sometimes she is like a social butterfly, keen on parties; sometimes she is shy and has social phobia; sometimes she is optimistic and cheerful, sometimes withdrawn and desperate, etc. She did not shy away from her character flaws such as chewing tongues and exaggerating facts. Not only is this not objectionable to read, but it also feels intimate, because this is a real, skinny, real-life writer. So Plath says reading Woolf’s diary “I felt my life was somehow connected to her, and I loved her”. If the editor omits this part of the description,

Often, the writer’s diary that readers see is not the most original diary, but has been edited or even processed. The editor of the diary is different, and the image of the writer presented to the reader is also different. If the editor edits the original diary with a preconceived attitude, he is bound to choose according to his own preferences. In this way, different diary versions will present different protagonists. The 1927 edition of Katherine Mansfield’s diary edited by John Middleton (Mansfield’s husband) presents a very different image of the writer to readers than Margaret Scott’s 1997 edition; Sylvie The different editions of Ja Plath’s diaries, even those written by her during the same period, leave readers with different impressions. Thus, Anna Jackson says, the diary—each version of the self, like any autobiography, serves both a referential function and a construction. To completely equate the diary with real life events is to put too much trust in private language.


Susan Sontag asks in “Against Interpretation”: “Why do we read a writer’s diary?” Because “we see the self behind the mask of the self in the writer’s writing” “The diary opens the writer’s mind to us.” studio”. Because of its immediacy and spontaneity, the diary is the first-hand information to understand the writer’s inner spirit and outer life. A real diary, in a private narrative, records events and writes people without any scruples, avoiding certain concerns in public discourse, and is a text worthy of analysis and study. Although the diary entering the public space is not equivalent to history, it can be compared and referenced with other published works of the writer, thereby gaining new value and meaning. “The diary records seem to be small details, but they may also lead to major discoveries and breakthroughs in research… As a modern writer’s diary with a strong emotional life turmoil, it is a spiritual heritage worthy of our serious interpretation.” Virginia, the leader of modernist literature ·Wolf’s diary is rare among the world writers in terms of the richness and diversity of its content, and it is a huge and rich literary treasure.

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