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Customer Review

95 of 98 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An introduction to her mind and process, May 11, 2004
This review is from: A Writer's Diary (Paperback)
A WRITER'S DIARY: BEING EXTRACTS FROM THE DIARY OF VIRGINIA WOOLF Edited by Leonard Woolf was in a tradition I love, the practical and inspirational inner life of writers recorded in diaries or letters. Within pages of starting it, I was already back to regular journal writing myself. This volume includes entries from Monday, August 4, 1918, to Sunday, March 8, 1941, within four days of her suicide by drowning.

The real value of this book, I think, which was heavily edited by her husband to protect people still living, I'm told, is that it clearly spells out the troubles and mental burdens of the writer that she was. I loved reading about her processes in writing books of hers that I have read, ORLANDO, TO THE LIGHTHOUSE, MRS. DALLOWAY. (I forgot the affection I held for Mrs. Dalloway until I read about her writing it, and I just felt love for that book all over again.)

One can see the practical issues a writer faces, and I think this book performs the valuable service of illustrating that creative work is WORK, that it doesn't just rise from a magical well of talent and become complete -- voila! -- in the world. She frets about sales, about timing, about editing, about what her friends, Lytton Strachey, Morgan (E.M. Forster) and Tom (T.S. Eliot) will say. What the reviewers will understand of what she was trying to do, what her method should be, etc. It's a vivid account of the pain of creation. And she reminds herself each time a book comes out that she goes through these stages of happiness, dejection and waiting every time she publishes. When her book THREE GUINEAS came out, referring to the media response, she wrote from her home in the countryside, "It's true I have a sense of quiet and relief. But no wish to read reviews, or hear opinions... Mercifully we have 50 miles of felt between ourselves and the din."

She also notes how the slightest criticism is so much more resounding to her that the highest praise (we've all been there!), revealing explicitly that common trait of depressives, that their successes are somehow a sham perpetrated on the world by a cunning and knowing secret failure of a self.

An interesting angle of this book is her experiences in World War II with the bombing of London by the Nazis. She and her husband, Leonard, lost two homes they had in London, and she sometimes wondered if she would die that day in a raid, even forcing herself to write how she imagined dying by bombing would feel. It made me think of de Beauvoir's autobiography, how it was most gripping when she wrote of her life in France during WWII and the Vichy government. I think, particularly in this area, Woolf's unexpergated diaries, which were published later, would prove even more vital and interesting.

She also writes about what she is reading. Woolf was an accomplished critic, and she clearly like to write, to express herself in that way, whether for publication, or for catharsis as an "external processer" in her diaries, and her notes on what soothes her and what is boring for her (some chapters of ULYSSES) and what she ought to be reading if she's about to get killed in an air raid (SHAKESPEARE) are fascinating.

This book is VERY episodic, and while it's a little harder to pick up again, because of the lack of a conventional plot of ongoing issues, it's easy to keep reading for pages and pages once one does pick it up again. There is no plot really apparent here about her mental illness. Her suicide isn't something the reader of this volume sees coming, though she is often ill with headaches and later on, influenza, and as the war continues, she is thinking about the concrete matters of death.

Her lovely writing, colloquial, chatty, insightful and carefully plotting her worries and happinesses is a joy. Her last entry is about finding occupation to keep oneself going and motivated. She is even scheming what she could do with her time, and is grateful to have supper to cook, now that the cook has left the household to be with her sister during the raids. It's very vibrant and lively. It's hard to believe she isn't out there somewhere still making her charming and insightful notes in her journals.

This is a good book for people curious about the process of writing or about the thoughts of Woolf as she composed her books specifically. I would recommend it to them.
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 20, 2012 2:16:21 AM PST
So, why did you give only three stars that made the rating low. I almost thought that the book was bad until I took time to read the reviews in detail.

Posted on Jun 29, 2012 4:21:44 PM PDT
Ssplash says:
Thanks so much for such a sensitive and interesting review of her diaries

Posted on Apr 13, 2015 11:56:20 AM PDT
S. Blades says:
As someone who regularly writes about Virginia Woolf and her work, I find this condensed version of her diary invaluable - easily 5 stars. This review is fantastic, but I think the book should be rated for its intended purpose: as you say, it gives insight into the writing process and authorial intentions behind Woolf's works. The index is easily detailed for research, although I wish there were a third index for subjects and areas of interest besides the two indexes of people and Woolf's works. I use it as a reference for every single article I write on whatever chosen work I've decided to tackle. If readers want a more complex, narrative view of her life outside of these entries chosen specifically about her writing, there's always the regular 5-volume diary and her numerous essays about her childhood, experiences, and reviews of literature.

Posted on Jun 13, 2015 9:27:41 AM PDT
Never has a 3-star review made me want to buy a book, but yours has.

I won't question your rating; it's immaterial.

Posted on Oct 2, 2015 4:55:47 PM PDT
L. Martin says:
It was almost eerie the way you hit almost all of the elements in the diary that I found most interesting and/or moving.

Posted on Jun 19, 2016 3:39:44 PM PDT
Aah, such a rich & carefully wrought review that leaves us wanting even more! It is deeply insightful & provocative. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your insights to be our guide.

Appreciations galore!
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