- Paperback: 512 pages
- Publisher: Mariner Books; First edition (May 15, 1992)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0156711605
- ISBN-13: 978-0156711609
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #106,776 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Passionate Apprentice: The Early Journals, 1897-1909 First Edition
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Ironically, this causes much of Leaska's research to be unceremoniously ignored. Only readers who have been tempered in the Woolf canon should dare enter these pages, for their content is wasted on the unfamiliar. Even for those who survive such a culling, there still remains the task of ingesting all the background explanation that Leaska has so scrupulously procured in footnote, and this is all but impossible, let alone desirable. We need not trouble ourselves with tromping through the genealogy of a one time visitor at tea, or of the concert programmes for performances Woolf attended. Nonetheless Leaska has supplied information such as this, giving the journals a completeness only Woolf herself might appreciate for the way they contextualize even the minutest incident. For the laity, however, this much context is all but a nuisance. We have enough shivering fragments already. The additions Leaska provides with his research are admirable in presence, but not always useful.
Once we move past this cotton wool, however, we expose several gems to the critical air. The first of these is rather basic, the general account of life in England at the turn of the century that is wholly foreign to our current dependence on technology. Thursday 13 May 1897 tells us, "Evidently the runaway had collided. A glimpse out of the door- to which the young ladies all crowded to get a better view- showed one horse on the ground and a second prancing madly above it- a carriage was smashed up & a wagon turned over on to its side." Then on Sunday 7 February 1897 there is, "The dogs have all got their muzzles off by this time- the muzzling order was taken off one day last week. Nessa, therefore, lives in constant fear of a dog fight" (here Leaska's research is most helpful in explaining the 1871 Muzzling of Dogs Act in Great Britain). The beauty of these glimpses into the past is that they are purely inadvertent. We may attach to them a historical significance that Woof never anticipated.
But there is far more in these journals than a glimpse of the past. In light of the dominant role writing would come to play in her life, acting as a gauge of what was real to the point of addiction, it is almost heretical to read, "...strange though it may seem, the time is always so filled up here, that I get very little time for diarising - even if I wished to, which I don't having taken a great dislike to the whole process" (Monday 9 August 1897). At his point Woolf had only recently waded into the writing profession through book reviews. At the time, her journal was little else than an obligation.
This might be an important reason why the journals of A Passionate Apprentice are largely impersonal. They begin shortly after the death of Woolf's biological mother, Julia Stephen, and include the deaths of first her pseudo mother Stela Duckworth and then her father, Leslie Stephen. The journal text reveals none of this; were it not for Leaska's explanatory introductions at the start of every new journal we might never know they occurred. Julia Stephen's name appears only once, by inference, and the reference "to the nobility of a life which did not seek for any other fame" is backhanded. And almost a year passes in between Leslie Stephen's death and an entry from Woolf. Clearly these journals are not the arena where Woolf battled her emotions and struggled to master them, though we may wish it were so. That, after all, is the reason behind reading them to begin with, to gain a sense of the mind behind the pen. But the evidence before us is only microscopic, and this must always be kept in consideration.
Leaska would have us read these journals to witness the maturation of an apprentice writer. While it is true that there is a marked difference between the writer in 1897 and the writer in 1909, the progression forward is one of utmost subtlety. We accept the 1897 journal as a recapitulation of daily events, hoping that the passage of time will provide more and more autobiographic insight, yet by the later years we find that little has changed. The terse, paragraph length have been replaced by page long blocks of writing, at time, but the expectation of revealing autobiography is still unfulfilled. The latter journals of Greece and Italy, for example are merely Woolf's observations of her surroundings. They are akin to an artist's preliminary sketches, from which he will extract a vision and set to work producing it on the canvas. Here we have Woolf's sketches, but no vision, no final product which shows us how she extracted meaning from her observations.
It is doubtful that Woolf was ever this systematic. But if we were to read the book reviews she produced during this time, we might pick up an important lead. Writing- be it essay or fiction- is a reflection on the writer. Woolf's book reviews, as polished pieces intended for publication, would be just as illustrative of Woolf's internal machinations in her journals, which were never meant for publication and which had the most meaning only to her. It is a paradox of approach: to start at the end (i.e. finished products) and work backwards, or, as Leaska suggests with this book, to start at the beginning with the writer' private ruminations and work forward to a substantial conclusion. Either one precludes the benefits of the other.
The most fascinating aspect of Woolf's journals is something that no amount of scholarly research could easily explain, a series of variously shaped ciphers which appear at the end of entries in the 1897 journal and then gradually taper off. Leaska proposes that "as AVS was still under Dr. Seton's care since her 1895 breakdown, it is possible that they were a private code she used for keeping an account of her moods, especially her bad days; but this is pure conjecture." Several entries support this, where the cipher is preceded by something like "In a temper all the evening" or "Poor Miss Jan [Virginia Woolf] utterly lost her wits dropped her umbrella, answered at random talked nonsense" (here the cipher has a strike through, rather that the usual lone circle) or an event such as Stella's illness. In other instances, there is nothing presented which might explain a foul temper. To call the ciphers meaningless doodles hardly explains the variety among them, or why one in particular looks like the word No. Here we have a loose thread begging to be unraveled, but our hands are frustratingly tied by the unanswered question Why?
"After all books are the greatest help and comfort," Woolf wrote in May 1897. So too is A Passionate Apprentice, not necessarily for the research Leaska has invigorated it with, but for the self-truths that slip out here and there as Woolf is telling us what she did, or who she saw, or where she went. The thing that Woolf wrote most rarely about in these journals, herself, is what we must reconstruct piece by piece. Leaska's presentation brings us one step closer, albeit with a measure of difficulty.