VW NIPS ACROSS THESE YEARS like a butterfly tasting a flower bed, this woman with the long oval face and dark luminous eyes who resembles somebody's remarkable aunt preserved in an ivory locket. She and her husband have tea with artistic friends: Rebecca West, T.S. Eliot, Roger Fry, Elizabeth Bowen, E.M. Forster--a prodigious quantity of tea, to judge from the entries--and they travel across Europe. She writes one minor book, Flush, works with little enthusiasm on The Pargiters, which emerges at last from its cocoon as The Years. She calculates how much The Waves has earned, posts letters, consents to appearances, and waits for an overwhelming surge of creativity.
During these years she passes the 50th meridian of life. She notes friends dropping off. Each death brings moments of regret and depression, yet nothing blurs the creative focus. Writing is what matters. The loss of art critic Roger Fry seems to have affected her most; she felt dazed, wooden, her head stiff, and she observes "a thin blackish veil over everything." But in the next paragraph she is conscious of analyzing herself and feels just enough embarrassed to quote Maupassant on the condition of being a writer: all sufferings, joys, pleasures and despairs become subjects for observation.
She cannot forget Roger Fry. Again and again his name reappears. "What an odd posthumous friendship --in some ways more intimate than any I had in life."
She reads Pirandello, Spenser, Dante, Cicero, Stendhal, Chateaubriand, and various contemporaries, although the impression seeps through that very often she did no more than skim the latest chef-d'oeuvre. Always the diaries bend toward her own work, her determination to get on with The Pargiters: ". . . sometimes my brain threatens to split with all the meaning I think I could press into it."
Social obligations interfere: lunch with Clive Bell, a committee meeting at Lady Oxford's, tea again with Tom Eliot, partying with Hugh Walpole just back from Hollywood where he went to write a scenario of David Copperfield. She finds Walpole sunken, shattered, no longer buoyant after six months of Hollywood, and gone is the "taut, pink skin."
Her eye for appearances is brutal. Even her close friends do not look attractive. Eliot becomes a toad with jeweled eyes. Vita Sackville-West "has grown opulent & bold & red--tomatoe coloured." The Indian politician Panikkar: "swart & greased, like some animal with a thick pelt & very white teeth." Cyril Connolly--whom she did not especially like--is a baboon, his wife a "gollywog slug."
Eliot often comes around, sometimes for the weekend. She describes him not only as a toad, but "tight and shiny as a wood louse (I am not writing for publication). But there is well water in him, cold & pure."
The comment about not writing for publication indicates that she believed otherwise. She was too much aware of her status to have thought for an instant that these diaries would go unpublished; and toward the end of her life, knowing it would end, if she had not wanted or expected them to become public she could have destroyed them.
She seldom writes about her husband, which is surprising, and the few remarks are inconsequential, as if she knew quite well these pages would be opened. Now and then Leonard materializes, yet he scarcely exists. From everything on earth she returns to her desk--from morning walks, parties, excursions, even from her husband.
What should be done about a certain moment in The Pargiters?
How should one respond to the latest review of Flush? The Morning Post called it her most tiresome book and she feels torn between the critic's "yellow feeble teeth." However, Flush is selling nicely enough, a Book Society choice, so there will be money in the account.
Now about The Pargiters--is it whole? Is it good? Does one scene support another? There is so much yet to do. She wonders how long it will take, but reflects that such concerns will fade away. Next year she will have a fresh batch of press cuttings: "the usual Chorus . . . & I shall be saying, That was an attempt at that; and now I must do something different. And all the old, or new, problems will be in front of me."
She and Desmond MacCarthy evidently regarded each other as friends, although his criticism peeved her. He complained that Mrs. Dalloway provided an excuse for writing little prose poems, to which she responds by way of her diary that she hopes all of MacCarthy's eight volumes fail, that he will be unable to pay his income taxes, and that his son Michael who is in Africa will be eaten by leopards.
So many hours among the teacups chatting with Elizabeth Bowen, with Rose Macaulay, fretting over critical attacks. Yet after each interruption she goes back to work. She envies Aldous and Maria Huxley who go everywhere, do everything, "while here I live like a weevil in a biscuit."
Trips with Leonard seem peripheral. She reacts no differently to a day in Ireland or Holland or Greece than to a day at home. Only in Germany does she sound upset, angered by the Nazis; but in 1935 not even the formidable perceptive apparatus of Virginia Woolf could detect what was approaching. If she did sense the future she did not register it. Nervous distaste, then to Italy where, like a camera, she goes right on accumulating detail: grey olives, umbrella pines, men with scythes, and the yellow Arno.
Whatever she thinks worth recording is recorded, and because she was Virginia Woolf it is not difficult to read attentively. Even when she finds herself bored she is not boring. Still, one feels a trace of regret that she spent so much time collecting bibelots. "Harvest all ready. Blackberries ripe. No mushrooms. Abyssinia. Cabinet summoned . . . Janie left the door open. We have our electric stove." These tiny entries produce a noise like the insignificant rustle of mice. Nevertheless one listens with interest, perhaps because her talent and integrity are undeniable.
Wherever she was she worked incessantly, like the waves that pursued her. "Il analyse malgr,e tout," said Maupassant of this obsession, "malgr,e lui, sans fin. . . ."