Kate Briggs

Leonard Woolf and the Fabrication of A Writer’s Diary

Leonard Woolf and the Fabrication of A Writer’s Diary

This paper focuses on Leonard Woolf’s editing of the twenty-six volumes of Virginia Woolf’s diaries, a project that resulted in a single volume entitled A Writer’s Diary: Being Extracts from the Diary of Virginia Woolf (1954). As a diary, the volume purports to give unmediated access to the daily life of the diarist. Yet, as the editor acknowledges in his preface, A Writer’s Diary in fact offers a selection of excerpts, the gaps between entries stretching to months, even years. The sense of continuity, then, is artificial; so, too, is the focus: if the diary is concerned primarily with writing (dealing with ‘scenes and persons’ in Virginia Woolf’s life, for example, only insofar as those details are seen to impact directly on her work) it is because Leonard Woolf set out to produce a writer’s diary, it apparently being Leonard Woolf’s aim to make and to maintain the difficult distinction between the life and the work. As a very particular form of literary endeavour, A Writer’s Diary can thus be read as a successor to André Gide’s Le Journal des Faux-monnayeurs (1927), which is similarly presented as the daily life of the writing of a novel.

The paper in the first instance explores the notion of the writer’s life as it informs and emerges from Leonard Woolf’s project: how, that is, the selection of material from the many volumes of diaries serves to construct – or to fabricate – a sense of the writer’s life, and of the writing process. I then address the questions of reading that such a project raises. What kind of reader did Leonard Woolf envisage for A Writer’s Diary? How far does the reader’s interest in the private account of its writing depend on an interest in Virginia Woolf’s published work? Writing the preface to the fabricated diary in the mid-fifties, Leonard Woolf seems uncertain of Virginia’s legacy. How far, then, is the publication of the diary intended to provoke a re-evaluation of the published corpus, to secure Virginia Woolf’s reputation – if not as ‘a serious artist’ then at least as someone who took writing seriously? Finally, to what extent does A Writer’s Diary present the processes of literary creation as material for reading in their own right? How far, in other words, doesLeonard Woolf’s construction of what he calls an ‘unusual psychological picture of artistic production from within’ risk overshadowing the productions themselves?

Making Books, Shaping Readers

School of English, O' Rahilly Building, University College Cork, Ireland.