Virginia Woolf’s posthumously published diaries are often—and rightly—considered among the major achievements of the form, with her biographer and nepVirginia Woolf’s posthumously published diaries are often—and rightly—considered among the major achievements of the form, with her biographer and nephew Quentin Bell unabashedly declaring them “one of the great diaries of the world.” But those now-classic examples of life writing, covering the years 1915 until 1941, are actually not what Lounsberry is concerned with in this study; instead she turns her attention to the diaries the young Woolf kept beginning in 1897 when she was merely fourteen years old. There are twelve early diaries in all, and beyond their obvious biographical interest, Lounsberry discovers within them a complex self-portrait of restless young talent eager to experiment and hone her craft as an aspiring author—first a reviewer and essayist, eventually as a writer of fiction as well.
This study considers the early diaries in strict chronological order, always keeping a keen eye on not just what they record, but how. Lounsberry very persuasively demonstrates that from the very beginning Woolf was fascinated by the diary as a form of literary expression, keenly attuned to the possibilities they provided to experiment in private. Very quickly the young writer came to regard her diary writing as a self-described “compost heap,” providing rich, raw material through which to cultivate work intended for publication and public consumption. Judiciously selected excerpts from the various diaries demonstrate that in many ways the “stream of consciousness” style for which she would go on to pioneer was beginning to take form in these pages as Woolf strains to capture and record the rapid movements of her restless, mercurial mind. It’s dazzling to witness, even via secondary analysis.
The other aspect of Lounsberry’s stated project—a consideration of how Woolf was influenced by the diaries she herself read and studied—was what elevated this study from the interesting to the invaluable; indeed, Lounsberry goes so far as to make the staggering claim that “Woolf was more steeped in diary literature than any other well-known diarist before her—and likely even since.” It can be confirmed that she read at least 66 of them, though she undoubtedly read many, many more. Lounsberry carefully traces how aspects of these many other texts made their way into Woolf’s own diary keeping, sometimes deliberately, other times in much more covert, unexpected ways.
As someone who has kept private journals since a young age and loves to read published examples of the form, Lounsberry’s study was from the get-go of specific interest to me. Beyond convincing me to return to Woolf’s own diaries, I now have a whole list of other diaries I’m now eager to explore, ranging from the perennial classics by Samuel Pepys, Samuel Johnson, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, to the celebrated life writing by the Goncourts and Fanny Burney, and on down to more obscure entries by Stopford Brooke, William Allingham, and the dictated journals of Lady Hester Stanhope. In other words, while I found the analysis and description of Woolf’s diaries and a glimpse into her development as a writer more than engrossing in and of themselves, perhaps more importantly I also managed to discover a dimension of my favorite author’s work and artistic practice that deeply synchronizes with my own, providing more avenues to explore my own development as a writer and diary keeper. ...more
Some twentyplus years after reading this I can't--and won't--vouch for it's actually quality. The high rating is for personal reasons: parts of the diSome twentyplus years after reading this I can't--and won't--vouch for it's actually quality. The high rating is for personal reasons: parts of the discussion at the end of this novel remain vivid in my mind all these years later, and I realize now that they quietly upended several fundamental religious beliefs I held at that time. And within the space of those tiny, initial cracks I can locate the person I later became and am today....more