The World Broke in Two: Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster, and the Year That Changed Literature

The World Broke in Two: Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster, and the Year That Changed Literature

by Bill Goldstein


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250182500
Publisher: Picador
Publication date: 08/07/2018
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 350,485
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Bill Goldstein, the founding editor of the books site of The New York Times on the Web, reviews books and interviews authors for NBC's "Weekend Today in New York." He is also curator of public programs at Roosevelt House, the public policy institute of New York's Hunter College. He received a PH.D in English from City University of New York Graduate Center in 2010, and is the recipient of writing fellowships at MacDowell, Yaddo, Ucross and elsewhere.

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Even when Virginia Woolf was feeling well, winter took a toll.

"Oh but the cold was too great at Rodmell. I was frozen like a small sparrow," she wrote one January. At a happy time, the perennial cold might be no bar to writing with pleasure, whether in London or at Monk's House, in Rodmell, their country home in Sussex. Even "a few staggering sentences" were enough satisfaction for a morning's work, the frigid weather almost enlivening her mood, especially when the recompense was the icy beauty of Monk's House at Christmas time or New Year's.

"Oh its [sic] so lovely on the downs now ... I lie on the ground and look; and then the bells tinkle, and then the horses plough; and then, forgetting all the days to come and days past and this day and tomorrow, — well, you know the mood."

New Year's Eve, December 31, 1921, a Saturday, had been spent at Monk's House, but eager to be back at work early in the new year, Virginia and her husband, Leonard, returned by a Monday afternoon train to Hogarth House, 40 Paradise Road, in Richmond upon Thames, a suburb southwest of London.

Tuesday was to be her first day of work, and Virginia, as if to prepare, wrote a long entry in her diary, which for the sake of "parsimony" she wrote in the "odd leaves at the end of poor Jacob," in the notebook she was using for her third novel, Jacob's Room. She was looking forward to being busy again — writing, reading, printing.

Her apology to herself for not writing in her diary as often as she liked was "quite truthfully, the Hogarth Press," she wrote after a gap of ten days. The press would mark its fifth anniversary in 1922, and a number of its recent books had sold surprisingly well for Christmas, including an edition of Roger Fry's woodcuts that had been reprinted twice, and which she had hand-stitched herself in December. In October, they had bought a larger secondhand printing press for £70 and decided to use their Paradise Road basement for a print shop. More important, in November she had finished the draft of Jacob's Room. She had already begun revising it so that they would be able to publish it in the spring — the first full-length work of hers that Hogarth would issue.

Virginia also had a book of essays, about reading, in mind. Once those were under way, in January, "I shall think of another novel, I daresay." Looking ahead to her work in 1922, she had wondered, "Will my fingers stand so much scribbling?"

But almost as soon as she and Leonard were back at Hogarth House, Virginia came down with influenza. On the night of the fifth, "I was shivering over the fire & had to tumble into bed." Sentences, staggering or otherwise, were not forthcoming.

Winter had settled unseasonably over London as early as November — "Winter is upon us; fog, frost, every horror," Virginia wrote to her sister Vanessa Bell — and remained extremely bad. "We go to bed under red blankets, quilts, fur coats," she had written, worried all through the autumn and into the winter that she would become sick with influenza. She had escaped, until the new year. This was to be one of those long Januaries that Leonard found dispiriting, particularly at Monk's House: "a north east wind sweeping on to the croft ... and a grim grey sky hanging not more than two feet above the elms and rain, sleet or snow banging on the windows." Sunset was at only shortly after three in the afternoon, so it was unsurprising that "one creeps about the house longing only for bed. Even without a cold, one's nose drips perpetually." Whatever the weather Virginia would have worked in the mornings, and even in January, whether in the country or in town, she would have walked in the afternoon — if influenza didn't mean she wasn't allowed out.

To walk was, to Virginia, also to write, for she worked out sentences in her head as she walked, settling them in her mind in order to write them down the next day. In London's winter cold, or in Sussex's summer splendor, Virginia walked after tea at four p.m., loping her own "delicate" way "a little unevenly, one foot turning very slightly inwards," through the countryside or city and going through the sentences she'd composed that morning, writing and rewriting in her head to seal that day's work and — observing people, hearing their talk — to anticipate her next day's adventure. "I keep thinking of different ways to manage my scenes; conceiving endless possibilities; seeing life, as I walk about the streets, an immense opaque block of material to be conveyed by me into its equivalent in language," she had written while working on her second novel, Night and Day, published in 1919. She had not — and would never — change.

Virginia had come to London resolved to start work on the essays on reading she was thinking through. "Tomorrow my reading begins!" she had written in her diary. But her reading did not begin the next day.

Leonard Woolf's pocket appointment diary recorded the sudden change in Virginia's health: "Work morn Walk w V aftn V. unwell even Went disp. Saw Fergusson," meaning he had done his own writing in the morning and took a walk with Virginia in the afternoon, and then in the evening she was ill. Leonard went to the dispensary, and they saw Dr. D. J. Fergusson, the local doctor, whose office was a short walk from Paradise Road.

Leonard's pocket diaries are filled with abbreviations, written quickly to save time, to jog his memory about daily and weekly events, and even, perhaps, as parsimonious as he was, to save money on ink. His entries recorded their daily routines, his careful inscription of the same activities day after day — work and printing usually in the afternoon — itself a routine, the main variations across the year consisting only of the names of visitors for tea or dinner, or an overnight stay. Leonard and Virginia made no distinction between weekdays and weekends, at Hogarth House or Monk's. "We should have felt it to be not merely wrong but unpleasant not to work every morning for seven days a week and for about eleven months a year," Leonard later recalled.

* * *

"Its [sic] foul," Virginia wrote of influenza, "it leaves one like a watch that doesn't tick." And unable to scribble. Her days were instead spent bedridden, largely without visitors, one of the usual compensations for her morning's work, and she was conscious only of waste. Not writing her reading essay — not revising Jacob — these were losses enough. But every day of January that passed meant that the twenty-fifth, and her fortieth birthday, were one day closer.

On Thursday the twelfth, a week after she first became ill, it was a major step that "V came down for tea," Leonard noted in his diary. A few days later, on Sunday, the fifteenth, "Vanessa came dinner," Leonard wrote. Vanessa was just back from a three-month painting trip in France and would soon be gone again. The hurried meetings before she went away again were painful for both sisters. Virginia feared that Vanessa's travels, and her children, left her, by contrast, seeming "settled & unadventurous," in her own eyes, and in Vanessa's. Virginia, childless, felt constitutionally "less normal" than her sister. Vanessa, in turn, pursuing her art in France, felt that Virginia and Leonard had something "binding" in their marriage as they approached their tenth anniversary that she, despite her three children, and her husband, Clive, and her lover, Duncan Grant, lacked in her own life. In London her work and Duncan's went for virtually nothing, she thought, whereas in France it could be at the center of their lives — just as in London, writing and books were at the center of Virginia and Leonard's and their circle of friends.

In London Vanessa felt invisible — in the shadows in Bloomsbury and in the larger world of the arts. "I have seen all the cleverest people," she complained to Virginia, "and not one has asked me about the South of France. Nobody mentioned painting." She had even hung two of her own and Duncan's latest paintings in Maynard Keynes's apartment, and he never noticed them, Vanessa said. Virginia tried to feel sympathy, but the way in which Vanessa seized independence —"only sixpence a year — lovers — Paris — life — love — art — excitement — God! I must be off!" left her "rather depressed," Virginia wrote in a letter to her "Dearest Dolphin," after another of Vanessa's visits, that her own life seemed to her a "dull respectable absurd" one in Vanessa's judgmental eyes. "This leaves me in tears."

Her sense of difference from Vanessa unsettled her, "donkey that I am ... susceptible to the faintest chord of dissonance twelve fields away," she wrote in her diary after one visit. It was transitory and would pass, she knew — except that this time, ill as she was, and unable to write, her own life "did not very vigorously rush in," the usual recompense, her work, forbidden her by her doctor, who proscribed writing as too much of a strain. This meant it was impossible for her to write for her two hours every morning, "the sacred morning hours," she called them. "Phrase tossing can only be done then." When she was well, the afternoon was set aside for printing; then she would write letters and in her diary, usually for a half hour after tea. Her diary served the same purpose as her walks, and she kept to both as regularly as possible, believing, as she put it in 1919, "the habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments. Never mind the misses and the stumbles. Going at such a pace as I do I must make the most direct and instant shots at my object, and thus have to lay hands on words, choose them and shoot them with no more pause than is needed to put my pen in the ink."

* * *

Life, she wondered, "consists of how many months? That's what I begin to say to myself, as I near my 40th birthday," she wrote in January, the day almost ominously without light: illness and the weather had turned her inward upon her "exacting brain," isolated in her solitude rather than liberated from social obligations. "The machinery for seeing friends is too primitive: one should be able to see them by telephone — ring up, & be in the same room," she wished, for even when she was well, too many visitors often left her "in tatters," a state in which "my mind vibrates uncomfortably," and she might feel consumed by the failures of the encounters: "One's talked nonsense; one's ashamed; they've been uncomfortable; the contact of one with the other was difficult."

Yet she didn't like to be away from people too long, either. Too much isolation seemed a proof of illness and frailty and brought uncomfortable vibrations of a different kind. An "endless rain of visitors" brought frustrations but also reminded her of childhood, and of summer vacations in St. Ives, Cornwall, where family life "was rather shabby and casual" and Talland House "untidy and overrun with people," her nephew Quentin Bell would write.

Turning forty was to be an unhappy milestone for Virginia Woolf. "I feel time racing like a film at the Cinema. I try to stop it. I prod it with my pen. I try to pin it down."

* * *

Virginia's influenza was an inconvenience to her ambition, but it was not only that. The morning she became ill, the Times reported that there had been 151 deaths from influenza in London that week, nearly triple the number — 54 — in the preceding week. This was the start of what would soon be recognized as an epidemic. The Times had reported on a steep rise in "Winter sickness" as early as November, with the medical correspondent warning that "persons with weak hearts or chests must ... avoid rapid changes of temperature, which severely tax the circulation and which lower bodily resistance to infection," among other nostrums.

Virginia had been worried she would become ill because she had very good reason to: she was among those warned to take particular care. She had been so eager to begin work early in 1922 because she had lost so much time to serious illness in 1921.

Seven months before, Leonard had noted an ominous change on June 10, 1921: "V went concert[.] Could not sleep." It had been years since Leonard had recorded Virginia's insomnia — or had the need to monitor her health so minutely. As the weekend and the following week proceeded, the situation worsened: Monday, "V still unwell"; Tuesday, "V not well." On Wednesday and Thursday Leonard's entries collapsed economically to "Ditto." Even his usual shorthand was too much to write out. The last time he had used his diary to track Virginia's failing health in this way had been six and a half years before, in February 1915, and his abbreviations were similar to those he used then, a replay of the familiar and the foreboding. For most of 1915 Woolf had been given sedatives liberally, as she had also been in 1913, when she had been ill for nearly a year and had attempted suicide with an overdose of Veronal, the sleeping medication she was once again using, time folding in upon itself.

The summer of 1921 set a cascade of "plagues" upon her, she wrote to Lytton Strachey. She had endured "days spent in wearisome headache, jumping pulse, aching back, frets, fidgets, lying awake, sleeping draughts, sedatives, digitalis, going for a little walk, & plunging back into bed again," she wrote in her diary. Only in August was she sleeping well without medication.

"What a gap!" Virginia had exclaimed in her diary on August 8, "two whole months rubbed out — These, this morning, the first words I have written — to call writing — for 60 days." She had lost weight, despite oppressive milk cures that she hated, but by autumn, recovering despite the unpalatable regimen, she was more sanguine. "Oh what a damned bore!" she had written a friend, making light of the severity of a crisis in order to be entertaining. She spent much of the fall "scribbling away" to make up for lost time. She had felt better in the autumn for that reason, closer to finishing Jacob's Room — and because September at Rodmell had brought gorgeous weather and long walks after summer rains. To be bedridden again so soon, after only four months in the autumn and winter, and with her revisions of her novel only partially done, was as dispiriting — and as debilitating — as the second bout of illness itself. The consequences to her work would be too great. She had wanted to publish Jacob's Room in the spring of 1922. Now it would have to be postponed until the autumn. It seemed too long to wait.

* * *

She had been incapacitated for long spells of her life, because of either mental illness or physical illness. To become ill, even not very seriously, was never free of apprehension for Virginia. The gap of summer had meant, as she had written in her diary, "all the horrors of the dark cupboard of illness once more displayed for my diversion." Among the particular symptoms of the epidemic of 1922, the Times reported, was a "tendency to 'feel the heart'— i.e., to palpitation," the breathlessness, nervousness, and muscular pains that were typical leading to a "marked depression" that was generally likely to occur along with heart trouble — and the threat of which exacerbated the disturbances of even minor illness for Virginia. The dark cupboard seemed to be opening again, and far too soon. She had had such a short time in which to catch up, to return to the necessary order of her days.

* * *

Leonard monitored Virginia's habits, and their finances, very carefully, noting their daily, weekly, monthly, and annual expenses, minuscule or large, ever more rigorously as the years went by after their marriage in August 1912. In 1921, he bought socks on July 29 and razors on August 5; a year later, on August 28, 1922, he replenished his supply, six razors for 3 shillings. Virginia bought a comb on January 5, just before falling ill. They bought a mousetrap, at 2 shillings and 6, on May 9. He would note his purchase of a toothbrush and a nail brush in 1923 but seems to have bought neither in 1922, an actuality more likely than that he would have omitted to record the purchase. Observing Leonard at work on the ledgers of the Hogarth Press, Clive Bell, Virginia's brother-in-law, called him "the inexorable Jew."

Virginia was not always happy about Leonard's supervision, which could seem punitive, and Leonard knew that it was not always wise to exert the control over her daily schedule that he wished to, for her own good. He was careful on Virginia's behalf partly because she was not, and because he knew that there was never, as Willa Cather would write about Katherine Mansfield, "an interval in which she did not have to drive herself beyond her strength." But Leonard was also careful because he knew that if he managed Virginia well, then she was at greater liberty to write, and to do her work with greater freedom of mind. He had learned that the "continual nagging which that kind of shepherding always involves" would "do no good & only spoil things" — so he knew he must be as unobtrusive a monitor as he could be, aware at the same time that "it was mad" to be too unmindful, even when nothing appeared to be wrong. Now, as the two months' gap that had hobbled her in 1921 seemed to reappear to mar 1922, his task was more delicate than ever. After one examination that winter, Virginia wrote in her diary that the doctor was worried about her heart. He "pronounced my eccentric pulse had passed the limits of reason & was in fact insane." They spoke in metaphors of mental illness even when trying hardest to avoid the precipice.


Excerpted from "The World Broke In Two"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Bill Goldstein.
Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Introduction 1

1 Virginia Woolf Nears Forty 11

2 Eliot in January 30

3 Edward Morgan Forster 56

4 "Somewhere Away by Myself" 77

5 "The Greatest Waste Now Going On in Letters" 94

6 "Without a Novel & With No Power to Write One" 113

7 "The Usual Fabulous Zest" 123

8 "English in the Teeth of All the World" 141

9 "Do Not Forget Your Ever Friend" 159

10 "Eliot Dined Last Sunday & Read His Poem" 173

11 Women in Love in Court 187

12 The Waste Land in New York 207

13 "I Like Being with My Dead" 221

14 A September Weekend with the Woolves 231

15 David and Frieda Arrive in Taos 249

16 "Mrs Dalloway Has Branched into a Book" 265

17 "What More Is Necessary to a Great Poem?" 278

Epilogue 287

Notes 295

Bibliographic Note 333

Acknowledgments 335

Index 341

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The World Broke in Two: Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster and the Year That Changed Literature 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
PrettyPageTurner More than 1 year ago
This could have been an extremely dry literary history, but in the hands of the stellar Bill Goldstein, it reads like a novel. The interaction between the principles is engaging and the historical context is a very new and unique perspective of these famous writers. Getting a glimpse of them on the cusp of greatness with all their insecurities and doubts, makes one look at their work in a completely different way. A read book nerds and history nerds can discuss together.