Virginia Woolf, 40, is watching her husband, Leonard, 41, walk their guest for today’s tea, fellow novelist Edward Morgan Forster, 43, to the bus stop. Forster is heading out to visit his favorite aunt in Putney, just a few miles away.
Virginia is so pleased that Morgan has come back to England—just last week—after almost a year away in India. But he seems depressed. He’s back living with his Mum and cat in Weybridge, in an ugly old house far from a train station, and hasn’t published a novel in a dozen years.
They discussed their recent mutual discovery of the work of Marcel Proust, 50. Forster started reading him on the boat back home; Virginia has been reading the Frenchman while working on a short story, “Mrs. Dalloway in Bond Street.” Both admire the way he uses memory to define characters.
Two days ago the Woolfs hosted another writer-friend for tea, American ex-pat T. S. Eliot, 34. He too seems a bit distracted by his current situation, working all day in a bank and coming home to a wife who is ill. Virginia has always been intimidated by him. Forster she thinks of as a friend, someone whose opinions she values. Eliot she sees as a competitor.
E. M. Forster and T. S. Eliot
Tom told them about a long poem, about 40 pages and as yet untitled, that he’s working on. He says it is his best work and the Woolfs’ Hogarth Press has agreed to publication in the fall. He has also received funding to start a quarterly literary magazine, also untitled.
There was something about Eliot that Virginia thought she had noticed before. He wears a thin dusting of face powder. Sort of a purplish color. The gossip is that he wants to make himself look even more stressed than he is.
After two months of sickness herself, being bed-ridden and unable to write, Virginia is now feeling her energy returning. The doctor has allowed her to get out and walk—which is how she writes, working out the text in her head. And she can now receive guests such as Morgan and Tom.
She still doesn’t understand Eliot’s enthusiasm for the new novel by Irishman James Joyce, 40, Ulysses. Virginia and Leonard rejected it for their press a few years ago. Now a little bookstore in Paris has published it. The way Eliot talks about the novel, Virginia feels that Joyce has done what she is trying to do—maybe even better?
Virginia decides she needs to go back and read Ulysses again.
“Such Friends”: 100 Years Ago… is the basis for the series, “Such Friends”: The Literary 1920s. Volumes I and II covering 1920 and 1921 are available as signed copies at Riverstone Books in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, PA, and also in print and e-book formats on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. For more information, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This June I will be talking about the Stein family salons in Paris before and after the Great War at the Osher Lifelong Learning program at Carnegie-Mellon University.
If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”: Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.
Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ relationships with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, is also available on Amazon in both print and e-book versions.