Looking back, the weekend was a bit awkward.
Novelist Virginia Woolf, 40, and her husband Leonard, 41, hosted their last house guests for this summer.
Fellow novelist Edward Morgan Forster, 43, arrived on Friday evening, carrying only a fraying backpack for luggage and dressed in old clothes.
American ex-pat poet Thomas Stearns Eliot, about to turn 34, didn’t come until Saturday afternoon, after finishing his day job at Lloyds Bank in the morning. He was dressed a bit more formally.
E. M. Forster and T. S. Eliot at Monk’s House
Morgan kept to himself most of the weekend, writing in his room. Virginia realized that he does better when he is the only weekend guest, not having to mix too much with others he’s not comfortable around.
What was most interesting about the weekend was what was not talked about.
Eliot never mentioned the long poem he’s been working on, which he had read to the Woolfs a few months ago. Although they did talk about a fund that fellow American ex-pat poet Ezra Pound, 36, living in France, is trying to set up for Eliot so he can leave his bank job. Eliot seems a bit embarrassed by the effort.
Virginia is also a bit envious of Morgan’s confidence over the novel he’s been working on.
He is happy in his novel, but does not want to discuss it,”
she writes in her diary.
And no one mentioned the recent coverage of an extensive report by the War Office Committee which, for two years, has been looking into “shell shock” in veterans from the Great War. It is causing quite a stir. One recommendation is that the medical term be changed to “war neurosis” as some who served never really heard shells.
On Sunday afternoon, after tea, Eliot leaves. The whole atmosphere changes. As Virginia records in her diary, she, Leonard and Morgan, “snuggled in & Morgan became very familiar; anecdotic; simple, gossiping about friends & humming his little tunes,”
Meanwhile, one of Virginia’s Bloomsbury friends, biographer Lytton Strachey, 42, has written to her about a “not very stimulating” weekend he is having at Garsington, the country home of former Liberal MP Philip Morrell, 52, and his wife Ottoline, 49. Lytton describes his hostess to Virginia in less than flattering terms:
Ottoline was dreadfully degringole [tumbling down in his opinion]…: her bladder has now gone the way of her wits—a melancholy dribble; and then, as she sits after dinner in the lamplight, her cheek pouches drooping with peppermints, a cigarette between her false teeth, and vast spectacles on her painted nose, the effect produced is extremely agitating. I found I want to howl like an Irish wolf—but perhaps the result produced in you was different.”
Lady Ottoline Morrell
“Such Friends”: 100 Years Ago… is the basis for the series, “Such Friends”: The Literary 1920s. Volumes I through III, covering 1920 through 1922 are available at Thoor Ballylee in Co. Galway, and as signed copies at Riverstone Books in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, PA. They are also on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk in print and e-book formats. For more information, email me at email@example.com.
Later in the year I will be talking about the centenary of the publication of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes at Carnegie-Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh.
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.com and Amazon.co.uk in both print and e-book versions.