Memoirs of a Novelist – Virginia Woolf

I believe today is the final day of the wonderfully hosted Woolf in Winter challenge. Though I won’t be joining in with a discussion on The Waves because frankly I am still too wary of Woolf and anything too big I have gone on another rogue Woolfish path as I did with Flush and read a collection of her short stories instead which I managed to get from the library a while ago. I have decided I am going to take Orlando or The Waves away with me in May when I go away for a week somewhere sunny.

From the title I thought that ‘Memoirs of a Novelist’ was in fact some diaries of Virginia Woolf and so picked it up in the hope that after our bumpy relationship so far I might get to know her a little better. As I found out it is a collection of five of her earliest short works ‘Phyllis and Rosamond’, ‘The Mysterious Case of Miss V.’, ‘The Journal of Mistress Joan Martyn’, ‘A Dialogue Upon Mount Penetelicus’ and ‘Memoirs of a Novelist’. Interestingly I did get to know more about Virginia through these works, what interested her from a younger age, her feelings on women and the way they have been treated and some of her passions. She also really took me on a journey of emotions with this work there is melancholic (which I was sort of expecting) to a degree and it was thought provoking but lacked some of the despair of her later writings I have encountered. She also made me have a few giggles and several wry smiles.

The two tales that most interlinked for me were ‘Phyllis and Rosamond’ and ‘The Journal of Mistress Joan Martyn’ as they look at the history of marriage and women though they are to very different tales. The first is of two sisters born and bred purley to marry in the year 1906. They have no other skills apart from helping their mother (which neither really enjoys) and learning how to be a good wife and run a household and what’s more they both know it, and so looks at how life like that must have been. The latter of these two tales didn’t start the way I thought it would and actually became a tale within a tale all done in merely 40 pages. Miss Rosamond Merridew (not the Rosamond of the aforementioned tale) is a keen historian and one day comes across a forgotten manor house and pays a call to investigate meeting the inhabitants and eventually getting her hands on the diary of one of their ancestors, Joan Martyn, a young lady in the 1400’s on the cusp of marriage, in fact rather late to marriage it appears. Both of these stories I enjoyed, the latter particularly for the off beaten setting and premise of a house and diary filled with history and mystery.

The title tale ‘Memoirs of a Novelist’ also seemed to be the tales of two women told at the same time, so two parallel stories if you will. Woolf wonderfully interweaves the tale of a fiction writer Miss Willatt and also of her later biographer Miss Linsett. So much detail and almost factual writing was in this I had to google to check that these people didn’t once really exist. I also thought the ending of this tale was quite remarkable in a slightly melancholic way, I will say no more. I could definitely see shades of ‘Flush’ in this story though.

‘A Dialogue upon Mount Penetelicus’ I didn’t really get, the story is just what it says it is as British tourists climb and descend the Greek mountain. It had a feel of her multiple switching narratives of Mrs Dalloway and found, despite it only being ten pages long, I didn’t know quite where I was and didn’t want to read it a second time to find out.

The final tale, though actually the second in the book, ‘The Mysterious Case of Miss V.’ utterly blew me away. It is only three pages long yet out of the whole collection it has stuck with me and even thinking about it now brings forth some emotions very quickly. I don’t want to really say anything for fear I would give something away and ruin it for anyone who dashes off to read it (highly advisable). I shall simply say it’s the tale of an unmarried woman. I was amazed three pages could have such an effect on me.

So overall this is a great short story collection and another case of me having the grumps at giving it back to the library. It’s left me with a definite feeling that there is hope for me and Ginny after all and even though we will have a break for a few months I am looking forward to getting to know her better on holiday later in the year.


Filed under Hesperus Press, Review, Short Stories, Virginia Woolf

20 responses to “Memoirs of a Novelist – Virginia Woolf

  1. These sound very interesting! Sometimes I just can’t be bothered to get into a Woolf but short stories are always manageable. Good old Hesperus strikes again!

  2. Andreea

    I have to read more Woolf books:)

  3. I still haven’t read anything by Woolf, her novels intimidate me for some reason. These short stories may be a better way to ease myself into Woolf.

    • Jessica I would definitely recommend you give this collection a whirl as I think if I had started with this moved on to Flush and then toyed with the idea of Orlando (which is probably next on my hit list) I would have gelled with her much better from the off.

  4. Louise

    I have never read anything by her, but am currently engrossed in ‘Vanessa and Virginia’ (the current NTTBG book). I realise too that I walk past one of the houses that she lived in each day on my way to work. I feel that I should read something by her, and these short stories sound like just the thing.

  5. catharina

    In january I started reading Virginia Woolfs very first diary (first in The Passionate Apprentice), written in 1897 when she was almost fifteen years old. I read the entries at the same date she wrote them originally . I am thoroughly amazed by the type and amount of books she was reading at that age.
    I will put these short stories on my wishlist.

  6. catharina

    And of course that should have been A Passionate Apprentice.

  7. Simon, this is so very exciting! You, blown away! I love that you gave her so much chances and finally found a spot where you connected with her after all. Like I said in my reply to your comment over at my blog, I think you’d like Orlando. It’s fun and doesn’t need so much work like The Waves does. Thanks so much for reading along with us!!

    • I like to give any author I dont instantly gell with a few chances I think I must have seen something in Ginny’s writing that made me carry on as much as I did. My Mum made me laugh, she said ‘Hmmm Woolf… the author every reader is expected to love and feels very silly if they dont’. Not one to hold back my mother hahaha. I am getting there with Ginny bit by bit!

  8. selena

    I love that you’ve been a rebel all throughout our adventures with virginia. i would have assumed these were also journal entries – and i’m not sure i want to read those yet – it speaks volumes about the collection if you’re taken with it!

  9. I blitzed all of Woolf’s short stories in a couple of very hot summer days back in 2006, and consequently don’t remember a lot about them, other than that some were very good! Kew Gardens is lovely, and The New Dress is interesting… there’s a beautiful collected edition, edited by Susan Dick, which is worth looking out for.

  10. Love that you have gone off on another “rogue Woolfish path.” Very much in the spirit of things. And agree with Claire (when don’t I agree with Claire?) that Orlando would be an excellent next Ginny visit. I described as my playdate with Virginia. Funny and playful just like you.

    Want to join you for Vanessa and Virginia but need to get on the ball. Now let me check the dates…

    • I agree with Claire a lot too, but then I think shes wholly agreeable. I think that Orlando will be next on the list fo Woolf books to give a whirl, maybe in a month or two.

      Hope to see you for Vanessa and Virginia this weekend.

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