Month of Letters: Virginia Woolf to Gwen Raverat

For inspiration’s sake, I have been reading books of letters; and I thought I might post a couple of favorites here.  I’ll start with the letter I mentioned in my review below, Virginia Woolf’s letter to Gwen Raverat after her husband Jacques, who had been dying slowly from multiple sclerosis, finally succumbed.  The news had come to her with his final letter to her, praising Mrs. Dalloway, which she had sent him before its publication.

11th March 1925

Dearest Gwen,

Your and Jacques’ letter came yesterday, and I go about thinking of you both in starts, and almost constantly underneath everything, and I don’t know what to say.  The thing that comes over and over is the strange wish to go on telling Jacques things.  This is for Jacques, I say to myself; I want to write to him about happiness, about Rupert, and love.  It had become to me a sort of private life, and I believe I told him more than anyone, except Leonard; I become mystical as I grow older and feel an alliance with you and Jacques which is eternal, not interrupted, or hurt by never meeting.  Then of course, I have now for you–how can I put it?–I mean the feeling that one must reverence?–is that the word–feel shy of, so tremendous an experience; for I cannot conceive what you have suffered.  It seems to me that if we met, one would have to chatter about every sort of little trifle, because there is nothing to be said.

And then, being, as you know, so fundamentally an optimist, I want to make you enjoy life.  Forgive me, for writing what comes into my head.  I think I feel that I would give a great deal to share with you the daily happiness.  But you know that if there is anything I could ever give you, I would give it, but perhaps the only thing to give is to be oneself with people.  One could say anything to Jacques.  And that will always be the same with you and me.  But oh, dearest Gwen, to think of you is making me cry–why should you and Jacques have had to go through this?  As I told him, it is your love that has forever been love to me–all those years ago, when you used to come to Fitzroy Square, I was so angry and you were so furious, and Jacques wrote me a sensible manly letter, which I answered, sitting at my table in the window.  Perhaps I was frightfully jealous of you both, being at war with the whole world at the moment.  Still, the vision has become to me a source of wonder–the vision of your face; which if I were painting I should cover with flames, and put you on a hill top.  Then, I don’t think you would believe how it moves me that you and Jacques should have been reading Mrs. Dalloway, and liking it.  I’m awfully vain I know; and I was on pins and needles about sending it to Jacques; and now I feel exquisitely relieved; not flattered: but one does want that side of one to be acceptable–I was going to have written to Jacques about his children, and about my having none–I mean, these efforts of mine to communicate with people are partly childlessness, and the horror that sometimes overcomes me.

There is very little use in writing this.  One feels so ignorant, so trivial, and like a child, just teasing you.  But it is only that one keeps thinking of you, with a sort of reverence, and of that adorable man, whom I loved.

Yours,

V.W.

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