• Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

"He'd been bullied at school, and he made what he called his carapace around him -- a sort of protective shell, so that nothing mattered. He didn't even admit to himself that it made any difference that he was a Jew, but actually it did."

"The anti-Semitism voiced by many of the Bloomsbury group is quite jarring from today's perspective. Was their view representative of the general feeling at the time?"

"I think they were less inhibited about saying it. They prided themselves on saying everything -- talking about sex and semen and whatever they wanted to talk about. That was part of their rebellion against Victorian stuffiness. So, they talked about Jews as well.

"In the general middle- and upper-middle classes, and even in the working class in England before the war, there was a kind of unthinking, casual, but unattractive way of talking about Jewish people. It's rather like in Ireland; people from Dublin make jokes about people from County Kerry. Or people in England making jokes about the Welsh. It wasn't thought about as lethal, it was a sort of casual snobbishness about the outsider."

"I was interested that every time some new atrocity would occur during the second war, Leonard would break out in another round of eczema."

"It is very strange how Virginia had florid ways of expressing her anguish, and he had private physical ways of expressing his. The trembling hand was inherited, so it wasn't entirely stress and anguish, but it always got worse when he was nervous. The eczema was a real scourge to him -- terrible bleeding and itching, and that always got worse -- either after Virginia's illness or when he heard about what was happening in Nazi Germany in the 1930s. It was his way of expressing distress because he couldn't allow himself any other way."

"Why, given the fact that the Woolfs published Freud and that several of the Stracheys worked with him, did no one think of having Virginia analyzed?"

"Well, I think two things. Even now, I don't think that people that have quite violent psychotic episodes, as Virginia often did, are quite suitable for analysis. It's more for neurotics than for psychotics. Also, because so many people they knew had jumped into this wonderful new thing, and they knew them very well, with all their tiresomeness and eccentricities, and even inadequacies, they just knew them too well. They wouldn't have sent a dog to any of them. It's as if your strange uncle was an expert in something; he's the last person you'd go to.

"Virginia, of course, never read Freud at all until 1939, a couple of years before her death. Leonard always had a very sound appreciation of Freud. He wrote an early review of The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, in which he said, 'He's more a poet than a practitioner.' Many people would say that now, of course."

"It is so tragic to read that Leonard said, later in life, that he had made no impact on the world. To what extent is that accurate?"

"He worked nonstop for the prevention of war and for anti-imperialism. The number of committees, the number of pressure groups, and the number of hours he put in! I think that what he felt, at the end of his life, was that people were still as barbaric. After the empire was broken down or was cancelled, the countries broke down into civil war or into increased barbarism.

"I think what he was really saying is that human nature doesn't change. We are somehow unredeemable and we don't learn from history. Human nature doesn't get any better, and man's treatment of man doesn't get any better."

I confess to Ms. Glendinning that I find it a curious paradox that he maintained, throughout his entire life, that 'nothing mattered,' and yet he still worked so hard for social reform.

"I think it's very touching that when a much younger woman who was his great friend and support in his last years challenged him about that thing -- nothing matters -- he just turned to her and said, "Everything matters." In a way they mean the same thing.

"What accounts for the fact that people are still fascinated by Bloomsbury?"

"I think a lot of it is due to their accessibility. This particular group of people wrote letters all of the time. They were very articulate indeed. Everybody kept those letters. They sort of thought it was for posterity. The one time, in fact, that Leonard destroyed one of Lytton's letters because it disgusted him so much, Lytton was really, really angry.

"They spent a lot of their old age collecting-up, finding, and suppressing all of these bunches of yellowing old letters. They were self-conscious about their own posterity. And then, of course, there were Virginia's letters and diaries, which were the core of the whole thing, which she had kept and which Leonard sold to dealers in America.

"Then there became the American market, which was fed by more and more stuff, which the dealers went over and bought. I say they were rather like migrating birds returning to their feeding grounds every year. In fact, at one point the market was almost glutted, and they had to hang onto some of the stuff.

"Then, of course, there's the industry of academia. There are all these research students and MA students who have to have something to 'work on,' and there was all of this wonderful stuff to work on. It fed a great flood of books and articles, which, in turn, added to the archive, so that the whole thing grows exponentially. Now, all that is there for another generation to work on. But, if Leonard had destroyed all of Virginia's letters, it wouldn't have happened."

  • Story alerts
  • Letter to Editor
  • Pin it

More from SDReader

Comments

Sign in to comment

Join our
newsletter list

Enter to win $25 at Broken Yolk Cafe

Each newsletter subscription
means another chance to win!

Close