Friday, March 09, 2007

The Writer's Almanac: Virginia and Vita

It was on this day in 1913 that Virginia Woolf (books by this author) delivered the manuscript for her first novel, The Voyage Out, to the Duckworth Publishing House. She had been working on it for almost seven years. She first mentioned it in a letter in 1907. By 1912, she had written five drafts of the novel, including two different versions that she worked on simultaneously. Between December 1912 and March 1913, she rewrote the entire novel one more time, almost from scratch, typing 600 pages in two months.
The book was finally accepted, and then she had to work on correcting the proofs. She found the experience of re-reading her own work in print almost unbearable. She had a nervous breakdown, and spent two years recovering. The Voyage Out was eventually published in 1915, but it didn't sell well. It took 15 years to sell 2,000 copies. Critics don't consider it a great work, but among the novel's cast of characters is a woman named Clarissa Dalloway, a character who would stick in Virginia Woolf's mind for more than a decade, until she wrote an entire novel about that woman called Mrs. Dalloway (1927).

It's the birthday of Vita Sackville-West, (books by this author) born in Knole, England (1892). She was a friend and a lover of Virginia Woolf's, and she inspired Woolf's novel Orlando.
Aside from writing novels, Sackville-West was also one of the first great gardening writers. At the time that she began to keep her own garden, gardening was considered a masculine hobby, and most members of the British upper class employed gardeners to do all the actual work. But Vita Sackville-West started writing in a column in The Observer about the joys of digging around in the dirt, pulling weeds, and arranging the flowers herself. Her column helped persuaded many people to start their own gardens.

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