Two letters from Horizon editor Stephen Spender to Duncan Grant following the death of Virginia Woolf in March 1941, together with a 1923 sketchpad in which Grant adds, in lieu of further artwork, notes and drafts of his memories of Woolf. Also present is the May 1941 issue of Horizon in which Grant's reflections appear, along with memoirs of Woolf by Vita Sackville-West, T .S. Eliot, Rose Macaulay, and William Plomer.
In Spender’s first letter he queries Grant about contributing to the magazine's collection of recollections of Woolf; in the second he offers further encouragement.
On April 9, 1941, Spender wrote to Grant:
We are trying to make a little collection of tributes to Virginia. T.S. Eliot thought it would be better not to attempt a considered [ ] of her at present, so various friends of her including himself are writing personal memories of her…. But the problem is difficult, & it would be worse to neglect her memory than take the risk of possible gaucheness. There is no one we would like better to write about her than yourself and I very much hope you will do so. If you write, would you let me have about 1500-2,000 words in a fortnight or so?
Grant apparently responded with a conditional acceptance, and Spender wrote again:
I hope very much that you do write something for us. The alternatives are either to do as good a tribute to Virginia as we can, or else to ignore her. Personally, I think that although it is impossible to say the right thing, it is better to risk making a fool of oneself than to ignore her memory. Besides which, if the people who appreciate her don’t write, the people who don’t do so, will. For this reason I wrote for The Listener, although all the time I was writing, I could hear her saying “Fancy your writing an article about me in 24 hours!” “Tell me, did you have time to read all my books in one day” etc. etc. On the whole though, I thought that ever if she teased me, she wouldn’t but be pleased not to be forgotten.
If you could write about the early days we would be very glad. I wonder if have you also a photograph of her. Did either of you [Grant or Woolf’s sister, Vanessa Bell] ever do a portrait of her which we might reproduce?
Of course, if Vanessa would like to write something too, we would be only too glad. I have not asked her simply out of consideration for her feelings.
Perhaps, if she can bear such things, you would convey my great sympathy to her. Virginia’s loss is an almost unbearable blow, even to people who were not closely related to her: I mean, particularly unbearable just now. The only consolation is that her life was a wonderful achievement: and if she might still have done a long work, she might also so easily have died younger and done far less….
For Grant’s 1941 Woolf manuscript draft he used a 1923 sketchbook, containing three full page pencil sketches over two leaves followed by four pages of dream notes in ink from 1951. The sketchbook is signed by Grant in pencil – Duncan Grant / 1923 – at the original front, with “H. Styleman” stamped on the front and rear pastedowns and on a preliminary leaf which also bears a red circular stamp with a crest. Three pencil sketches fill two leaves, detached, in the “front” and are followed by ink journal entries – about his dreams – beginning “28 Jan /51.”
Turning the book over and beginning again, in 1941, Grant wrote his first notes and draft text for an obituary of Woolf that would appear, in a very different form, in Horizon (III.18 (June 1941) pp. 402-406).
Grant heads his first leaf, Early Memories of Virginia Woolf and follows it with this text, with some edits:
Oddly enough I cannot remember the first time I met Virginia Stephen. I well remember the first time I met her brother Thoby & her sister Vanessa. This was at a meeting of the Friday Club, a club started by Vanessa Stephen for the discussion of every sort of subject and for exhibitions of pictures at intervals. It met in the studio of Henry Lamb in Chelsea and I was taken by my cousin Philippa Strachey. I had often been told of this family who lived in Kensington, 2 beautiful daughters and 2 sons of Leslie Stephen. They seemed from what I heard to be remarkable, but wrapped in gloom. They had lost their mother, a year later their half sister had married & died. For years they had lived with their father who was slowly dying…. I remember being relieved to find Vanessa and Thoby two friendly human beings intensely & very much alive.
The next leaf bears his extract From Virginia’s ‘A Sketch of the Past.’
Eight pages of manuscript draft follow, composed on the rectos of the heavy leaves with annotations and insertions on the facing pages. The text is edited throughout, but mostly heavily on the final page.
Grant seemed to have a good deal of trouble concluding his remembrance, which ends, in this version, as follows: “No one so beautiful and so fierce could give offence except to the very stupid. But I think she could inspire feelings of respect in the most Philistine. This shyness or fierceness was a necessary defence in her war with the world. The world must accept her on her own terms or not at all.”The dozen or so blank leaves that follow precede Grant’s 1950 “The Story of Narcissus,” several dozen leaves, text on rectos (26 leaves) or versos (42 leaves) with occasional annotations on facing pages, and with a few pages of notes at the end. A loose related manuscript leaf is also present.
For a PDF catalogue of Bloomsbury material from the collection of William B. Beekman, please email Sarah@GlennHorowitz.com.