“BUT, AS FAR AS IT IS POSSIBLE TO BE HONEST ABOUT THE MYSTERIOUS PROCESS OF THE MIND, THE FACTS ARE OTHERWISE.”
Corrected Typescript Introduction To Mrs Dalloway.
Virginia Woolf’s original typescript, with her autograph corrections in eight places, for her first introduction to Mrs Dalloway, published in the Modern Library edition in 1928. Woolf’s groundbreaking novel was first published by the Hogarth Press in 1925. Neither this, nor the American edition published by Harcourt, Brace & Co later in the same year, had any Preface or Introduction. So it is that this Introduction, typed at her Bloomsbury address in Tavistock Square and sent to the Modern Library offices in new York, constitutes Woolf’s first published commentary on her own novel, affording her the opportunity of responding to the great deal that had already been said about it. The text, though not quite a stream of consciousness, does exhibit Woolf’s characteristic manner of thinking out, in the act of composition, her approach to the question. Apparent at first is a sense self-consciousness at the awkward business of commenting upon a past work: “Once the young birds can fly, fly they must; and by the time they have fluttered out of the nest the mother bird has begun to think perhaps of another brood. In the same way onc[e] a book is printed and published it ceases to be the property of the author; he commits it to the care of other people; all his attention is claimed by some new book which not only thrusts its predecessor from the nest but has a way of subtly blackening its character in comparison with its own.” She weighs up the value of vouchsafing a few biographical revelations: “For nothing is more fascinating than to be shown the truth which lies behind those immense facades of fiction - if life is indeed true, and if fiction is indeed fictitious” but concludes “here again to tell the reader anything that his own imagination and insight have not already discovered would need not a page or two of preface but a volume or two of autobiography.” She does offer some revelations of plot apocrypha, though presented in a desultory tone as “a few scraps, of little importance or none perhaps; as that in the first version of Septimus, who later is intended to be her double, had no existence; and that Mrs. Dalloway was originally to kill herself, or perhaps merely to die at the end of the party.” Then at last Woolf rounds upon her real business, that of correcting some of the more errant declarations made by enthusiastic literary theorists concerning the avant garde style of the work. She decides to “speak more explicitly to the reader who has put off his innocence and become a critic. For though criticism, whether praise or blame, should be accepted in silence as the legitimate comment which the act of publication invites, now and again a statement is made without bearing on the books merits or demerits which the writer happens to know to be mistaken. One such statement has been made sufficiently often about Mrs. Dalloway to be worth perhaps a word of contradiction. The book, it was said, was the deliberate offspring of a method. The author, it was said, dissatisfied with the form of fiction then in vogue was determined to beg, borrow, steal or even create another of her own. But, as far as it is possible to be honest about the mysterious process of the mind, the facts are otherwise. Dissatisfied the writer may have been; but her dissatisfaction was primarily with nature for giving given [sic] an idea without providing a house for it to live in. The novelist[s] of the preceding generation had done little - after all why should they? - to help. The novel was the obvious lodging, but the novel it seemed was built on the wrong plan. Thus rebuked the idea started as the oyster starts or the snail to secrete a house for itself. And this it did without any conscious direction.” This last sentence is in manuscript, pointedly reconsidering the typed original, “The method was evolved with help taken if help could be found to fit the idea”. She continues: “The other way, to make a house and then inhabit it, to develop a theory and then apply it, as as [sic] Wordsworth did and Coleridge, is, it need not be said, equally good and much more philosophic. But in the present case it was necessary to write the book first and to invent a theory afterwards.” A 21st-century critic might choose to read this last as a distinctly Woolfish turn on the #humblebrag. She then turns back from the critic to the reader, who “it is to be hoped will not give a thought to the books [sic] method or to the books [sic] lack of method. He is concerned only with the effect of the book as a whole on his mind. Of that most important question he is a far better judge than the writer. Indeed, given time and liberty to frame his own opinion he is eventually an infallible judge. To him then the writer commends Mrs Dalloway and leaves the court confident that the verdict whether for instant death or for some years more of life and liberty will in either case be just.”
4 sheets (256 x 204 mm), typewritten in purple ink to rectos only, headed with Woolf’s typewritten address :”Mrs. Woolf, 52 Tavistock Square, London WC1”. Manuscript corrections in ink and pencil by several hands including Virginia Woolf’s. Final leaf verso inscribed “Virg. Woolf Intro. to Mrs. Dalloway (Paid July 18 1928)” in pencil.