On the little vanity that I bought at auction last year sit six volumes of The Letters of Virginia Woolf, also bought at auction. I picked out volume three earlier and thumbed through looking for correspondence about writing.
The problem with volumes of letters is that unless you are thoroughly enchanted in every possible way with the writer, or a scholar of the writer, much of it is mundane. Small posts of a few lines involving dinner plans or the state of the garden or the state of the writer’s health.
Still, I admit that any of the correspondence before the advent of smart-phones and the internet is leagues above what anyone writes today, and when the letter writer is also a poet and writer, even reports on the state of the garden is elevated to an art.
Yet as rich as the writing was, I’m not so committed to the study of Woolf that I want to devote a year of my life reading every correspondence she ever wrote. I wanted to find those letters where Woolf might reveal something of her writing process, something about a project, perhaps something about the frustration of the words having suddenly dried up, or conversely, the absolute fire of an idea coming to life.
I found this, all of it, in a letter to Vita Sackville West dated “9th Oct. 1927″. Woolf had been having an affair with Vita and, inspired by her passion for Vita, embarked on the project Orlando: A Biography, later described by Sackville West’s son as “the longest and most charming love-letter in literature”.
Here’s an excerpt from the letter where Woolf describes to Vita the new book she is writing, and hints at the idea that it may be about Vita (the above image shows the end of the letter and the beginning of a new one not excerpted here):
Yesterday morning I was in despair: You know that bloody book which Dadie and Leonard extort, drop by drop, from my breast? Fiction, or some title to that effect. I couldn’t screw a word from me, and at last dropped my head in my hands: dipped my pen in the ink, and wrote these words, as if automatically, on a clean sheet: Orlando: A Biography. No sooner had I done this than my body was flooded with rapture and my brain with ideas. I wrote rapidly till 12. Then I did an hour to Romance. So every morning I am going to write fiction (my own fiction) till 12; and Romance till 1. But listen; suppose Orlando turns out to be Vita; and its all about you and the lusts of your flesh and the lure of your mind (heart you have none, who go gallivanting down the lanes with Campbell)–suppose there’s the kind of shimmer of reality which sometimes attaches to my people, as the lustre on an oyster shell (and that recalls another Mary) suppose, I say, that Sibyl next October says “Theres Virginia gone and written a book about Vita” and Ozzie chaws with his great chaps and Byard guffaws, shall you mind? Say yes, or No: Your excellence as a subject arises largely from your noble birth. (But whats 400 years of nobility, all the same?) and the opportunity thus given for florid descriptive passages in great abundance. Also, I admit, I should like to untwine and twist again some very odd, incongruous strands in you: going at length into the question of Campbell; and also, as I told you, it sprung upon me how I could revolutionize biography in a night: and so if agreeable to you I would like to toss this up in the air and see what happens. Yet, of course, I may not write another line.
You will come on Wednesday undern? You will write, now, this instant, a nice humble letter of duty and devotion to me.
I am reading Knole and The Sackvilles. Dear me; you know a lot: you have a rich dusky attic of a mind. O yes, I want very much to see you.
“Dear me; you know a lot: you have a rich dusky attic of a mind”. Swoon. I would totally marry anyone that paid me that compliment.
Your word this week is from that very line, because it pleases me so, particularly this word:
This is the 333rd 100 words prompt. Or so the title says, but for any of you who have been around long enough you know that I only recently decided to start numbering the prompt posts. Since I didn’t have an exact number I started with an estimated number. So this MAY or may NOT be the 333rd 100 words prompt.
While we’re on admin things, I wanted to throw out a few reminders about the rules of play around here.
- If you’re using blogger and you have restrictions on your commenting (especially with the whole Google+ thingie), you may get fewer comments. I don’t have a Google profile except what is connected to my personal profile and I prefer not to use it for this. It’s not like I need to keep the secret, so much as it just gets confusing.
- If you submit a 100 words post, please be kind and link back so your readers know where to find the prompt.
- This humble little challenge has become a community in my eyes, so remember to make the rounds and visit all the entries and at least say “hello” in comments to let people know you’re reading. Since the challenge closes at midnight on Saturday, Sunday or Monday are a good time to make sure you’ve visited everyone.
- Though I strive to get the new prompt up each week before midnight on Monday, if you want to receive notification there are a few ways to follow. In order of reliable activity – Velvet Verbosity on Facebook (set control settings to see all posts from this page if you want to be sure not to miss it – don’t worry, my frequency is not clogworthy), Google+ Page (getting more frequent than twitter, but I do need some more of my crew over there letting me know it’s worth the effort), Twitter, and I’m also on Instagram (ALL THE CATS!) and Pinterest (which my daughter described this way; “it’s like taking acid you found in your grandpa’s attic”) but the two latter won’t give you announcements about posting, just another way to
stalkconnect with me.
- There is no number 5. Not yet. If you feel something should go here, let me know in comments.
Not very exciting for a 333rd post, but there you have it. I’m currently reading a translation of Aristotle’s Poetics. Why? Because I live with a former literature major, that’s why. Here’s your word:
See ya around word-nerds. <3
I’m still recovering from my weekend – Smith College reunion and commencement. Need I say more? Ok, lots of food and fancy drink, intense conversations contrasted with boisterous fun, sleep-overs, hot tubs, mingling, singing, perfect sunshine and glowing lanterns.
For some reason I thought it was a good idea to also sign up to volunteer for 6 hours of work at a local theater on Sunday afternoon, say yes to seeing Star Trek Sunday night (Benedict Cumberbatch – best villain ever!), and to attend a women’s empowerment round table this evening.
My introvert side is about ready to dig a hole into the side of a hill, crawl in, and not come out until October.
I’ve been doing this to myself a lot recently. In the last six months my schedule has been getting progressively more full. I’d like to say it’s because I feel obligated, and that would be true for some of the things, but mostly I want to do these things. I just wish they didn’t have to be so…jammed together. I wish it didn’t feel like a runaway train of activity about to hurtle off the cliff of social burnout.
Speaking of Benedict Cumberbatch, have you heard him read Keats? Yes, the accompanying slide-show is a total schmaltz-fest, ignore that and just listen to it with a good sound system.
Your word this week, from the poem:
I fell asleep in a chair last night. I don’t fall asleep in chairs, with the television on, with my head resting in an awkward position that will leave me with a crick in the neck. I haven’t fallen asleep in a chair since I was a toddler (toddlers will sleep anywhere).
Clearly I was exhausted.
That’s why this post is late. I sat down in a chair to watch a show and unwind before writing the weekly prompt post, and then next thing I knew it was 2:00 a.m. when I was woken by something. I dragged myself to bed, dazed and horrified (well, as horrified as one can be when semi-comatose).
That explains me. What happened to you guys last week? Only 7 entries? Was the added challenge too much? Did you start with good intentions and crash and burn in a procrastination train-wreck? Or were you simply drunk on the smell of blossoms and the warmth of Spring?
Was this your way of telling me to stick to the plan?
Ok, back to the basics. The tried and true. The ‘ole pick-a-book-point-and-pick method to give you a word to write JUST 100 words on. This week’s word is from, The Great Gatsby:
Go forth word-nerds.
Dear word-nerds, we’re going to do something a little different this week. If you follow NPR on Facebook you may have already heard about their, “Three Minute Fiction” contest. I only just heard about it even though they’re already on round 11.
The basic gist is that you submit a short flash fiction piece (approximately 600 words) based on a prompt an author gives. The prompt for round 11 is:
Write a story in which a character finds an object that he or she has no intention of returning.
Submissions will be accepted until 11:59, Sunday May 12th.
Here’s what I thought we could do this week. Since this contest aligns so well with what we do here every week, you can either a) write 100 words on the prompt above, per the usual rules etc. Or b) you can write up to 600 words on the prompt and submit it to the NPR contest (all the details here) and link to just a 100 word snippet here (don’t link the whole story as I think that’s against the contest rules).
So what do you win?
Throughout the next few weeks, we’ll post some of our favorite stories on the Three-Minute Fiction home page and read excerpts on weekends on All Things Considered. Russell will be the final judge and select the winning story.
The winner will receive signed copies of all three of Russell’s novels, and his or her story will be published in the fall issue of The Paris Review.
Let me know in comments if you plan to submit to the NPR contest. I’m going to.