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Libraries & Collections > MRBR > Exhibitions > Online Exhibitions > A Pen and a Press of Her Own

Woolf in the World: A Pen and a Press of Her Own
On Being Ill

On Being Ill (cover design)Virginia Woolf wrote On Being Ill after publishing The Common Reader and Mrs. Dalloway in 1925. She had also begun a love affair with Vita Sackville-West, and was writing her fifth novel, To the Lighthouse. Woolf was exhausted and ill for five months, after which she sent T. S. Eliot her essay on illness for his first issue of the New Criterion. It was published in January 1926. Leonard Woolf particularly admired the essay. Together he and Virginia set the type and printed 250 copies of it for the Hogarth Press in 1930. The dust jacket is one of Vanessa Bell’s most abstract designs.

All her life Virginia “had to do battle with tormenting, terrifying mental states, agonising and debilitating physical symptoms, and infuriating restrictions,” as Hermione Lee notes in her introduction to the Paris Press edition of the essay. But in Woolf’s writings about illness, “there is also a repeated emphasis on its creative and liberating effects.”


Vanessa Bell. Design for the dust jacket of On Being Ill: graphite and watercolor, [ca. 1930].
Presented by Ann Safford Mandel ’53.

On Being Ill
Virginia Woolf. On Being Ill. London: Hogarth Press, 1930.
Number 180 of 250 signed copies. From the library of Crosby Gaige.
Presented by Frances Hooper ’14.
Paris Press trade edition on right.

On Being Ill (special edition)
Virginia Woolf. On Being Ill. Introduction by Hermione Lee. Ashfield, Massachusetts: Paris Press, 2002.
Trade edition presented by Stephanie Cooper Schoen AC ’91.
Number 20 of 80 limited edition copies (violet pastepaper) presented by Eleanor Lazarus '69;
number 20 of 20 deluxe edition copies (gray and scarlet pastepaper)
printed by Michael Russem at the Kat Ran Press, hand-bound by Claudia Cohen
presented by Christine M. Erickson '65.

This new Paris Press edition of the essay features some contemporary western Massachusetts book artists: letterpress printer Michael Russem, bookbinder Claudia Cohen, and publisher Jan Freeman. Paris Press is a one-woman publishing house located in Ashfield, Massachusetts; it is dedicated to printing neglected work by ground-breaking women writers.

Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College

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