Woolf's Letter to Quentin Bell: 17 February, 1929

Virginia writes this entertaining letter to her nineteen-year-old nephew while she is recuperating in London from the side effects of the barbiturate Somnifene. She is writing the final version of A Room of One’s Own after the resounding success the previous October of Orlando, a fictional biography of Woolf’s lover Vita Sackville-West. London was enduring one of the hardest frosts on record and Woolf describes the scene from her window: “a feeble copy of the frost scene in Orlando—icicles, dead cats, frozen bread & butter on the leads.”

click on each page of the letter to open it at full size in a new window

Quentin was named “Claudian Stephen Bell” at birth, but was known as Quentin when he became two. Virginia teases her nephew about his name saying “Claudian is a secretive marble faced steady eyed deliberate villain” while Quentin is “an adorable creature & I’m sorry he’s been sloughed (sluffed) like the gold & orange skin of the rare Mexican tsee-tsee snake.”

Virginia also discusses Raymond Mortimer who is just back from America and reports that it is a “ghastly country, of stunted development. Neither man nor woman has reached the age of puberty. They talk very slowly all day long & never listen.” Woolf never visited the United States, although many of her papers are now preserved in American repositories, including more than 150 letters and manuscripts at Smith College in the collection assembled by Frances Hooper ’14.

Frances Hooper Collection of Virginia Woolf
Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College

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