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

Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield


In this long letter to Katherine Mansfield, Woolf talks about how important it is “that women should learn to write.” Mansfield echoes Woolf’s dedication to the art of writing in her journal fragment: “What is your ultimate desire—to what do you so passionately aspire? To write books and stories and sketches and poems.” These two fiercely committed writers had an intimate but guarded friendship. Prelude by Katherine Mansfield was the Katherine Mansfield's journalsecond publication of the Hogarth Press. Leonard and Virginia Woolf spent nine months printing and binding three hundred copies by hand. In her letter Woolf tells Mansfield that the reviews are enthusiastic: “Morgan Forster said that Prelude & The Voyage Out were the best novels of their time...”

Katherine Mansfield. Prelude. Richmond: Hogarth Press, 1918. Purchased.
Katherine Mansfield. Autograph journal fragment, 6 September 1911. Presented by William A. Orton.

Woolf letter to Katherine Mansfield Woolf letter to Katherine Mansfield Woolf letter to Katherine Mansfield Woolf letter to Katherine Mansfield
Virginia Woolf. Letter to Katherine Mansfield, 13 February 1921. Presented by Frances Hooper ’14.

Woolf was writing Jacob’s Room in 1921, but had to break off from fiction writing to earn money for printing paper: “I shall write an article on Dorothy Wordsworth and so pay for our new sheets.” In her letter, Woolf also contrasts her style to Mansfield’s: “What I admire in you so much is your transparent quality.” In Jacob’s Room: “I’m always, chopping & changing from one level to another. I think what I’m at is to change the consciousness, & so to break up the awful stodge... I feel as if I didn’t want just all realism any more—only thoughts & feelings—no cups & tables.”

Virginia Woolf at GarsingtonWoolf also talks about the genesis of her short story, “A Society,” which was published along with other short pieces in Monday or Tuesday: “Like an idiot I lost my temper with Arnold Bennett and wasted my time writing a foolish violent, I suppose unnecessary satire... Suppose some poor wretch who wanted to write was put off by that little grocer?” Mansfield particularly admired “Kew Gardens” from Monday or Tuesday.

In the letter, Woolf also gossips about her friends T. S. Eliot and Lytton Strachey: “I like Eliot, & pity him, as if he suffered a great deal from having acquired a shell which he can’t lift off. Meanwhile all sorts of things grow underneath, very painfully. But this is guess work. We only make signs to each other. Lytton is as mellow as a pear. Queen Victoria is done, & he is set up for life on the proceeds.” Lytton Strachey dedicated his 1921 biography of Queen Victoria “To Virginia Woolf.”

Virginia Woolf at Garsington: photograph, 1923. Purchased.

Mortimer Rare Book Room, Smith College

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