Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Who Married Virginia Woolf?

We loved Virginia Woolf but would we have love her as much as Virginia Strachey? Probably, but it would have been a different dance. According to The Writer’s Almanac, it was a near thing:
It was on this day in 1912 that the novelist Virginia Stephen married Leonard Woolf, a quiet wedding at the St. Pancras Registry Office.

Leonard Woolf was friends with Virginia's beloved brother, Thoby, who had recently died of typhoid; and also with one of her closest friends, Lytton Strachey. Strachey had proposed marriage to Virginia in 1909, and she had accepted. Strachey was gay at a time when it was illegal to be gay in England, Virginia was hesitant about her sexuality, and they liked and respected each other as intellectual equals. But Lytton quickly changed his mind -- he wrote to Leonard: “I was in terror lest she should kiss me” -- and Virginia admitted that she didn’t love Lytton.
In his turn, Lytton passed Virginia off to Woolf:
Instead, Lytton campaigned for his old friend Leonard to marry Virginia. Leonard Woolf was stationed in what is now Sri Lanka as a civil servant in the Colonial Service, but when he came home after seven years of service, he reacquainted himself with Virginia and fell in love. He was smart, and a writer, and he knew enough to be cautious with her -- they went on walks and talked. He proposed to her in January of 1912, and she didn’t accept.
Of course, she did eventually. They were married that August and the newlyweds set off on a two-month long honeymoon through western Europe:
They had a wonderful time as companions, and Virginia wrote to a friend: “We've talked incessantly for seven weeks, and become chronically nomadic and monogamic.” But she wrote to another friend: “Why do you think people make such a fuss about marriage and copulation? Why do some of our friends change upon losing chastity? Possibly my great age makes it less of a catastrophe; but certainly I find the climax immensely exaggerated. Except for a sustained good humor (Leonard shan’t see this) due to the fact that every twinge of anger is at once visited upon my husband, I might still be Miss S.”
There’s a lot more detail -- some of it quite juicy -- at The Writer’s Almanac. You can find that here.


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