Review: Memoirs of a Novelist by Virginia WoolfVirginia Woolf
Memoirs of a Novelist
Published by Hesperus Press
Reviewed by Drew Gummerson
‘Memoirs of a Novelist’ is a collection of five of Woolf’s early short stories. Each of them deals with the lives of women, the hidden lives that is, what goes on after the tea-party has finished, when the men are to bed or out at work.
‘Phyllis and Rosamond’, the eponymous heroes of the first story, are two of five sisters. They are the ones without the brains, the ones who have only been bred to marry, and to be happy that this is their lot in life.
Perhaps if she had kept a diary like Joan Martyn in ‘The Journal of Mistress Joan Martyn’ she would have been remembered. This is both the longest and most interesting of the stories.
The narrator, a Miss Rosamond Merridew, aged forty-five, is a writer of the history of land tenure in mediaeval England. She is somewhat idiosyncratic. From these dry and dusty old formal documents she will extrapolate the lives she imagines.
While travelling through Norfolk she takes an impulsive detour and happens upon an old house. She is excited by what documents she may find and when after dinner she is taken into the study and is confronted by rack after rack of old pages she can’t believe her luck.
One document is a diary. In it is recorded the daily life of Joan Martyn, dating back from 1450. Miss Martyn writes of her impending marriage. Like ‘Phyllis and Rosamond’ this will not be for love but for status.
Miss Martyn wonders why she should write of her life. She would rather surely write of battles and princesses? But it is precisely this daily life that Woolf is concerned with. The untold history that goes on in the background, too little spoken about or given a voice.