Skip over navigation

Virginia Woolf

The Novelist Emerges

Madness and War

The Most Famous Writer in London

In January of 1916, Woolf and Leonard decided to buy a house that was closer to London but not in the city proper. The settled on a house in a London suburb called Richmond and named their new home Hogarth House. In a moment of hope, they both confessed that they wanted also to buy a printing press and start their own publishing house. They resolved to figure out a way to carry out their plan financially. In February, shortly before The Voyage Out was to be published, Woolf became manic. Her doctor had diagnosed her with neurasthenia, but Leonard called it, simply, manic-depression. Both Woolf and Leonard learned to recognize physical warning signs that an attack was imminent: severe headaches, insomnia, quickened pulse, unbearably rapid heartbeat. Woolf's mania manifested itself in gibberish, a personality shift to uncharacteristic garrulity and extreme excitement. She'd even become violent and enraged, which was decidedly unlike the normal Woolf. While Leonard moved their things into Hogarth House, he put Woolf in a nursing home for a few days. She slowly returned to normal.

The Voyage Out was finally published and it was well received. Author E.M. Forster praised it and a number of book reviewers called it the work of a genius. But Woolf's happiness was short-lived; in 1916, the Conscription Bill was introduced in Parliament, and Leonard was facing the possibility of being drafted. If he were to leave Woolf for duty, most people believed it would be disastrous for Woolf. However, he managed to slip past the draft board and stay in London throughout the war.

At this point, Clive and Vanessa lived apart though they were still married; Clive remained at the home in Bloomsbury and Vanessa, her affair with Roger Fry over, now lived with Duncan Grant. Woolf continued to remain close to both Clive and Vanessa, though she did not show her writing to anyone until it was finished, even Leonard. However, after a novel was complete, she sent copies of the manuscript or galleys to everyone she knew and sought their opinions. Leonard's opinion mattered most to her. Yet Leonard was concerned by Woolf's dangerous behavior, which seemed to take effect as she finished a novel or other long work. He became a kind of nurse to Woolf, limiting the hours she worked each day, capping the number of visitors who came to see her, and so on. Woolf was grateful for this kind of structure.

Having recovered from her latest bout with manic-depression, Woolf set to work on her new novel, Night and Day. In February of 1917, Lytton Strachey introduce Woolf to a darkly attractive female writer named Katherine Mansfield. Woolf did not like Katherine at first, and hardly warmed to her during their tumultuous, prickly and very complex friendship, which bordered on romantic, frustrated love. Mansfield would be one of the first authors Leonard and Woolf published when they finally started Hogarth Press. During World War One, Leonard and Woolf had finally scraped together enough cash to buy a second-hand printing press in March 1917. They christened their brand new publishing house Hogarth, after their home. Although later they'd be publishing future luminaries like E.M. Forster, T.S. Eliot and Sigmund Freud, Woolf and Leonard first had to learn how to operate the press and set the type. Woolf found the physical tasks of printing invigorating and looked forward to the afternoons when she set down her pen and joined her husband at the press.

Meanwhile, Woolf continued work on Night and Day, which she considered an "exercise." She seemed to follow a pattern of following up a novel of major import with one that she considered lighter. She considered Night and Day a lighter book. The first publication to roll off the Hogarth Press was a collection of two stories, one by Woolf and one by Leonard. They titled the publication, "Publication No. I: Two Stories." The stories were "The Mark on the Wall" by Woolf and "Three Jews" by Leonard. They printed only 150 copies, but it was received quite well.

At the same time, Leonard was becoming involved in what he called the 1917 Club, a secondary Bloomsbury that met in a building on Gerrard Street in London's Soho. There, Leonard and other socialist intellectuals met to swap ideas and theories about the world, economics and politics. Woolf was not very fond of most of the people at the 1917 Club, calling the women "cropheads", a reference to the new hairstyle many "modern" women were wearing in which their bangs were cut bluntly across their foreheads. On April 14th, 1918, a woman named Harriet Weaver approached the Woolfs with a hefty manuscript by an unknown Irish author that she hoped they'd publish. The title of the book was Ulysses and the young author's name was James Joyce.

Woolf read the manuscript and although she declared that he seemed to be writing for a snobbish, intellectual clique (of which, many could argue she herself belonged), Woolf recognized the genius in James Joyce. However, Hogarth simply did not have the resources to print such a large book and so turned Weaver away, suggesting another house. In June, Lytton Strachey's collection of mini-biographies, Eminent Victorians appeared in June to wide acclaim. Woolf felt a tinge of jealousy; Lytton was really her only equal amongst the Bloomsbury writers, and she had not yet made her mark. Lytton's success, while welcomed, reminded her of her own lack of acclaim.

On November 21st, 1918, the armistice ending World War I was signed. That same day, Woolf finished writing Night and Day. Six days prior to both events, Woolf met T.S. Eliot for the first time. At this point, Eliot was an unknown, poor banker's clerk who wrote poetry in the evenings. When he brought his poems to Hogarth Press, Leonard and Woolf were astonished and accepted them for publication at once. In May 1919, Hogarth published Eliot's "Poems." Keeping Eliot company on their list was Middleton Murry's The Critic in Judgment and Woolf's newest book Kew Gardens. As Eliot and Murry's books sold briskly, no one seemed to be buying Woolf's. This was a grave disappointment to a writer already extremely sensitive to the opinions of others on her work. The slow sales seemed to say it all. In her despair, Woolf traveled to the country and, on a whim, bought an ugly house in Lewes. Leonard kept his temper when he discovered what Woolf had done, but both of them agreed that they hated the home. They sold it and bought another house at Rodmell, called Monk's House.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us