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Virginia Woolf

The Most Famous Writer in London

The Novelist Emerges

Two Masterpieces

A few weeks later, orders began pouring in by the hundreds for Kew Gardens. The Times Literary Supplement had run a very favorable review of the book and now everyone was rushing to purchase a copy. That fall, Night and Day was finally published. Katherine Mansfield, Woolf's sometime friend, reviewed it in a publication called The Athenaeum and gave it a bad review, skewering Woolf for being too traditional and to wary of risk-taking. Later, when Woolf's reputation was established, this criticism would seem decidedly ironic. Virginia Woolf would be one of the greatest literary risk-takers of the Twentieth Century.

In the spring of 1920, Woolf's next novel, Jacob's Room began to take shape on paper. Woolf told Leonard that she wanted Hogarth Press to publish this novel; she despised taking her novels to Gerald Duckworth, despite his continued enthusiasm for her work. With Woolf's novels now a part of their list, Hogarth was publishing some of the best writers of the day: Gorki, Forster, T.S. Eliot and Katherine Mansfield. Leonard, too, was busy finishing up his own book, Empire and Commerce in Africa, and had already started a new one titled Socialism and Cooperation. In addition, he was also editing a monthly periodical called The International Review. It was a lot of work, and Woolf wondered if he could do it all.

A collection of Woolf's short stories, titled Monday or Tuesday appeared in March and was not received well. At the same time, rival and friend Lytton Strachey's stunning biography of Queen Victoria was universally applauded. While Strachey's professional life was progressing nicely, his personal life was complicated. He was engaged in a messy ménage with Dora Carrington and Ralph Partridge, a former Hogarth assistant. Dora Carrington was madly in love with Lytton, who was in love with Ralph Partridge. Partridge was in love with Dora Carrington. All three lived at Lytton's house. Woolf found herself in the role of adviser to Lytton on this matter more than once.

With Hogarth doing well, and Woolf and Leonard's own books selling well, they were able to buy a new printing machine. On November 4, 1921, Woolf finished Jacob's Room and fell into a dark depression. She spent the early months of 1921 in bed, almost an invalid. As she rested and read, a story was tumbling around in her head. It was a story, with a character, that had haunted her for years. This character, Clarissa Dalloway, had made appearances in The Voyage Out and some of Woolf's short stories. When Kitty Maxse, Woolf and Vanessa's old friend and the reputed model for Clarissa Dalloway, died in 1922 from a fall down a flight of stairs (Woolf was convinced it was suicide), Woolf found her inspiration to begin Mrs. Dalloway.

Jacob's Room was the first full-length book that Hogarth published. It appeared October 22nd, 1922. Its success signaled the beginning of Woolf's fame as a writer. Just as Jacob's Room appeared, Woolf found herself itching to get back to the bustling life of London. Life in boring Richmond was too suburban and dull. She missed the stimulation of London society and the company of her friends. Plus, her reputation was growing and more and more people wanted her to grace their dinner tables. However, Leonard remained firmly against the idea of returning to London, convinced as he was of its ill effects on Woolf's health.

In 1922, Woolf decided to begin work on two books simultaneously. One was a work of criticism; the other was a novel. These works would later be titled The Common Reader and Mrs. Dalloway. The next year, Woolf finally succeeded in wearing Leonard down about the move back to London and that winter they moved back to Bloomsbury. Hogarth Press now operated out of their basement. Woolf worked on her books during the morning hours then spent the afternoon at the press with Leonard and his assistants. In April 1925, The Common Reader was published. A month later, Mrs. Dalloway was published. Both were raging successes and critical triumphs.

The three years between 1925 and 1928 were fruitful for Woolf professionally. She finished Mrs. Dalloway, and The Common Reader; she published To the Lighthouse, and began planning The Waves. Yet she was running herself ragged and soon fell into one of her bouts with depression and mania. She had an episode at a family gathering in August 1925, which marked the beginning of a long, debilitating illness, which she would not come out of until 1926.

To make a dark period even darker, Woolf discovered that her new friend Vita Sackville-West was leaving with her husband, a Counsellor at the British Embassy in what was then called Persia, for Tehran. Woolf's friendship with Vita was charged with erotic undertones. Vita was a beautiful, forceful woman who was a writer as well as a great admirer of Woolf's talent. She was also a lesbian, and although Woolf clearly had feelings for Vita, she was still in love with her husband Leonard. Nevertheless, Woolf's nephew Quentin Bell says that Woolf and Vita had a love affair between 1925 and 1929 off and on. Although there had been hints of this kind of relationship between Woolf and Katherine Mansfield, the letters Vita and Woolf sent to each other speak to the deep feelings of mutual romantic love.

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