Virginia Woolf’s diary entries from around Christmas bring into sharp relief the feelings that the festive season stirs. Her pieces are coloured by the unpredictable shifts of British winter weather, express the pull between social event and solitude, and are self-reflective in their review of the past.
The following entries span the twenty-year period from 1920-40 and express the layered and complex connotations that our annual traditions hold.
19 December 1920, Hogarth House
In 1920, Woolf’s entry anticipates her New Year’s return to Rodmell and the comfort and routine this will bring. She imagines the “soft, grey walk” she will take in the dappled cool winter light on the greyed heather and chalky mud of the Sussex Downs. Woolf weaves this expectation for the New Year with the immediacy of Christmas at the end of the entry where we join her in delighting in an early Christmas gift from Leonard:
So we reach the end of the year; which is for us cheerful, I think. For one thing we want to get to Rodmell; to see what has happened to the garden. I shall like a soft grey walk. Then the post. Then reading. Then sitting in the chimney corner […] (I use my new blotter, just given me by L., for the first time).
26 December 1929, Monks House
In 1929 Monks House delivers the atmospheric weather that Woolf had imagined at the beginning of the century. She writes, moreover, of its changeability and its effect on her – producing a “violent Christmas” which gives way to a “serene Boxing day”. Here we also see her desire for solitude in the face of incessant society and the hope that, for once, this will truly be possible:
And I am sitting in my new room, with curtains, fire, table; and two great views; sometimes sun over the brooks and storm over the church. A violent Christmas; a brilliant serene Boxing day. I find it almost incredibly soothing – a fortnight alone – almost impossible to let oneself have it. Relentlessly we have crushed visitors: we will be alone this once, we say; and really, it seems possible.
21 December 1933, 52 Tavistock Square
Christmas’s habit of repeating itself is hinted at in 1929 where the impossibility of retreat seems to be routine. In 1933, Woolf is particularly reflexive on the patterns of Christmas, calling the morning of preparing to go down to Rodmell a “relic”, seemingly aged and outdated:
This is the relic of a morning when I should tidy, pack, write letters and so on. We lunch at quarter to one, and then go, this yellow cold morning. No longer the great tradition that it used to be.
24 December 1940, Monks House
Woolf’s seasonal self-reflection is also present in our final entry from 1940, which begins by fantasising about living at Alciston Farm House but ends on a note of quiet contentment with home at Monks House:
“We lunched with Helen [Anrep at Alciston]; and again ‘I could have fancied living there’. An incredible loveliness. The downs breaking their wave, yet one pale quarry; and all the barns and stacks either a broken pink, or a verdurous green; and then the walk by the wall; and the church; deep hollows, where the past stands almost stagnant. And the little spire across the fields… L. is now cutting logs, and after my rush of love and envy for Alciston farm house, we concluded this [Monks House] is the perfect place.”