Talk of the book and film of The Hours earlier this week, and mentions in comments of the film and the 'nose' and the rather intense and relentlessly humourless portayal of Virginia Woolf, all reminded me to pull this post out from 'draft' and spruce it up, because in another batch of books from Hesperus Press came a copy of A Boy at the Hogarth Press.
I'd heard of it but hadn't realised quite what a wonderful little gem it is. A perceptive behind-the-scenes look at the working Woolfs by a disinterested observer. One with no axe to grind or mark to make on the literary world, just a young lad seeing their lives for what they were; recollections of his time spent working at the Hogarth Press as an impressionable sixteen-year old, and recalled in later life by Richard Kennedy.
Bad luck stalks young Richard from the typing errors to the saga of the shelf ..
'Today the trumpet blasts. I put up my shelf. It proved to be a much harder job than I thought. In the first place I had to walk like Jesus carrying the Cross practically the whole way to Tavistock Square because the conductor refused to let me on the bus with the wood...'
and said shelf which finally comes crashing down, showering its contents on an unsuspectiong Leonard, he of the legendary temper, the 'towering rage' and a withering look that could seemingly remove a layer of skin.
But it is Richard Kennedy's eye for the details which add to the enjoyment of the whole; the smelly drains at Rodmell, or sitting next to Virginia while she knits for the first time.
Is it recorded anywhere else that Virginia at least attempted knitting??
Or Virginia rolling her own cigarettes, and then Richard's perceptive observations about the Woolfs as people..
'LW...He is the magician who keeps us all going by his strength of will..and Mrs W is a beautiful magical doll, very precious, but sometimes rather uncontrollable. Perhaps like the doll she hasn't got a soul. But when she feels inclined, she can create fantasy and we all fall over ourselves, or are disapproving.'
And now I'm trying to remember...I watched The Hours very carefully for this detail, having noted from Richard Kennedy's drawings that Virginia Woolf was of a sinistral persuasion, very definitely left-handed in all the illustrations.
And I don't think the film recognised that.
Does it matter?? Probably not in the grand scheme of things, but being both the daughter and the mother of sinistrals, it's something I always notice, finding it an endless fascination to watch a left-handed person write.
If you are left-handed I'd happily sit next to you and watch you do likewise.
Having raised a southpaw and knowing the unusual difficulties it can throw up, I'm trying to decide whether daily life for a left-hander may have been more awkward back then, or of no noticeable difference. I doubt Virginia had the trouble we had the day Offspringette decided she wanted to pick up one of our guitars and learn to play it, or the school lunchtime Knitterbug Club which had the teachers on the brink of a nervous breakdown trying to succeed where I had failed and teach her to knit. Perhaps this is why Virginia is not famed for her knitting either.
The icing on the cake in this book ...or perhaps even the cake itself are the illustrations because every page holds a wonderful sketch of the office or the people along with some wonderfully funny anecdotal moments.
Aware that this wasn't written until forty years later, and that these are 'recollections', I'm wondering whether some allowance may need to be made for any influence of growing reputation that may have coloured Richard Kennedy's memories, but setting all that aside this book was a really very pleasant surprise, and if you have a Virginia Woolf shelf you might want to add a copy of A Boy at the Hogarth Press if you don't already have it.