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WOOLF, Virginia.

On Being Ill.

Availability: In stock

Published: London The Hogarth Press, 1930

Stock Code: 79863

OR On display in 100 Fulham Road


First edition, first impression; one of a limited 250 copies signed by the author, this one numbered "Out of Series" in Woolf's hand. From the library of the prominent composer, memoirist and suffragette Ethel Smyth, who first met Woolf in February 1930; she had just read A Room of One's Own, and hunted down its author as a potential fighter for the suffragette cause. This was the beginning of a close and complex friendship that would exert an immense influence on the lives of both women; Smyth, a rambunctious septuagenarian, and the younger Woolf, a slight and subtle-minded genius, were fixed in a state of mutual awe. In a letter dated Oct 12 1940, Woolf recounted to Smyth her memory of how at a concert in November 1919, long before they ever met, she had first seen her, "coming bustling down the gangway at the Wigmore Hall, in tweeds and spats, a little cock's feather in your felt, and a general look of angry energy, so that I said, 'That's Ethel Smyth!' - and felt, being then a mere chit, she belongs to the great achieved public world, where I'm a nonentity. You reminded me of a ptarmigan - those speckled birds with fetlocks." As for Smyth, she soon fell madly in love with Virginia Woolf, who wrote to Quentin Bell (resorting again to an animal comparison), "It is like being caught by a giant crab". In spite of this initial awkwardness, Woolf respected and loved Smyth for her honesty and robustness, and when Smyth's passion calmed, (though it never cooled) the two developed a deep friendship, and in their letters they frankly discussed everything from religion and culture to masturbation and suicide. Smyth was the inspiration for the character Miss La Trobe in Woolf's Between the Acts, and their ardent discussions about the relationship between literature and music no doubt had an influence upon The Waves. The Years, also, has a Smythean origin, as it derived its inspiration in part from speeches made in 1931 by both Woolf and Smyth at the London National Society for Women's Service, on the subject of professions for women. Ethel Smyth outlived the much younger Virginia, at whose death, when asked by Raymond Mortimer for a comment, she mournfully refused, "I had to say I couldn't, touched as I was by his suggesting it. Later perhaps - but my god not now. You see it was not only that I loved her; it was that my life [was] literally based on her."

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Octavo. Original vellum-backed blue cloth boards, gilt titles to spine, marbled endpapers.


Vellum spine faintly soiled, faint marks to cloth. An excellent copy.


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