So, my summer affair with Bloomsbury continues as I have just read The London Scene by Virginia Woolf.
The London Scene is a short collection of six essays written by Virginia Woolf, for Good Housekeeping Magazine in 1931. Each essay portrays a particular area of London life in the 1930’s. Woolf, a Londoner herself loved the city and it was the setting and subject for a number of her novels.
During some of the darkest periods of her life when recovering from a breakdown she would walk the streets of Bloomsbury finding solace in the streets. Reading these essays it is clear Virginia had great affection for London and she writes of it with warmth and affection, painting a vivid picture as she brings 1930’s London to life. I love this description of a corner of Oxford Street in her essay ‘Oxford Street Tide’. Oxford Street is one of my least favourite parts of London but this description here is a very different Oxford Street to the one of today.
“At one corner seedy magicians are making slips of coloured paper expand in magic tumblers into bristling forests of splendid tinted flora – a subaqueous flower garden. At another, tortoises repose on litters of grass. The slowest and most contemplative of creatures display their mild activities on a foot or two of pavement, jealously guarded from passing feet.”
Another essay entitled ‘Great Mens Houses’ is a lovely discourse on the London houses of great writers. Keats, Dickens and Carlyle’s houses are all visited, as Woolf notes the ability writers have for making houses in their own image. Houses take on the character of their inhabitants
“The voice of the house – and all houses have voices – is the voice of pumping and scrubbing, of coughing and groaning”
Each essay is short but full of feeling and insight. I read it in one short sitting but its a book one could easily come back to again and again simply to enjoy the warmth and quality of the writing.