A pink passport page with a torn ragged edge shows a black-and-white photograph of a woman with short hair wearing a coat with a fur collar, a slip of paper signed "Virginia Woolf," and a stamp reading "Foreign Office, 22 Mar 1923."

Virginia Woolf’s passport, issued March 22, 1923

Transcript below

Brandon Taylor: This is one of my favorite parts of the exhibit because it… I don’t know. I love authorial ephemera, I love all the documents of a writer’s life, and again, it’s one of these things where I think I’m not accustomed to seeing Woolf and this kind of… I mean, it’s not domestic. I guess it’s like dailiness, like it’s one of her bureaucratic documents. It’s her passport for travel, and I think that Woolf—particularly as a writer who is most thought of as someone whose life was curtailed or circumscribed by her illness, I think a lot of people think of her as a writer of being debilitated by illness—to sort of see this document of travel and to imagine that she was someone who went out into the world and found stories and found people. And again, this photo of her is so iconic. I mean, with this, you know, her gaze is haunted, but I also find it quite purposeful and a little confrontational, like she’s squaring up on the person taking the photo and she’s like, “I’ve got work to do,” like it’s a very “I’d rather be somewhere else” kind of expression.

Francesca Wade: It’s hard to imagine her in a sort of standoff with an authority, going somewhere to have her passport photo taken and sending off the documents. Carolyn Vega, the curator of this exhibition, was telling us how she used this passport to visit Gerald Brennan in Spain in April 1923, who was a war veteran it’s thought helped inspire the character of Septimus Smith in Mrs. Dalloway. I think she writes in her diary after seeing him that she’s got an idea for a character who obviously is one of her, you know, most important characters in a way and someone who she puts quite a bit of herself into as well. So this document sort of has within it a literary history as well. 

Brandon Taylor: And again, the fur coat, the trim of this coat is amazing. And her signature. 

Francesca Wade: Yeah, and it looks—I can’t quite tell—but it looks like it’s the purple ink that she always used to write in. 

Brandon Taylor: I’m always so struck by the fact that when you can see the handwriting of another person, there’s something so, I don’t know… I feel like it tells you something about them, but it also feels miraculous that we can see another person’s handwriting because often we think of handwriting as being this thing that lives in the private dimension of a life. It’s like your letters to friends, it’s your grocery list, it’s stuff like that. And to me, it’s an incredibly precious thing.

End of Transcript

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