Page with blue type and handwritten notes in black ink

“Am I a Snob?” typescript draft

Transcript below

Francesca Wade: I love the idea of the Memoir Club—that they, she and her friends, would get together, and one of them had to deliver a no-holds-barred personal diatribe, and often some of the Bloomsbury group’s most personal and often most lively writing came out of things that they wrote for the Memoir Club, and I think this is definitely an example of Woolf at her kind of wittiest. The writing feels relaxed. It’s funny, and we don’t often talk about how funny Virginia Woolf is, but I think she really had a sense of humor. She’s often cast as a sort of melancholy type, but this essay is kind of brimming with humor and self-deprecation, and yet it’s strident as well, and she makes her point with aplomb.

Brandon Taylor: Yeah, and it goes back to something I said another time, which is that she is so openhearted, and so… There’s a way that sometimes wit is a defense mechanism to not have to be vulnerable, and I find her so vulnerable and willing to explore some really painful, pointed, difficult things, and just, I don’t know, there’s something so delightful about watching her, again, thinking and turning ideas over, and I too am in love with the idea of a memoir club. There’s something kind of group chatty about it, like it has the feeling of hanging out with your friends, you’re all going to put on some nice clothes and drink wine and just swap war stories from being alive, but of course written in this incredibly beautiful, elevated way. There’s something, I think, lively, is the word I keep coming back to about it.

Francesca Wade: And the question of am I a snob, I think, is one that has rather pursued Woolf, and she and Bloomsbury are often kind of criticized for their kind of elitism and privilege, and actually something that I’ve sort of discovered in the process of researching Woolf is how conscious of that she was herself. There’s a moment, I think in maybe 1938, when in fact Vita’s son Ben Nicholson writes her a letter after her biography of Roger Fry was published and basically accuses her and and Roger Fry and the rest of Bloomsbury of being totally out of touch and saying that it’s all very well for them to talk about the importance of art when they haven’t been on the front lines. And she writes back in a very sort of strident manner pointing out that her work, for example, for the People’s Suffrage Federation and with teaching literature to a working-class college, Morley College, and the other sort of work that Roger Fry did to keep the Omega Workshops open and indeed the Hogarth Press to publish young writers and distribute their work as widely as possible. 

And so she concludes by saying, you know, your accusations are baseless, but then back in her diary, she really turns it over and thinks about it more and thinks back to the kind of unquestioning dependence on servants that she’s had throughout her life, and she goes right back to her childhood, sort of untangling all of those kind of privileges and ends up writing this pretty amazing essay called “The Leaning Tower,” where she makes the case that after the war, she hopes that a new form of classless literature will emerge kind of from the wreckage of war, and she says that the classless, towerless novel will be a better novel than the old kind. So even though she was aware that that might make her rather obsolete…but she was aware that that sort of revolution was possible and she supported it.

Brandon Taylor: I mean, and again, like this perfect illustration of Virginia Woolf thinking and going to sometimes the most difficult, uncomfortable place, which is realizing one’s own implication in these horrifying systems and being willing to put your own neck on the line to ask the hardest questions imaginable to get the best, truest art out of it, right, and I feel that with Woolf, truth is so important and not like, “Is that true, is that false?” but a sense of aesthetic truth, like, “Is this true to the experience of being alive?” And in the “Am I a Snob?” essay, she’s such an elite rhetorician—like she’s so good at rhetoric and speech-giving that it’s easy to sort of lose sight of the clarity of her insight, and it’s, you know, it’s not just fancy dodging or maneuverings, it’s underpinned by a real, deep engagement with what will make the world a better, richer place.

End of Transcript

Users of the website may make copies of the Work under general copyright exceptions, but cannot further copy, share or adapt the Work. You may not use the material for commercial purposes. Please credit the copyright holder when reusing this work.