From The Charleston Bulletin Supplements, dictated by Virginia Woolf to her nephew Quentin Bell when he was a child. Between 1923 and 1927, Bell and his brother Julian hand-produced a “newspaper” for and about their relatives and visitors to their home in East Sussex, England. Woolf’s contributions, referred to within the family as “supplements,” are being published this month for the first time by the British Library.
In the beginning of January the Bell family decided that the climatic conditions of London were unfavourable to their art. Mrs. Bell, by advertising in Exchange & Mart, discovered a land where there is no conversation, no society, no literature; where the inhabitants are dumb; where the sun always shines from the North; + the old + clear light untainted by intellect + undisturbed by passion which is necessary for the composition of still lives, perpetually prevails. So she packed 87 boxes of canvas + oil paint, let her house to half a dozen coloured gentry of dubious morality + set off one fine winter’s day, for Cassis.
She was somewhat dismayed to pass three apparently human beings in the road, but determined not to open her eyes on any provocation whatsoever. She procured a sufficiency of vegetable produce from the town of Marseille, + arranged enough still lives to last Bell + Grant six months. Then the distinguished couple wetted their brushes + settled in.
After three or four weeks of complete silence, the door opened + admitted Colonel Teed. He was followed by Miss Campbell; she by Major Carruthers; he by Wyndham Tryon; next came Miss Bellains; finally an American coal merchant who had lost his wife + had taken to art by way of consolation, edged his way into the room: + were all coldly received.
Unfortunately, there is a flaw in Grant’s character. The desire for conversation sometimes seizes him. He articulates not distinctly but rapidly. Soon he was swept into the torrent. The whirlpool, the maëlstrom, of Cassis society. Miss Bellains had him to her bedroom + told him the story of her life. So did Miss Campbell, Mrs. Carruthers, + a lady whose name he never caught. Meanwhile Mrs. Bell, who has no flaw of that kind anywhere about her, had to listen to the adventures + sorrows of the gentleman. Col. Teed told her he had killed bears in Rangoon. The widower described Mabel’s death. Though Mrs. B. completely confused the lady + the Bear, her mere presence was a consolation, + it thus fell out that Bell + Grant became the hub of society. No tea party let alone sketching party, to say nothing of little expeditions to the Calanques, or merry gatherings at midnight in Bellains’ bungalow were complete without them. Wyndham Tryon went mad.
Such was the state of affairs when the Woolves arrived. As might have been expected, Mrs. Woolf found extremely congenial society in the company of Mr. Tryon + together they paced the beach by the hour, exchanging ideas often of the highest interest, but unfortunately unintelligible to the rest of the world. Mr. Woolf, whose love of the animal kingdom does him such credit, spent most of his time inducing the frogs to unbosom themselves to him freely. Miss Campbell joined him in this occupation. Meanwhile Mr. Bell wrote his epoch-making work on Civilization on the Balcony.
Mr. Fry fell over a seat + knocked out a tooth, which being his last had a sentimental value. A bird was seen with a snake in its beak. Mrs. Bell prognosticated an omen. No sooner were the words out of her mouth than . . .
a telegram arrived. What did I say? said Mrs. Bell, “A Catastrophe!” Her eyes lit with joy. “The choice lies between a Renault + a Citroën,” she said, letting the telegram fall to the floor. At the same moment the snake fell to the ground. “Grandpapa Bell is dying,” she announced, + went into Marseille to choose a car.
So the grim angel of death hovered over the home of Bell. But nothing as Mrs. Bell said would induce him to settle. The family returned to London; they found coffee coloured stains wherever the Indians had sat down: + life resumed its even way.
The spring was wet in the extreme at last on a rainy day, the Fowl alluded to above came to perch: + there was perhaps the grandest funeral ever known in Wiltshire.
Violet was sick in the rhododendron bushes. Vanessa Bell met the coffin on the stairs. Quentin struck the right note. All traffic was suspended. The sons carried the pall. Clive opened the Black Box. Vanessa bought a secondhand Renault.
The less said about this month, the better. Nothing was mentioned except mags: and glass [illeg.]. The only society kept was that of Fred and Harris. The only passions felt were those of rivalry + greed. Clive was forced to desert Bloomsbury in search of Civilization.
The only question was Citroën or Singer?
Buick or Renault?
Saloon or Touring?
Four Cylinder or Six?
+ then the great rivalry began.
The less said about July the better.
Mrs. Bell drove from Hyde Pk-Corner to Marble Arch.
Mr. Woolf drove from Marble Arch to Hyde Park Corner.
Mrs. Woolf knocked a boy off his bicycle.
Mrs. Bell killed a cat.
The less said the better.
It was discovered that the new study at Tilton was by no means rain-proof.
The discovery was repeated every day between Aug. 1st + Oct. 15th. Nevertheless, the Squire entertained profusely: and was not daunted by the insufficiency of the food + the inadequacy of the liquor from giving several dinner parties. He proved the valuable mathematical fact that two grouse are enough to feed 12 people, allowing for the birds being cooked on toast.
On August 10th the last bottle of so called wine was drunk: + recourse was had to a fine spring of natural water, upon which he had depended ever since.
The rain continued, which was welcomed at Tilton; but less so in the alcoholic of the county.
The Renault + the Singer now took the roads together, + it was found unnecessary for either car to use its horn, since the driver of each never ceased to trumpet the praises of his own conveyance. Cows would stampede at the noise: chickens evaporate: cocks crow.
But impartial observers were unanimously of opinion that the singer was the best.
This month was chiefly remarkable for the fact, if such it can be called, that Julian went to Cambridge. But as nobody dares to conceive what he did there we can only have a blank, + hope that it is the white flower of a blameless life.
Old Bloomsbury revived.
One hundred weight of pale surface glass [illeg.] was consumed
Maynard’s water supply was replenished: Harland was drunk — all efforts to discover on what have failed
Imagination boggles at the thoughts of what was said + what was done + over it draws the sheet of pale oblivion.
is thank heaven the last month in the calendar. Nature blinking at what we have had to record drew a white veil over the landscape + did her best to insinuate wine at Tilton: without success.
Among cracked radiators + lunatic motorists, we bow profoundly to the inscrutable will of providence + Take our Leave. Amen!