Tuesday, February 14, 2012

London, St. Valentine's Day, 1915

Virginia Woolf

February 14, 1915

    We both went up to London this afternoon; L[eonard] to the Library, and I to ramble around the West End, picking up clothes.  I am really in rags.  It is very amusing.  With age too one’s less afraid of the superb shop women.  These great shops are like fairies’ palaces now.  I swept about in Debenham’s and Marshall’s and so on, buying as I thought, with great discretion.  The shop women are often very charming in spite of their serpentine coils of black hair.  Then I had tea, and rambled down to Charing Cross in the dark, making up phrases and incidents to write about.  Which is, I expect, the way one gets killed.  I bought a ten and elevenpenny blue dress, in which I sit at the moment.

              -- Virginia Woolf

Flight Sub-lieutenant Reginald Warneford, RNAS, at Hendon in February 1915. 

     Reginald Warneford was the first pilot to destroy a Zeppelin in the air when he brought down LZ.37 on 7 June 1915, during the second month of the Zeppelin bombardment of London. He was awarded the Victoria Cross. Warneford died in France on June 17, 1915 when his aircraft crashed.

Piccadilly Circus, 1915 

First Zeppelin to bomb London, May 1915

The interior of a restaurant at 76-77 Aldgate High Street showing the effects of the major Zeppelin raid on the night of 13 -14 October 1915.

Embankment Gardens, June 1915

London's "Theatreland" in the West End -- 1915 -- published during Zeppelin bombardments. Designed by MacDonald Gill (brother of celebrated Arts & Crafts movement artist and paraphiliac Eric Gill), the map is a lighthearted and colorful effort interspersed with topical jokes and anecdotes.

NOTE This post began as a simple St. Valentine's Day blog.  I thought it would be interesting to reprint Virginia Woolf's itinerary and some of her thoughts from ninety-seven years ago today.  

But my photo research quickly took me somewhere else -- to other London 1915 venues (the war, which killed so many mothers' sons, poor and rich, was half-a-year old by mid-February) -- and it seemed appropriate to give a slightly broader picture given the mess we're still in today.  (Meet The New Boss, Same As The Old Boss, etc., etc.)  

It's so difficult as an American to imagine what it must have been like to anticipate and endure serial aerial bombardment.  New Yorkers (I am one) experienced 9-11, but even that corurscating, choking horror quickly became a "one-day event" for many people.  

Happy St. Valentine's Day!  I mean it.

Music Links:

The Pretty Things -- This Balloon Burning (from S.F. Sorrow)

The Kinks: Some Mother's Son (from Arthur)


  1. Curtis,

    Extremely interesting post.

    VW's attitude toward servants and the poor, as exhibited in this perfect bit of snobbism --

    The shop women are often very charming in spite of their serpentine coils of black hair.

    -- reminds one of all the patronising assumption of superiority and class hauteur of this author.

    You might find this of interest:

    The Horror of Dirt: Virginia Woolf and Her Servants

    As to The Pretty Things, in my time in London -- have I said this before -- they were legendary largely for their masterful success in getting a steady supply of "diet pills" provided by their matchstick-thin dolly-girlfriends (the doctors, one would have thought, might have wondered why someone who weighs barely seven stone might wish to be dieting -- but ah, sic transit gloria mundi).

  2. Hi. 97 years ago. Amazing to think about it and balloons burning, etc. I look forward to reading the VW piece. The Pretty Things are a favorite band of mine. I'm pleased that Andrew Loog Oldham plays their music a lot on his satellite radio show. They faced lots of professional challenges in their career, but always executed that Bo Diddley beat with authority and the right feeling. After the early great singles (Rosyln, Don't Bring Me Down, Come See Me and Midnight To Six Man), they became more "progressive" and ambitious and the SF Sorrow record (like the Kinks' Arthur and the Who's Tommy, but a little ahead of those two), charting a man's journey through life, was the result. This is my favorite song from the record. Fast forward 30 years and the reformed group absolutely nailed Barry McGuire's Eve of Destruction. As to "diet pills" (one key to my own college exam/graduation exercise), it's interesting that after a period of amphetamines being largely proscribed by the medical community, they're back big-time in Hollywood as the prescription drug Aderall (an updated name for Obetrol). Now they're targeted to the treatment of Attention Deficit Disorder, a condition which it is said afflicts Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and lots of other very thin (mostly) women. I'm glad they're finding help. Curtis

  3. Sticking with the St. Valentine's theme, Virginia Woolf's mention of Charing Cross brought to mind not "the way one gets killed" (in the dark), but rather, 84, Charing Cross Road , that wonderful love story chronically the post-WWII relationship between Helene Hanff and Frank Doel. I've only seen the movie - I'm a sucker for any movie with Anne Bancroft, but now that it's been brought to mind again, I've put a library hold on it. Thanks! Nell

  4. You're welcome, of course. Curtis

  5. Tom: The Woolf article was terrific and hit me directly, obliquely and hard for reasons I could explain pretty easily and succinctly. Thank you for sending it. Curtis

  6. Not to belabour the obvious, Curtis, but I've long felt that the inability to break through what is after all a fairly routine and generic strain of class prejudice, as best evidenced in her dismissive and patronising attitudes toward the "servant classes", becomes a limitation in Woolf's writing, denying it the humanity which is to be found, for example, in the books of Henry Green -- who came from the same class, but spent much of his life in the "shop" alongside those less privileged than himself, and, perhaps as a result, was able to "write characters", that is, create images of believable, rounded, complex human beings, drawn from those same "common" classes. To me this elevates his work from the level of specialty interest to that of something closer to the general and universal.

  7. You're not belaboring the obvious; on the contrary, you've hit the nail on the head. That's what struck me when I read the Nation article and all of a sudden I realized why I've always felt myself to be at a considerable distance from Woolf's writing. One feels it in terms both of what's there and what's missing. That was my first impression of it and it's continued to the present. Whereas Henry Green for both Caroline and me clicked right from the first sentence of Party Going. That being said, VW was a fascinating photographer's model. I pulled the diary excerpt from a book called The Assassin's Cloak, An Anthology of the World's Greatest Diarists. Arranged in calendar order, it's a great blogger's tool. It's by no means a perfect collection, but it's a lot of fun and you really need to applaud the anthologists, Irene and Alan Taylor, for their effort. Reading the Woolf quote led me into St. Valentine's Day in Britain research and then to WWI for obvious reasons, zeppelins, Eric Gill's paraphilia and his brother's London map. I think the "limitation" you cite in Woolf's writing is a fatal one for me, at least at this point, but now I know why I feel this way. Curtis

  8. I don't often differ with Curtis and Tom, but I didn't read this as prejudice at all. Rather a straightforward expression of fear. The serpentine coils belong to Medusas.

    Perhaps VW was a snob. I don't know. I do know from my own experience that a corrupt system tends to damage everyone in it, masters and servants alike.

  9. Hi Chris. Thanks. You've given me something else to think about apart from my own emotions and severe prejudices this morning. My trouble connecting with Virginia Woolf has always been on a sort of visceral "heart and soul" level. But you can't expect to connect with everyone. For instance, the person I sent that strong note to this morning -- someone who is supposedly on "my side" of everything, for which I took the (for me) highly unusual step of marking "Urgent," who hasn't replied. I absolutely agree that a corrupt system tends to damage everyone. Obviously, this is something we see on display constantly, writ large (many aspects of our unfolding presidential election) and small (the Senate barbershop story -- did you read about that?). You should let Merry know that Patrick Hamilton's Impromptu in Moribundia, an odd, enjoyable, early example of the "graphic novel," has just been republished as a Faber paperback and can once again be purchased at a reasonable price. Curtis

  10. I will do that. Thank you.