In May the Library Council of Washington held their quarterly meeting in Pullman at Washington State University’s Holland and Terrell libraries. After the meeting they were given a tour of the library as well as a visit to Special Collections and Archives. As part of the tour the members learned that WSU houses Virginia Woolf’s personal library. How cool is that? How did this happen? Questions, we have questions… This chance encounter got the wheels spinning. How many interesting and unexpected collections are housed in Washington Libraries? With the Virginia Woolf collection in mind this intrepid reporter decided to reach out to the Washington library community and see what she could uncover. The result of this exploration will be a blog series we’re calling, “Bet you didn’t know!” Episode #1 fittingly, will cover The Virginia Woolf Library.
The first question asked of Trevor James Bond, Head of Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections at WSU was “How did the personal library of a British author end up in Pullman, Washington?” The story can be traced back to WSU’s former English department chair, John Elwood. In 1967, while on a sabbatical, he and his wife were living in Sussex near the Woolf’s country home. During this time a friendship was struck between the couples. In 1969, after the death of Leonard, Virginia Woolf’s husband, a mutual friend, Nancy Lucas, told Ellwood’s wife Karen that a “large portion of the Woolf’s personal library would soon be available for purchase” (Becker). Ellwood jumped on the opportunity and the purchase was arranged. The timing was prescient as not long after there was a revival of interest in Woolf’s work.
The collection has been augmented and built over time. In 1974 a large collection of Hogarth Press (the Woolf’s publishing house) publications were purchased from Trekkie Parsons (a friend and executor of Leonard Woolf’s estate). A purchase of 400 books in 1979, and another 100 volumes in 1983 helped to build the collection (Becker).
The current collection contains close to 10,000 books and is the amalgamation of four to five libraries that came together. Books from Virginia’s father Leslie Steven, books from her brother Toby, books from her husband’s library, books from friends and review books.
The Woolf’s personal library tells to us a lot about their reading and provides a peek into their lives and how they thought. In the library are many volumes inscribed by authors or sent to them for review. The Woolf library reflects how they read and used books; which books are worn and used, which are barely touched. Many of the books arrived in bad condition with detached covers. Virginia Woolf herself attempted repairs. Her efforts are described as “slapdash and pathetically inadequate”. (King & Miletic-Vejzovic)
In addition to the books in this collection WSU houses maps that were part of the original acquisition, and almost most fascinating of all there is a collection of “insert papers.” This collection consists of manuscripts, letters, and miscellaneous material that, for a variety of reasons, were placed by Leonard and Virginia Woolf in books from their working library. (T. J. Bond, personal communication, June 10, 2016)
If you are interested in browsing the collection in the catalog, here is a link limited to just the Woolf library. Or if you’re in the Pullman area, why not make an appointment and view the collection up close and personal?