Woolf’s Lost London Essay

“The truth was she did not want intimacy; she wanted conversation. Intimacy has a way of breeding silence, and silence she abhorred. There must be talk, and it must be general, and it must be about everything. It must not go too deep, and it must not be too clever, for if it went too far in either of these directions somebody was sure to feel out of it, and to sit balancing his tea cup, saying nothing.”

This lovely passage comes from a lost Virginia Woolf essay originally written for Good Housekeeping in 1931. Woolf originally wrote a series of six lyrical essays on London for the magazine, but when they were published as the book The London Scene in 1975, only five appeared, “The Docks of London,” “Oxford Street Tide,” “Great Men’s Houses,” “Abbeys and Cathedrals,” and “‘This is The House of Commons’.” In “‘This is The House of Commons’,” Woolf remarks: “The mind, it seems, like to perch, in its flight through empty space, upon some remarkable nose, some trembling hand; it loves the flashing eye, the arched brow, the abnormal, the particular, the splendid human being.” This is as good as it gets; a nice encapsulation of Woolf’s entire philosophy; writing as a great house of commons. London, of course, was the Dublin of Woolf’s Ulysses, Mrs. Dalloway.

The London Scene is set to be republished in September by Snowbooks in the UK with the sixth essay finally added. The Guardian has republished the essay for the first time in over 70 years.