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Looking at Virginia Woolf's death with newly opened archive

March 22, 2010 | 12:29 pm

Virginiawoolf_portraitLetters from Virginia Woolf's set, being opened to the public for the first time, cast new light on the Bloomsbury group of, as one wrote, "dirty intellectuals." The newly opened archive, at Cambridge University, consists of two collections of letters, the Guardian reports.

The two collections belonged to the novelist Rosamond Lehmann and the diarist and writer Frances Partridge, once described by fellow group member Clive Bell as having "the best legs in Bloomsbury." Lehmann and Partridge became friends at Cambridge University, later getting to know the group of intellectuals that also included Woolf, EM Forster, Lytton Strachey and JM Keynes.

Of particular note are those letters by and pertaining to Woolf. On April 3, 1941, when Woolf was missing, yet had not been declared dead, Bell wrote to Partridge:

I'm not sure whether the Times will by now have announced that Virginia is missing. I'm afraid there is not the slightest doubt that she drowned herself about noon last Friday. She had left letters for Leonard and Vanessa [Woolf and Bell]. Her stick and footprints were found by the edge of the river. For some days, of course, we hoped against hope that she had wandered crazily away and might be discovered in a barn or a village shop. But by now all hope is abandoned; only, as the body has not been found, she cannot be considered dead legally.

This is an intimate look at what it was like for friends and family of Woolf in the weeks between her disappearance and when her body was finally discovered.

Aside from the letters directly relating to Woolf, there is much more about Bloomsbury in the archive -- it includes more than 1,000 pages of letters and 30 photo albums.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Virginia Woolf. Credit: Associated Press

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