Letter and postcard from Virginia Woolf to George Bernard Shaw, 1940


In 1940 Virginia Woolf struck up a correspondence with George Bernard Shaw about the biography she was writing of her friend, the artist and critic Roger Fry. In this typewritten letter, dated 15 May 1940, Woolf replies to Shaw with enthusiasm and thanks for the material he has sent. ‘Your reply reduced me to two days silence from sheer pleasure’, she confesses.

The letter is flirtatious, written in playful, flattering language. When Woolf writes, ‘As for the falling in love, it was not, let me confess, one-sided’, she is responding to Shaw’s own declaration of love to her in his previous letter. Shaw, who was now in his eighties, had told Woolf that he associates meeting her with writing the play Heartbreak House, ‘because I conceived it in that house somewhere in Sussex where I first met you and, of course, fell in love with you. I suppose every man did’.[1]

Woolf cannot resist a touch of satire, however. She mocks her younger self, when she first met Shaw, writing that she was then ‘set against all great men, having been liberally fed on them in my father’s house’. But it was Shaw, apparently, who ‘made me re-consider all that’. He has ‘acted a lover’s part in my life for the past thirty years’. Woolf is, of course, speaking in metaphorical terms – of a love for his writing.

Woolf also sent Shaw a postcard showing a photograph of Monk’s House, Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s country house in the village of Rodmell, east Sussex.

The correspondence is from volume XV of the George Bernard Shaw Papers, bequeathed to the British Library in his will.

[1] George Bernard Shaw quoted in Stanley Weintraub, Journey to Heartbreak: The Crucible Years Of Bernard Shaw 1914–1918 (New York: Weybright and Talley, 1971), p. 165.

Full title:
Bernard Shaw Papers. Vol. XV. Includes: Letter and postcard to G. B. Shaw of Adeline Virginia Woolf
1940; whole volume 1938–42, Monk's House, Rodmell, Lewes, Sussex
Manuscript / Letter / Ephemera / Photograph / Image
Virginia Woolf
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© The Society of Authors as the Literary Representative of the Estate of Virginia Woolf. You may not use the material for commercial purposes. Please credit the copyright holder when reusing this work.

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British Library
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