I always have a collection of the letters on the go, usually several, and the other day I finished Love Letters: Leonard Woolf and Trekkie Ritchie Parsons 1941-1968, edited by Judith Adamson. (Which, incidentally, was on my list of books I intended to read soon, back in April 2007. After two years I’ve read… 12 out of 17, having started and given up on another one. Not bad.) It was catapaulted to the top of my reading pile when my friend Phoebe gave me a second copy of it.
My interest in all things Bloomsbury, especially all things Virginia Woolf, presents something of a quandry – yes, I want to find out more about their lives, but reading Leonard professing love for someone who isn’t Ginny – ‘To know you and to love you has been the best thing in my life’ – is a little disconcerting. True, this started a while after Virginia’s death – but not that long.
Leonard’s met Ian Parsons through publishing, they were colleagues somewhere or other, and through Ian met his wife Trekkie, a painter. And they fell in love. Being the wacky world of Bloomsbury, none of the three seemed to think it particularly odd to carry on as they were – eventually Leonard moved in next door to the Parsons, and Trekkie would spend some holidays with Ian, some with Leonard – basically living two separate, but close, lives.
These letters, then, made slightly odd reading. By the second half they were the sweet, attached letters of two people who loved each other going about everyday life (with Ian usually quietly not mentioned) but the first half was quite awkward – Leonard professing his love in flowery, lengthy descriptions and Trekkie replying about her vegetable patch or latest clothing purchase. Really quite embarrassing how ardent he was and how cool she is in comparison – but obviously he wore her down.
They do make a slightly odd pair, and one with some connection with Two People – Leonard being both older and more intelligent than Trekkie – though she was an independently creative person, which Sylvia was not. She doesn’t come across as being remotely like Virginia, which is probably why Leonard’s relationship with Trekkie worked and Virginia is so seldom mentioned in these letters – but, for me, her absence spoke volumes over the entire, ahem, volume. Though interesting, this collection of letters really demonstrated to me how central Virginia Woolf is to my interest in Bloomsbury, and how bizarre I found the idea that it all carried on without her.