That book I was going to talk about… A Boy at the Hogarth Press by Richard Kennedy, which my friend Barbara gave to me, and which (I hear) is being republished by Slightly Foxed. I’ve had my eye on this for a while, but somehow hadn’t got around to buying it when Barbara sent me a copy, and so I was rather delighted. The list of Woolf-related books I’ve read isn’t small, and it is growing – I like to dip back into Bloomsbury waters every now and then, especially the books which are first-hand, but from the peripherals. The most recent addition to 50 Books You Must Read But May Not Have Heard About was one of these – and while Kennedy’s isn’t *as* good, it’s still rather wonderful.
Richard Kennedy was just what the title suggests – a boy at the Hogarth Press, the small publishing venture started by Leonard and Virginia Woolf. Kennedy did the day-to-day tasks, but was also occasionally asked his opinion about the books people sent in – winning something of a victory when he (with the help of his uncle) called Ivy Compton-Burnett a genius, while Leonard Woolf dismissed her as being unable to write. His book was written about forty years after his time there, but is still in the form of a diary, which leads to a rather odd mix of naivety and disingenuosness – but an uncomplicated eye amongst the complicated which is difficult to resist. All new angles of Virginia are welcome to me, but perhaps especially one who wasn’t all that afraid of her, and judged her by such standards as it being ‘bad form to laugh at your employees’. Love Virginia Woolf though I do, sometimes contemporary accounts of her can be a little nauseating. How much more precise is: ‘I think she is rather cruel in spite of the kind, rather dreamy way she looks at you.’
Richard Kennedy would never rival his employers in terms of writing – the boyish charm is needed to carry a patchwork of recollections, tied together by similarly boyish sketches – but A Boy at the Hogarth Press is a refreshing and amusing addition to the canon of Bloomsbury onlookers.