Thursday, June 21, 2012

Virginia Woolf may be too hard on Keynes here...

I was reading Brad DeLong's old review of Skidelsky's biography and found this interesting:

"Virginia Woolf had a different, less happy and romantic view. She wrote of her "vivid sight of Maynard by lamplight--like a gorged seal, double chin, ledge of red lip, little eyes, sensual, brutal, unimaginate. One of those visions that come from a chance attitude, lost as soon as he turned his head. I suppose though it illustrates something I feel about him. He’s read neither of my books..." (page 15). There is a clear lesson: if your circle includes Nobel Prize-winnning caliber novelists with wicked pens, read their books and praise them as often as possible."

Based on the Bloomsbury dates and the fact that she says "neither of my books", I'm assuming she's referring to The Voyage Out (1915) and Night and Day (1919).

Two questions:

1. Does anyone read these?
2. How likely do you think it is that Woolf read Indian Currency and Finance (1913)? I'm guessing her husband Leonard had. Do you think she did?


  1. I'm not an English major, but I do believe that those were her earlier works. While her frustration at J.M. Keynes is understandable given that she was beginning to be published, I don't think it's all that important.

    As for Virginia Woolf reading J.M. Keynes's first published work...I'm not sure she would be that interested in the first place, though I could see her husband, Leonard Woolf, as having read it given the fact he was an adviser to the Labour Party.

    Since you linked to Brad DeLong's review of the Skidelsky biographical trilogy, I can't help but bring up Lord Skidelsky himself.

    Are you aware of his latest book, How Much is Enough? Money and the Good Life? It's been released for sale on recently.

    It features J.M. Keynes's 1930 essay, "Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren", and deals with the normative implications of increased prosperity.

    Are you going to read Skidelsky's latest book, Daniel Kuehn?

  2. I'm reminded of this in Skidelsky's third volume: "On 28 March 1941, Virginia Woolf drowned herself in the River Ouse. Maynard, who had never felt despair, and could not understand it, reported the news to his mother in his usual factual style: 'We have been much upset this week-end by the sad fate of our dear friend Virginia Woolf. Her old troubles came back on her, and she drowned herself last Friday. She had seemed so very well and normal last time we saw her. We rang up on Saturday to ask her over to tea and got this answer. It is nearly 30 years now since she poisoned herself in Brunswick Square and Geoffrey raced to Barts for a stomach pump and brought her round. I thought she had safely steered through all that as the result of the devoted care of Leonard. The two of them were our dearest friends.'"

    I think Skidelsky's remark that Keynes "had never felt despair, and could not understand it" is the most insightful of the biography. To be a scientist the psyche has to function smoothly enough to allow you time to worry about details of little emotional significance, like money supply. Imagine the jealousy of the sufferer, for whom resisting the challenges of the self is a full time job. Keynes's time to worry about interest rates must appear an unimaginable luxury. That's how I read Woolf's "ledge of red lip" lines. Contrast Keynes's words at her death. Completely incomprehending, but tender.

    As a sufferer, I too find Keynes monstrous. But saying that is giving in to a version of slave morality for artists.


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