A portrait of Woolf by Roger Fry c. 1917 – Leeds Art Gallery / Public Domain

“How much better is silence; the coffee cup, the table. How much better to sit by myself like the solitary sea-bird that opens its wings on the stake. Let me sit here for ever with bare things, this coffee cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves, myself being myself.” Virginia Woolf, The Waves

The New York Public Library just announced the acquisition of an extensive Virginia Woolf Collection. This collection provides a rare glimpse into the life of the iconic writer and, merged with existing Library collections related to Woolf, formulates one of the world’s most complete and important collections of Virginia Woolf material.

The Library has acquired by purchase and gift this collection of rarely seen Virginia Woolf material: correspondence, rare printed books and unique material such as photographs, original artwork and ephemera, including Woolf’s passport.

Patience and Fortitude, the “Library Lion” statues, in the snowstorm of December 1948 / Public Domain Photograph from the now defunct United States Information Agency

The collection of 153 items was assembled over decades by William Beekman. It will join the Library’s existing Virginia Woolf holdings in the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, accessible from the Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. With this new acquisition, The New York Public Library holds what is arguably the most complete and important collection of Virginia Woolf material in the world.

The Library’s Berg Collection is currently home to Virginia Woolf’s diaries and notebooks; draft material for all of her works of fiction; nearly 3,000 pieces of incoming and outgoing correspondence, as well as photographs; books; legal documents; and her walking stick. The existing collection, which spans the years 1888 to 1941, numbers nearly 3,700 individual items and began with the acquisition of Woolf’s diaries in 1958, directly from her husband, Leonard Woolf.

“Virginia Woolf’s writings are essential to literary modernism, long one of the core collecting areas—and one of the most frequently accessed—of the Berg Collection at The New York Public Library,” said Andrew W. Mellon Director of the Research Libraries, William Kelly. “The acquisition of the William Beekman Collection of Virginia Woolf and Her Circle adds extraordinary depth to what is already one of the Berg’s strongest collections. With this acquisition, the Library reaffirms its commitment to Virginia Woolf, to literary modernism, to early feminist writing, and to documenting the creative process through incomparably rich collections.”

Highlights of the new acquisition:

  • Extensive correspondence, including a set of eight letters from Virginia Woolf’s husband, Leonard, and sister, Vanessa Bell, to Vita Sackville-West regarding Woolf’s disappearance and suicide.
  • Showing a different side of the author’s personality, a humorous “proclamation” written on the eve Vanessa Bell’s marriage, which Woolf wrote from the perspectives of three apes, Billy, Bartholomew, Mungo, and a Wombat.
  • Copies of the first editions of Woolf’s books, including Jacob’s Room (1922), Mrs. Dalloway (1925), and To the Lighthouse (1927). Each retain the original jacket illustrations designed by Vanessa Bell and several are inscribed to intimate associates
  • Unique items such as Woolf’s passport name card with picture, unpublished poetry by Vita Sackville-West, and books from Woolf’s own library.
  • Letters and gift books inscribed to Florence Hardy (widow of Thomas Hardy), David Garnett, Clive Bell, and other prominent members of the Bloomsbury group.

The Beekman collection complements the Library’s holdings, while providing greater breadth and important context for many of the items. This is seen with the addition of the letter from Leonard Woolf to Vita Sackville-West regarding Virginia’s presumed suicide and finding her walking stick floating in the river. The Berg Collection is home to the walking stick.

Virginia Woolf

Adeline Virginia Woolf (1882–1941) was an English novelist, essayist, biographer, and feminist. Woolf was central to the Bloomsbury Group*, a coterie of British artists, writers, and intellectuals active in the first half of the twentieth century. In 1917, Woolf founded with her husband, Leonard, the Hogarth Press and published what would become foundational works of Modernism, including T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land in 1923. She also wrote nine novels, two collections of short stories, a biography, and three book-length essays in addition to other works. She wrote approximately 400 essays and 4,000 letters, and kept a diary for most of her life before committing suicide in 1941.


*The Bloomsbury Group—or Bloomsbury Set—was a group of associated English writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists in the first half of the 20th century,[1]including Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, E. M. Forster and Lytton Strachey. This loose collective of friends and relatives was closely associated with the University of Cambridge for the men and King’s College London for the women, and they lived, worked or studied together near Bloomsbury, London. According to Ian Ousby, “although its members denied being a group in any formal sense, they were united by an abiding belief in the importance of the arts.” Their works and outlook deeply influenced literature, aesthetics, criticism, and economics as well as modern attitudes towards feminism, pacifism, and sexuality. A well-known quote, attributed to Dorothy Parker, is “they lived in squares, painted in circles and loved in triangles”. Wikipedia MORE

“I could not be more delighted to see my collection find a permanent home with the marvelous Woolf material already held by The New York Public Library in the Berg Collection,” said collector, William Beekman. “The Berg’s wealth of related holdings and its curatorial resources mean that these books and documents, which have given me so much pleasure, will be available to scholars and the general public to study and enjoy for years to come.”

The collection has been processed and is available for research purposes at the Berg Collection.


This post is complied courtesy of The New York Public Library, Leeds Art Gallery, Wikipedia, and my bookshelf. 

Rose Main Reading Room

The New York Public Library is a free provider of education and information for the people of New York and beyond. With 92 locations—including research and branch libraries—throughout the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island, the Library offers free materials, computer access, classes, exhibitions, programming, and more to everyone from toddlers to scholars, and has seen record numbers of attendance and circulation in recent years. The New York Public Library serves nearly 17 million patrons who come through its doors annually and millions more around the globe who use its resources at nypl.org. To offer this wide array of free programming, The New York Public Library relies on both public and private funding. Learn more about how to support the Library at nypl.org/support.

Jamie Dedes. I’m a freelance writer, poet, content editor, and blogger. I also manage The BeZine and its associated activities and The Poet by Day jamiededes.com, an info hub for writers meant to encourage good but lesser-known poets, women and minority poets, outsider artists, and artists just finding their voices in maturity. The Poet by Day is dedicated to supporting freedom of artistic expression and human rights and encourages activist poetry.  Email thepoetbyday@gmail.com for permissions, commissions, or assignments.

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Recent and Upcoming in Digital Publications: Jamie Dedes, Versifier of Truth, Womawords Literary Press, November 19, How 100,000 Poets Are Fostering Peace, Justice, and Sustainability, YOPP! * The Damask Garden, In a Woman’s Voice, August 11, 2019 / This short story is dedicated to all refugees. That would be one in every 113 people. * Five poems, Spirit of Nature, Opa Anthology of Poetry, 2019 * From the Small Beginning, Entropy Magazine (Enclave, #Final Poems), July 2019 * Over His Morning Coffee, Front Porch Review, July 2019 * Three poems, Our Poetry Archive, September 2019

“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.”  Lucille Clifton


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