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The ‘Literary’ Confessions of Woolf Sold at An Auction

by | Feb 11, 2021 | News

A book detailing the literary confessions of novelists Virginia Woolf and Margaret Kennedy where they share their thoughts on the best and worst writers in the literary world has sold for £21,000 at auction.

Really and Truly: A Book of Literary Confessions contains pages of printed questions with 10 sets of handwritten answers, dated between 1923 and 1927. It had been estimated to sell for between £4,000 – £6,000 at Dominic Winter Auctioneers in Gloucestershire.

It includes answers from several writers on who is the ‘greatest genius’ and ‘worst English novelist’.

Auctioneer Chris Albury said he “didn’t dream” the price would rise so high. He said the book had been bought earlier by an online bidder who was successful against other “very determined” potential buyers online and on the phone.

The book was uncovered by Margaret Kennedy’s grandson William Mackesy while sorting through his late grandmother’s effects. Mr Mackesy said: “It is the dislikes which, perhaps inevitably, deliver most fun. DH Lawrence and James Joyce are both nailed as the most overrated English living writers.

“It is interesting how perceptions change, especially how little mention there is of now-most-celebrated writers from that era.”  Among the authors replying to the questions were Rose Macaulay, Rebecca West, Hilaire Belloc, Stella Benson, Woolf and Kennedy.

There are 39 questions, ranging from “who is the greatest genius who ever lived?” to who respondents thought were the best and worst novelists/poets/playwrights/essayists, both dead and living. And there are some waspish ones too, such as questions over who was the most overrated English writer living, and a call to name a deceased writer whose character respondents most disliked.

Woolf answered all 39 questions in her distinctive purple ink, while Kennedy’s was the last entry and was the only one unsealed.

“While the writers’ views are the main fascination, the collection is also a testament to different times. “Almost all had views on the classical authors, Homer coming top for Greek, with Catullus edging out Lucretius for Latin.

“There is little consensus on anything, save that all think Shakespeare the greatest genius among writers who ever lived, except for Belloc, who voted for Homer, and Macaulay, who… didn’t know. It is the dislikes which, perhaps inevitably, deliver most fun. ASM Hutchinson, the successful romantic novelist, comes top of the dislikes table, with Thomas Carlyle and George Meredith just behind.

“It is interesting how perceptions change, especially how little mention there is of now-most-celebrated writers from that era. “TS Eliot is only mentioned by one participant, and then as both the worst living English poet and the worst living critic of literature. “DH Lawrence and James Joyce are both nailed as the most overrated English living writers.”

“In under 100 handwritten words, in her distinctive purple ink, Virginia Woolf tells us so much about her literary passions and aversions. “It really is a unique, literary jewel that will appeal to Woolf collectors and researchers worldwide.”

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