FRESHWATER: A Comedy by Virginia Woolf


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A Stephen family skit discovered among Leonard Woolf's papers at his death. Begun and abandoned in 1923, the little jeu d'esprit was resurrected some twelve years later and performed in Vanessa Bell's studio with a cast of family members. The setting is Freshwater Bay on the Isle of Wight, where during the 1860s and '70s the photographer Julia Cameron (Virginia and Vanessa's great-aunt) reigned at her home ""Dimbola"" among such distinguished friends as Tennyson and the painter G. F. Watts. Tennyson recites endlessly from Maud while Watts and Mrs. Cameron work busily on their respective pictures of Mrs. Watts (16-year-old Ellen Terry) as Modesty at the Feet of Mammon and the Muse inspiring Tennyson. Ellen is swept off by a handsome young naval officer; the Camerons escape Indiawards from the ensuing chaos (accompanied by British-built coffins) with a parting admonition to the age to ""be careful to fix your/ Lens out of focus""; the Queen appears with consolatory peerages and O.M.'s for Watts and Tennyson. In another age this airy morsel would have been printed in a collection of minor works rather than launched under its own steam at seven dollars, amid solemn assertions that it ""reveals Virginia Woolf's great talent for comedy."" It is handsomely presented here in the complete texts of what are thought to be the 1923 and 1935 versions. Ruotolo provides unobtrusive textual and biographical glosses, and Loretta Trezzo's puckish headpieces reinforce a charming but very, very slight literary footnote.

Pub Date: June 28th, 1976
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich