Virginia Woolf’s Never-Before-Seen Witty Family Newspaper, Illustrated by Her Nephew, Quentin Bell
By Maria Popova
In 1923, with her greatest works still ahead of her, Virginia Woolf was asked to contribute to a small family newspaper which her teenage nephews, Julian and Quentin Bell — sons of Woolf’s sister, the prominent Bloomsbury Group artist Vanessa Bell, whose woodcuts graced some of Virginia’s books — had dreamt up. But instead of a one-off submission, she joined forces with the boys and the trio began publishing The Charleston Bulletin — booklets of stories and sketches announced within the household as Supplements, written by Woolf, illustrated by young Quentin, and covering the family’s ordeals with irreverent wit and insidery humor. (It was there that Woolf’s little-known children’s story, The Widow and the Parrot, first appeared.) But the newspaper lay dormant in the Bell family archives for nearly a century, until it was at last transcribed in full and released as The Charleston Bulletin Supplements (public library), featuring all of Woolf’s writing and 40 of Bell’s original drawings.
From sharp-witted portraits of family members and household servants to behind-the-scenes glimpses of the eccentricities of various Bloomsbury Group artists and other “eminent Charlestonians,” is at once an intimate portrait of Woolf’s circle and a heart-warming chronicle of this aunt-nephew creative collaboration.
For a taste, here is Woolf and Bell’s portrait of Trisy, the household’s cook of haphazard culinary talent:
When in a good & merry mood, Trisy would seize a dozen eggs & a bucket of flour, coerce a cow to milk itself, & then mixing the ingredients toss them 20 times high up over the skyline, & catch them as they fell in dozens & dozens & dozens of pancakes.
The Charleston Bulletin Supplements is an absolute treat, the finest masterpiece of illustrated literary snark since Mark Twain’s Advice to Little Girls. Pair it with the only surviving recording of Virginia Woolf’s voice.
Published June 24, 2013