Register Sunday | June 17 | 2018

Virginia Woolf's Lost Rejection Letter

Dear Mrs Woolf

David Balzer, Esq.
Editor
The Stanchion Press
Great Obelisk Place
London WC1
November 19, 1926.

Dear Mrs Woolf,

Thank you for submitting to us your manuscript, To the Lighthouse. After careful consideration of its literary merits and market potential, we have decided not to pursue publication.

Allow me to elucidate. I believe strongly in the old axiom of showing and not telling, but, in this case, I feel you do neither. Do not confuse innovation with imprecision! You over-use the ugly impersonal pronoun ëoneí, for instance, and employ a battalion of semi-colons. You similarly cram your prose full of indefinite referents like ëthisí (or, ëall of thisí), ëthatí, ëití, and ëthe thingí (or worse, ëthe thing itselfí). I presume you are trying to conjure up something about life and love and their ultimate significance, but consider the following sentence: ëMarriage needed -- oh, all sorts of qualities ( ... ) one -- she need not name it -- that was essential; the thing she had with her husband.í ëThe thingí here might mean anything -- might easily, in fact, be construed by the reader as sexual intercourse, which you doubtless do not intend (your characters hardly touch each other). Youíve given the Ramsays eight children; may I ask, Mrs Woolf, where they came from?

The narrative voice in this manuscript is likewise incongruous; at times your speaker (he? she? it?) seems to be the Ramsay house itself, and houses are not normally given such powers of perspicacity. For clarity and excitementís sake, I suggest you attribute your musings to an actual figure, to be divulged dramatically at the conclusion. You might place a madwoman in the attic -- a previous lover of Mr Ramsay, for example -- who secretly scribbles down the story and plots revenge. (This madwoman could also be charged with the murder of Mrs Ramsay, thus explaining her haphazard removal in the bizarre ëTime Passesí section.)

And have you no pity for poor Mr Ramsay? Surely you can identify with his writerly pretensions and brooding insularity. Whatís more, you give all your men -- the paunchy Tansley, the doddering Bankes, the opium-addicted Carmichael -- such a rough time of things, except for young James, who has repeated thoughts of stabbing his father (you know your Freud; Iíll grant you that). As for Mrs Ramsay, does she really deserve such illustrious credit for the daube de búuf? Doling out pieces

of servant-prepared meat and glaring at oneís husband from across the dinner table are not, in my opinion, actions that warrant an apotheosis.

Perhaps at this point you are feeling a little like your Lily Briscoe, imagining me an invidious Tansley dismantling your artwork. Do not, Mrs Woolf, confuse my objections with sex bias. Your novel may be as delicately wrought as a Seurat, but no one wants to look at a Seurat for as long as it takes to read two hundred pages.

Self-publication may be your best hope. If your own milieu is anything like that of your novel, I trust you will have little trouble making connections or garnering finances.

Yours sincerely,

David Balzer