Monday, July 13, 2009

Richard Kennedy 'A Boy at the Hogarth Press' and Other Glimpses of Virginia and Leonard Woolf

Richard Kennedy - 'Virginia Woolf Setting Type at the Hogarth Press'

A while ago I did a post on a talk given by Virginia Woolf on the BBC in 1937 and added the audio cos I was interested in the immediate sense it gave of the writer, well, sort of but that's explained in the post.

And today I was reading a little book written and illustrated by Richard Kennedy in 1972 about his time as a 16 year old factotum at the Hogarth Press in 1928 ...

It is written in the first person narrative of the boy who had just left school to go to work, with this being enhanced by the inclusion of letters to friends at that time.

The charm of the little volume is in part due to the insights into the ordinary day-to-day life and conditions at the Hogarth Press ...

The Hogarth Press where I'm working, is in the heart of the literary world. ... The premises are a bit smelly as we work in the basement which was the kitchen quarters in an epoch when light and sanitation were not considered important for servants. ... The WC is just a cupboard without light and some holes in the door. ... Birrell asked me if LW still uses proofs in the WC. ... (one day) a large rat ran across the floor of the office towards Mrs W's studio.

... and into the working lives of Leonard and Virginia Woolf, away from the glittering literary world of Bloomsbury.

We get very un-Virginia-like glimpses of Virginia ...

I sat next to Mrs Woolf who rolled her shag cigarettes on a tray in front of her

... and descriptions of her in old slippers and a worn dress packing up bundles of newly printed books to send to bookshops, a fag hanging from the side of her mouth.

Whereas the more expected image of Mrs Woolf smoking might be ...

We hear about VW knitting and reading 'The Sexual Life of Savages'.

And of LW skating in Richmond Park ...

'and stopping to pee in a very casual sort of way without attempting to have any sort of cover'

... and talking with the author about pornography ...

Leonard Woolf and I have long discussions about pornography on our walks around the square. It seems he condones it when it's to do with sex, but doesn't enjoy lavatory humour.'

And stories such as ...

'Mrs Woolf was in a very happy mood. She said she had been to a nightclub the night before and said how marvellous it was inventing new foxtrot steps. ... Mrs Woolf [went] on to say how much she had enjoyed kicking up her heels.'

... all of which makes me not so afraid of Virginia Woolf!


  1. The dark blue type against the black background is difficult for old eyes such as mine.

  2. hey alan


    i always have the problem of putting aesthetics before practicality - and it seems a life long addiction


  3. I think you mean that he was a factotum, not a factorum. Or maybe not!

  4. hey anon

    thanks - i'll never earn a living as a typist!

    there must be some amusing or clever way of working 'factorum' in as the word ... but i can't quite think of it at the moment!

    thanks again