WOOLF, Virginia (1882-1941). Typescript signed ('By Virginia Woolf. (Monks House, Rodmell, Lewes, Sussex. England)') with autograph emendations of her essay 'Thoughts on Peace during an Air Raid' [published as 'Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid'], August 1940, with 14 autograph emendations and a number of further corrections to spelling and punctuation, 6 pages, 4to (265 x 210mm) (pin holes to upper left corners);
[with] a series of five typed letters signed ('Virginia Woolf') to Mrs Motier Harris Fisher (the first addressed to her at 'The Woman's Press', New York), Monk's House, 21 June - 11 November 1940, a few emendations and cancellations in autograph, 3½ pages, 4to, one page, oblong 8vo and ½ page, 8vo, four envelopes, and two related documents. Provenance: Mrs Motier Harris Fisher; and by descent.
'THE GERMANS WERE OVER THIS HOUSE AGAIN LAST NIGHT AND THE NIGHT BEFORE THAT ... ALL THE SEARCHLIGHTS ARE ERECT. THEY POINT AT A SPOT EXACTLY ABOVE THIS ROOF. AT ANY MOMENT A BOMB MAY FALL ON THIS VERY ROOM ...': a vivid meditation on life at war, and of the role of women in such a conflict. 'The defenders are men, the attackers are men. Arms are not give to Englishwomen either to fight the enemy or to defend herself', but Woolf urges the contribution that women can make to the war of ideas, 'we can fight with the mind', and this in spite of the exclusion of women from positions of political responsibility: women's fight should be against the 'subconscious Hitlerism' of aggression and the enslavement of sexual stereotyping, and for the freedom of 'creative feelings' to 'compensate the man for the loss of his gun'. The essay was published in the posthumous collection The Death of the Moth (1942), where it was described as having been 'Written ... for an American symposium on current matters concerning women'; the present manuscript has a few minor variations from the published text.
The letters to Mrs Fisher relate to the commissioning of the manuscript, and are revealing of the author's state of mind in the last year of her life. The earliest letter expresses her willingness to write an article 'for the book you describe', but with the riders that 'conditions in England are such that I have to face the fact that all writing may become impossible', and that she would be bound to offer an article to 'one of the American magazines'. As for the article itself, she would 'try to develop further those views of what should be the attitude of women towards war and peace which I sketched in my book Three Guineas. As I said there, indifference would become impossible once war aroused emotions. Now that war is very close to me, I am experiencing the emotional changes which I foretold. And of course, it is an extraordinarily interesting experience'; the letter ends on a warm note, 'it is a great encouragement to me at this moment, when the future looks so dark, to realise, as your letter makes me realise, how actively women on your side of the Atlantic are interesting themselves in problems which will remain of the greatest importance, whatever our fate is here ... I have delayed writing, but only because, as you will understand, we are living at a time of great daily anxiety'. The second letter, on 27 July, provides a summary of the first, in case it has gone astray; on 3 September, Woolf announces the despatch of the article under a separate cover (a separate, brief letter accompanied it), noting that she had completed it too late for her proposed magazine publication in The Forum. On 11 November, she approves the recipient's having forwarded the essay to the New Republic, the proposed book having been delayed, concluding with both public and private news: 'I hope you are pleased with the result of the Election. We are over here. Privately, we are a good deal distracted; as our London flat has been bombed, and that means a great deal of worry about furniture and so on as you can imagine'.
The Woolfs' home at Rodmell was much exposed to air raids in the summer of 1940 when the Battle of Britain was taking place over Sussex and Kent -- more so, initially, than their London houses in Tavistock and Mecklenburgh squares, although with the advent of the Blitz both these were destroyed by bombs in September and October. Air raids constantly punctuate Woolf's letters of this period. (6)