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Insights Of 'A Boy At The Hogarth Press'

A Boy at the Hogarth Press by Richard Kennedy is a collection of diary entries and letters written by Kennedy while he worked at the Hogarth Press. The book begins when he was sixteen years old, when he began his work there.

The Hogarth Press was a publishing press which became an important cultural and literary hub. It was founded in 1917 by Virginia and Leonard Woolf and was at the very centre of the Bloomsbury Group.

The Virginia and Leonard Woolf that Kennedy describes are at turns incredibly different and faithful to representations of them in their own writing and in wider academia.

Of his first meeting with him, Kennedy writes, “Leonard Woolf did, in fact, look very like a wolf in human form - but an extremely intellectual wolf, not to say a kindly wolf - a very Socrates of wolves.” (20)

Kennedy notes that his head and hands are trembling. “This trembling gave the impression, not of infirmity, but of the vibration of a powerful intellectual machine.” (20)

Kennedy’s presentation of Leonard as their professional relationship progresses is also of a sentimental, interior man. Kennedy asked LW if he believed in the immortality of the soul. “‘Obviously not!’ he retorted. I could not help observing that Pinker looked as if he had a soul. As far as LW was concerned, it would be to members of the animal kingdom alone that he would allow souls.” (41)

Kennedy’s representations of Virginia Woolf, whom he calls Mrs. W, often involve some reference to her love of parties. On his first meeting with her, she gives Kennedy her invitation to Desmond MacCarthy’s lecture on Ibsen because “she had to go to a party.” (27)

“I went to supper with the Woolfs. We had strawberries and cream. Mrs W was in a very happy mood. She said she had been to a nightclub the night before and how marvellous it was inventing new foxtrot steps. I thought LW’s back looked a bit disapproving as he was dishing out the strawberries.” (32)

Later that night, Virginia “started talking about the Hogarth Press in a way that I thought didn’t please LW very much, saying it was like keeping a grocer’s shop. I think she is rather cruel in spite of the kind rather dreamy way she looks at you.” (36)

On September 5th, Kennedy wrote of VW, “she was in a very gay mood and said she had been on the loose in London. I somehow felt a bit disapproving, perhaps because I am guilty about my own wanderings when I should be at the Press. She reads the most extraordinary books, such as The Sexual Life of Savages… He [Leonard Woolf] is the magician who keeps us all going by his strength of will - like the one in the Tales of Hoffmann - and Mrs W is a beautiful magical doll, very precious, but sometimes rather uncontrollable. Perhaps, like the doll, she hasn’t got a soul. But when she feels inclined, she can create fantasy and we all fall over ourselves, or are disapproving.” (45)

Conversely to this reckless and uncontrollable portrayal of VW, Kennedy also writes in his diary that she would not allow him and a young woman who also worked at Hogarth to eat lunch together.

Upon the publication of Orlando Kennedy wrote, “I think I’m going to like it much more than To The Lighthouse, which is a good thing because it’s embarrassing to like someone and not admire their work.” (56) He repeats later that Orlando, Mrs Dalloway, and The Common Reader  were the only books of VW’s that he had been able to read. 

Kennedy relates the story of a cold day when Leonard Woolf asked Kennedy to find some skates so they could go skating in Richmond Park, which they did with their spaniel Pinker.

Kennedy compares LW to Swann in Proust’s Swann’s Way but makes sure to write that, “Of course, Mrs W is not at all like Odette, but they are both rather wayward creatures, worshipped by their husbands.” (81-2)

Kennedy’s portrayal of the Woolfs, respectively, makes his personal allegiance with Leonard over Virginia difficult to hide and displays the two respective literary behemoths in rare and very telling domestic, distilled glimpses through the eyes of a very relatable, awkward, and flawed young narrator.

Image ‘The Bloomsbury Group (Camden)’ by Spudgun67 licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0 Deed

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