Diary of Virginia Woolf during the 1926 General Strike

Diary of Virginia Woolf during the 1926 General Strike

Indifferent account of the 1926 General Strike by writer Virginia Woolf.

5th May

An exact diary of the Strike would be interesting. For instance, it is
now a 1/4 to 2: there is a brown fog; nobody is building; it is drizzling.
The first thing in the morning we stand at the window & watch the
traffic in Southampton Row. This is incessant. Everyone is bicycling;
motor cars are huddled up with extra people. There are no buses. No
placards. no newspapers. The men are at work in the road; water, gas &
electricity are allowed; but at 11 the light was turned off. I sat in the
press in the brown fog, while L. wrote an article for the Herald. A very
revolutionary looking young man on a cycle arrived with the British
Gazette. L. is to answer an article in this. All was military stern a little
secret. Then Clive dropped in, the door being left open. He is offering
himself to the Government. Maynard excited, wants the H[ogarth].
P[ress]. to bring out a skeleton number of the Nation. It is all tedious &
depressing, rather like waiting in a train outside a station. Rumours are
passed round—that the gas wd. be cut off at 1—false of course. One
does not know what to do. And nature has laid it on thick today—fog,
rain, cold. A voice, rather commonplace & official, yet the only common
voice left, wishes us good morning at 10. This is the voice of Britain,
to wh. we can make no reply. The voice is very trivial, & only tells us
hat the Prince of Wales is coming back (from Biarritz), that the London
streets present an unprecedented spectacle.

7th May

No change. "London calling the British Isles. Good morning every-
one". That is how it begins at 10. The only news that the archbishops
are conferring, & ask our prayers that they may be guided right. Whether
this means action, we know not. We know nothing. Mrs Cartwright
walked from Hampstead. She & L. got heated arguing, she being anti-
labour; because she does not see why they should be supported, &
observes men in the street loafing instead of working. Very little work
done by either of us today. A cold, wet day, with sunny moments. All
arrangements unchanged. Girl came to make chair covers, having walked
from Shoreditch, but enjoyed it. Times sent for 25 Violas. Question
whether to bring out a skeleton Roneo Nation. Leonard went to the
office, I to the Brit[ish] Mus[eum]; where all was chill serenity, dignity
& severity. Written up are the names of great men; & we all cower like
mice nibbling crumbs in our most official discreet impersonal mood
beneath. I like this dusty bookish atmosphere. Most of the readers
seemed to have rubbed their noses off & written their eyes out. Yet
they have a life they like—believe in the necessity of making books, I
suppose: verify, collate, make up other books, for ever. It must be
15 years since I read here. I came home & found L. & Hubert [Henderson]
arriving from the office—Hubert did what is now called "taking a cup
of tea", which means an hour & a halfs talk about the Strike. Here is his
prediction: if it is not settled, or in process, on Monday, it will last 5 weeks.
Today no wages are paid. Leonard said he minded this more than the war &
Hubert told us how he had travelled in Germany, & what brutes they were
in 1912. He thinks gas & electricity will go next; had been at a journal-
ists meeting where all were against labour (against the general strike that
is) & assumed Government victory. L. says if the state wins & smashes
T[rades]. U[nion]s he will devote his life to labour: if the archbishop
succeeds, he will be baptised. Now to dine at the Commercio to meet Clive.

9th May

There is no news of the strike. The broadcaster has just said that we
are praying today. And L. & I quarrelled last night. I dislike the tub
thumper in him; he the irrational Xtian in me. I will write it all out later—
my feelings about the Strike; but I am now writing to test my theory that
there is consolation in expression. Unthinkingly, I refused just now to
lunch with the Phil Bakers, who fetched L. in their car. Suddenly,
10 minutes ago, I began to regret this profoundly. How I should love the
talk, & seeing the house, & battling my wits against theirs. Now the
sensible thing to do is to provide some pleasure to balance this, which
I cd. not have had, if I had gone. I can only think of writing this, &
going round the Square. Obscurely, I have my clothes complex to deal
with. When I am asked out my first thought is, but I have no clothes to
go in. Todd has never sent me the address of the shop; & I may have
annoyed her by refusing to lunch with her. But the Virginia who refuses
is a very instinctive & therefore powerful person. The reflective &
sociable only comes to the surface later. Then the conflict.

Baldwin broadcast last night: he rolls his rs; tries to put more than
mortal strength into his words. "Have faith in me. You elected me
18 months ago. What have I done to forfeit your confidence? Can you
not trust me to see justice done between man & man?" Impressive as it
is to hear the very voice of the Prime Minister, descendant of Pitt &
Chatham, still I can't heat up my reverence to the right pitch. I picture
the stalwart oppressed man, bearing the world on his shoulders. And
suddenly his self assertiveness becomes a little ridiculous. He becomes
megalomaniac. No I dont trust him: I don't trust any human being,
however loud they bellow & roll their rs.

10th May

Quarrel with L. settled in studio. Oh, but how incessant the arguments
& interruptions are! As I write, L. is telephoning to Hubert. We are
getting up a petition. There was a distinct thaw (we thought) last night.
The Arch B. & Grey both conciliatory. So we went to bed happy.
Today ostensibly the same dead lock; beneath the surface all sorts of
currents, of which we get the most contradictory reports. Dear old
Frankie has a story (over the fire in the bookshop) of an interview
between Asquith & Reading which turned Reading hostile to the men.
Later, through Clive, through Desmond, Asquith is proved to be at the
Wharfe, 60 miles from Lord Reading. Lady Wimbore gave a party—
brought Thomas & Baldwin together. Meeting mysteriously called off
today. Otherwise strike wd. have been settled. I to H of Commons this
morning with L.'s article to serve as stuffing for Hugh Dalton in the
Commons this afternoon. All this humbug of police & marble statues
vaguely displeasing. But the Gvt. provided me with buses both ways, &
no stones thrown. Silver & crimson guard at Whitehall; the cenotaph,
& men bare heading themselves. Home to find Tom Marshall caballing
with L.; after lunch to [Birrell & Garnett's] bookshop, where the gossip
(too secret for the telephone) was imparted; to London Library where
Gooch—a tall, pale mule, affable & long winded, was seen, & Molly
dustily diligently reading the Dublin Review for 1840, walk home;
Clive, to refute gossip; James to get St Loe to sign; then Maynard
ringing up to command us to print the Nation as the N. Statesman is
printed; to wh. I agreed, & L. disagreed; then dinner; a motor car
collision—more telephones ringing at the moment 9.5.

11th May

I may as well continue to write—this book is used to scandalous
mistreatment—while I wait—here interruptions began
which lasted till the present moment/ when I write from 12.30 to 3
with Gerald Brenan in the study composing with infinite difficulty a letter
to Mr Galsworthy. Arguing about the Ar[chbisho]p of Canterbury
with Jack Squire at 12 seems now normal, but not—how often do I
repeat—nearly as exciting as writing To the Lighthouse or about de
Q[uincey]. I believe it is false psychology to think that in after years
these details will be interesting. The war is now barren sand after all.
But one never knows: & waiting about, writing serves to liberate the
mind from the fret & itch of these innumerable details. Squire doesn't
want to "knuckle under". To kneel is the duty of the Church. The
Church has no connection with the nation. Events are that the Roneo
workers refuse to set up L.'s article in the Nation, in which he says
that the Strike is not illegal or unconstitutional. Presumably this is a
little clutch of the Government throttle. Mr Baldwin has been visiting
the Zoo. In the middle of lunch admirable Miss Bulley arrives, having
visited Conway unsuccessfully. St Loe has joined. So Rose Macaulay
& Lytton. Tonight the names are to be handed in; & then perhaps
silence will descend upon us. Ralph & Gerald are our emissaries. But
then everyone rings up—the most unlikely people—[Donald] Brace for
instance, Kahan; the woman comes with the new sofa cover. Yester-
day Ralph & Frances Marshall were in a railway accident. She had her
teeth jangled. One man was killed; another had his leg broken—the
result of driving a train without signals, by the efforts of ardent optimistic
undergraduates. Billing has been in to say he will print anything, all
his men being back & needing work. So, as poor MacDermott has been
dead since January, perhaps the Nation will be done by them. Come to
think of it, almost all our type is standing, so our printing was in any
case hardly feasible. Must I now ring up James? Day's Library boy was
set upon by roughs, had his cycle overturned, but kept his books & was
unhurt after calling here for 6 Tree. Tree dribbles along. There is an
occasional order. Mrs C[artwright]. arrives on Faith's bicycle which is
red with rust.

12th May

Strike settled. (ring at bell)

The Strike was settled about 1.15—or it was then broadcast. I was in
Tottenham Court Rd. at 1 & heard Bartholomew & Fletcher's megaphone
declaim that the T.U.C. leaders were at Downing Street; came home to
find that neither L. or Nelly had heard this: 5 minutes later, the wireless.
They told us to stand by & await important news. Then a piano played
a tune. Then the solemn broadcaster assuming incredible pomp & gloom
& speaking one word to the minute read out: Message from 10 Downing
Street. The T.U.C. leaders have agreed that Strike shall be withdrawn.
Instantly L. dashed off to telephone to the office, Nelly to tell Pritchard's
clerk, & I to Mrs C. (But N[elly]. was beforehand) then we finished
lunch; then I rang up Clive—who proposes that we should have a drink
tonight. I saw this morning 5 or 6 armoured cars slowly going along
Oxford Street; on each two soldiers sat in tin helmets, & one stood with
his hand at the gun which was pointed straight ahead ready to fire. But I
also noticed on one a policeman smoking a cigarette. Such sights I dare
say I shall never see again; & dont in the least wish to. Already (it is now
10 past 2) men have appeared at the hotel with drainpipes. Also Grizzle
has won her case against the Square.

13th May

I suppose all pages devoted to the Strike will be skipped, when I read
over this book. Oh that dull old chapter, I shall say. Excitements about
what are called real things are always unutterably transitory. Yet it is
gloomy—& L. is gloomy, & so am I unintelligibly—today because the
Strike continues—no railwaymen back: vindictiveness has now seized
our masters. Government shillyshallies. Apparently, the T.U.C. agreed
to terms wh. the miners now reject. Anyhow it will take a week to get
the machinery of England to run again. Trains are dotted about all over
England. Labour, it seems clear, will be effectively diddled again, &
perhaps rid of its power to make strikes in future. Printers still out at
the Nation. In short, the strain removed, we all fall out & bicker &
backbite. Such is human nature—& really I dont like human nature
unless all candied over with art. We dined with a strike party last night
& went back to Clive's. A good deal was said about art there. Good dull
Janet Vaughan, reminding me of Emma, joined us. I went to my
dressmaker, Miss Brooke, & found it the most quiet & friendly & even
enjoyable of proceedings. I have a great lust for lovely stuffs, & shapes;
wh. I have not gratified since Sally Young died. A bold move this, but
now I'm free of the fret of clothes, which is worth paying for, & need
not parade Oxford Street.

20th May

Waiting for L. to come back from chess with Roger: 11.25. I think
nothing need be said of the Strike. As tends to happen, one's mind slips
after the crisis, & what the settlement is, or will be, I know not.

Taken from Woolf Online with light edits.

Posted By

Nov 8 2012 16:42


  • I picture [Baldwin], bearing the world on his shoulders. And suddenly his self assertiveness becomes a little ridiculous. He becomes megalomaniac. No I don't trust him: I don't trust any human being, however loud they bellow & roll their rs.

    Virginia Woolf

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