Leonard (1943-1968): the exemplary
significance of writing a womans life in letters.
considers the letters of Nancy Nolan to Leonard Woolf, publisher, political
theorist, civil servant and husband to Virginia Woolf. A fan of Virginia
Woolfs essays and books, Mrs Nolan began a long term correspondence
(1943-1968) with Leonard Woolf after Virginia died. Leonard became a trusted
correspondent, one who was willing to receive, read and respond to the lengthy
missives sent. Though Nolans correspondence is archived as fan mail, it
comprises an intimate insight into the daily life of a Dublin based housewife,
writing to an English man for the three decades during and after World War 2.
Nancy Nolan was ambitious for her children, managed family relationships and
economies while creating a life of her own in and through books. Writing in and
of the domestic space, Nancy Nolan writes out a literary aesthetic in her
letters to Woolf. This aesthetic sense it is argued is an expression of the
search for an alternative self and identity. How this self and life are
composed and expressed through letters is explored through narrative inquiry in
a sociological biography frame. While sociological biography it not without
critics, it is particularly suited to the analysis and interpretation of
ordinary lives as diversely demonstrated in the work of Bourdieu (1999) and
Shostak (1981. The challenge as Rustin (2000) posed is to find the exemplary
significance that demonstrates the power of any individuals story. Virginia Woolf observed that writings
things down somehow helps one to get hold of them. Combining
a focus on letters, the dynamics of epistolary relationships in womens
personal narratives and the reach of social, political and economic processes
on ordinary lives, this paper considers the impact of writing things down on one womans life in times
of transition and transformation.
QUESTION How can
we work with letters in sociological inquiry as biographical texts pertaining
to womens lives?