Book review: Travels with Virginia Woolf by Jan Morris

Jan Morris is someone who I’d like to spend an afternoon with in her living room in North Wales, not only for the company but to see what’s in her personal library. Being a respected travel writer, she must lead an interesting life and have amassed a variety of friends, stories, and hopefully good books.

Jan wrote Travels with Virginia Woolf about Virginia’s travels with great admiration. I first met Woolf in the form of her book ‘Orlando’ and it not only shifted several paradigms but opened my eyes to a new style of writing. Woolf’s writing often reads like writing from her diary or journal – plenty of dashes, run-on sentences and incomplete sentences – all things I remember being berated for in Language Arts class. (No wonder they don’t study Woolf before university.) She also is flippant about her use of ‘and’ and ‘&’ and I could never figure out why she chose to use one and not the other and I still hope to learn this mysterious ‘use of &’ rule.

Travels With Virginia Woolf is one of those books that you really ought not to skip the introduction. I always at least take a cursory glance at introductions but generally prefer not to be told how to think about the book. But this introduction is important because it sets you up for a refreshing reminder of Virginia’s originality of thought. Virginia was principally against the genre of travel writing.

“Even in her youth she was wary of what she called ‘descriptive writing’. It was, she wrote from Florence in 1909, dangerous and tempting…What one records is really the state of one’s own mind.'”

Jan flouted this danger and wrote the book anyway. In it, she inserts snippets of biographical information which makes it more accessible to the modern reader who may not have majored in Victorian English private life.

Travels with Virginia Woolf is soul food — a refreshing change for those a bit weary of the usual fare of travel writing — entertaining & delightfully educational. 

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