Jacques, Raverat, Woolf
Jacques, dying (pencil, Gwen Raverat, 1925)
On the 9th Feb, 1925, Jacques was very near the end. He wrote a note to Gwen: “My dearest, I know I love you and I think you love me. Anyhow your love has been the best thing in my life. I send you this for you to keep and remember if you get morbid. I love you, Jacques. Keep well and remember to varnish my pictures.” In the end, Darwinian logic took over and, as Frances Spalding tactfully puts it, she “seized a pillow and terminated his sufferings”.
Soon afterwards Virginia wrote to Gwen:
Your & Jacques’ letter came yesterday, & I go about thinking of you both, in starts, & almost constantly underneath everything, & I don’t know what to say. One thing that comes over & over is the strange wish I have to go on telling Jacques things. This is for Jacques, I say to myself; I want to write to him about happiness, & about Rupert, & love. It had become to me a sort of private life, & I believe I told him more than anyone, except Leonard: I become mystical as I grow older & feel an alliance with you & Jacques which is eternal, not interrupted, or hurt by never meeting. Then, of course, I have now for you – how can I put it? – I mean the feeling that one must reverence? – is that the word – feel shy of, so tremendous an experience; for I cannot conceive what you have suffered. It seems to me that if we met, one would have to chatter about every sort of little trifle, because there is nothing to be said.
And then, being, as you know, so fundamentally an optimist, I want to make you enjoy life. Forgive me, for writing what comes into my head. I think I feel that I would give a great deal to share with you the daily happinesses. But you know that if there is anything I could ever give you, I would give it, but perhaps the only thing to give is to be oneself with people. One could say anything to Jacques. And that will always be the same with you & me. But oh, dearest Gwen, to think of you is making me cry – Why should you & Jacques have had to go through this? As I told him, it is your love that has forever been love to me – all those years ago, when you used to come to Fitzroy Square, & I was so angry: & you were so furious, & Jacques wrote me a sensible manly letter, which I answered, sitting at my table in the window. Perhaps I was frightfully jealous of you both, being at war with the whole world at the moment. Still, the vision has become to me a source of wonder – the vision of your face; which, if I were painting, I should cover with flames & put you on a hill top. Then, I don’t think you would believe how it moves me that you & Jacques should have been reading Mrs Dalloway, & liking it. I’m awfully vain I know; & I was on pins & needles about sending it to Jacques; & now I feel exquisitely relieved; not flattered; but one does want that side of one to be acceptable – I was going to have written to Jacques about his children, & about my having none – I mean, these efforts of mine to communicate with people are partly childlessness, & the horror that sometimes overcomes me.
There’s very little use in writing this. One feels so ignorant, so trivial, & like a child, just teasing you. But it is only that one keeps thinking of you, with a sort of reverence, & of that adorable man, whom I loved.
Yrs V. W.
Gwen had once confessed that she felt “so lonely and strange… I don’t know about people – they don’t know about me”. Now a widow, she was truly alone in the world, with the added responsibility of two young children. Once again, her awkward, disconcerting courage came to her rescue and, though Virginia Woolf could brilliantly characterise her as “frozen, like an old log dried out of all sensation”, she poured her instinctive and formidable powers of observation into her work as an engraver, becoming one of the foremost miniaturists of her generation, a far greater artist than many in the overhyped Bloomsbury set she had grown up with.
Childe Rowland (color wood engraving, Gwen Raverat)
Gwendolen Mary Darwin was born in Cambridge in 1885, she was the daughter of Sir George Howard Darwin and his wife Lady Maud Darwin, née Maud du Puy. She was the granddaughter of the naturalist Charles Darwin and first cousin of the poet Frances Cornford, née Darwin.
She married the French painter Jacques Raverat in 1911. They were active in the Bloomsbury Group and Rupert Brooke's Neo-Pagan group until they moved to the south of France, where they lived in Venice, near Nice, until his death from multiple sclerosis in 1925. They had two daughters: Elisabeth (1916-2014), who married the Norwegian politician Edvard Hambro, and Sophie Jane (1919-2011), who married the Cambridge scholar M.G.M. Pryor and later Charles Gurney.
Raverat was one of the very first wood engravers recognized as modern. She went to the Slade School in 1908, but stood outside the groups growing up at the time, the group that gathered around Eric Gill at Ditchling and the group that grew up at the Central School of Arts and Crafts around Noel Rooke. She was influenced by the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists and developed her own painterly style of engraving. There was some similarity between her early engravings and those of Gill, and she did know Gill, but the similarity was based mostly on her black line style at the time, influenced by Lucien Pissarro, and the semi-religious themes that she then chose.