Excitement or illiteracy?

Here is Sopio Zhgenti’s second blogpost, once again on Virginia Woolf:

Virginia Woolf (source: Wikipedia)

The previous blog post I wrote was about Virginia Woolf and the nicknames she used with people close to her. This time, I would like to continue talking about Virginia and discuss some of the spelling peculiarities that I encountered while studying her letters. It is striking that Virginia in her correspondence with her brother Thoby Stephen omitted apostrophes, whereas in the letters addressed to her half-brother George Duckworth, she did use them. Closer observation showed that apostrophes were most frequently omitted in negative contracted auxiliary verbs. See the examples below:

Letters to Thoby Stephen:

Thoby Stephen (source: Wikipedia)

  • “I dont know to what species he belongs, but he is very well bred and a great beauty Jack says” (L. 9 1897)
  • “However I shant know till we meet at Fritham. I will tell Jack about it if he comes tonight.” (L. 36. 1901)
  • “I am so penetrated with Dotty’s [Dorothea’s] style of conversation that I cant help writing exactly like her.” (L. 10, 1897)
  • “I was so much more impressed by him than I thought I should be, that I read Cymbeline just to see if there mightnt be more in the great William than I supposed.” (L. 39, 1901)
  • “the little King wont have it done, and his mother tries to make him forget and asks him to ride with her in the Park” (L. 39, 1901)
  • “And MacKail isnt so precious as I thought”(L.40 1902)

Letters to George Duckworth:

  • You don’t say what your address at Porto Fino is, so I shall have to send this after you to Rome. (L.12. 1898)
  • Father is stretched at full length snoring on the sofa, and this annoys me so much that I can’t write sense. (L.29. 1900)

What would be the reason for these differences? I don’t think the omission of apostrophes is caused by her illiteracy, as she used correct forms in the letters addressed to George. Moreover, despite the fact that Virginia did not receive any formal education, she had been taught by her father Leslie Stephen. I would therefore expect Virginia to have been aware of rules such as when to use the apostrophe, and therefore find it quite difficult to find an explanation for this difference in usage, except that Virginia had a very close relationship with Thoby and seemed always very excited while writing to him. She wrote many long letters to him, and this excitement may be why, for one reason or another, the correct use of the apostrophe seemed to matter less to her. But I’d be interested to hear about other possible suggestions.



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