Preliminary Typesetting – Sissinghurst Poem

This fascinating essay from the The Modernism Lab at Yale, helpfully describes some of Leonard & Virginia Woolf’s early experiences of letterpress printing. Here is an excerpt:

It was not until April of 1917 that the press and the typecases were delivered to Hogarth House. “We unpacked it,” [Virginia] wrote to her sister Vanessa Bell, “with enormous excitement, finally with Nelly’s help, carried it into the drawing room, set it on its stand—and discovered that it was smashed in half!” [3]  While they waited for their handpress to be repaired, they began distributing the type to be properly stored in the typecases. Virginia wrote that sorting out type was “the work of ages, especially when you mix the h’s with the n’s, as I did yesterday.” The infinite patience and meticulousness required for letterpress printing, however, did not discourage Virginia; rather, she concluded from these preliminaries, “real printing will devour one’s entire life.” Virginia recounted in her letter that after two hours of typesetting, Leonard “heaved a terrific sigh” and said: “’I wish to God we’d never bought the cursed thing.’ To my relief, though not surprise, he added ‘Because I shall never do anything else.’ You can’t think how exciting, soothing, ennobling and satisfying it is” (Woolf, Virginia 2:151).

Here at the Letterpress Reimagined project, we are just about to get under way with the first of our printing, typesetting and bookbinding workshops. Hopefully, on the other side, we’ll have created a beautiful hand-printed edition of Vita Sackville-West’s out-of-print poem ‘Sissinghurst’ (1931).

Here is a photo of some of our preliminary type-setting of the first verse of the poem. You can see how Virginia got her ‘h’ and ‘n’s mixed up!

Sissinghurst Typesetting

Keep checking back for more updates, photos and journal entries from our workshop volunteers.

You can also follow us on Twitter at: @LPreimagined.


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