Ruth Gruber, author of 17 books, many with a Jewish theme, knows that it takes a long time for even veteran writers to have a book published in this country.
It took 70 years for her 18th to appear here."Virginia Woolf: The Will to Create as a Woman," recently issued by Carroll & Graf Publishers, is the doctoral thesis that Gruber wrote while studying at Cologne University in Germany in 1931-32, and also includes an introductory, personal essay about the British novelist whose works experienced a popular renaissance during the birth of the feminist movement in the 1960s.
Woolf, who committed suicide in 1941, was for decades a leader in British literary circles. She was a manic-depressive. She was a snob. And she was an anti-Semite.
Although Woolf’s anti-Semitism is not a major aspect of her book, Gruber, 94, said in an interview that she "felt betrayed," upon learning of it through her posthumously published diaries. Woolf’s writings, and a brief meeting with Gruber in London in 1935, did not reveal Woolf’s bigotry.
At the suggestion of a Cologne professor, Gruber, who was an exchange student in Germany seven decades ago, dedicated her thesis to Woolf’s groundbreaking creative process. It was published in Leipzig, in English, in 1935. Then she got busy with other writing assignments (several about Israel) and forgot about her thesis. Until last year, when her research assistant found at the back of a filing cabinet three long-lost and forgotten letters from Woolf, written in 1935-36. The correspondence followed Gruber’s invitation to Woolf’s apartment.
In her anti-Semitism, Woolf was typical of her upper-class, WASPish culture. Gruber points out that Woolf’s anti-Semitism was expressed primarily in her private writings, to a lesser degree in her published work and even less in her personal relationships with Jewish friends or with her Jewish husband, Leonard.
"In her three letters to me she is so warm," Gruber says.
Gruber is donating the letters to the New York Public Library; a reception marking the donation will be held at the library on Monday, Dec. 19.