Extracts from Virginia Woolf to Guillaume Apollinaireby Ian Irvine / February 20, 2018 / Leave a comment
It wasn’t particularly Spanish, but the name stuck when in May 1918 the Spanish king, the prime minister and his entire cabinet came down with it. To maintain morale, wartime censorship minimised early reports in belligerent countries, but newspapers were free to report on neutral Spain. It came in two phases. In late spring it appeared without warning. Few deaths were reported and most victims recovered after a few days. When it resurfaced in autumn, it was far more severe. A third of the world’s population, 500m, were estimated to have been infected, with 50-100m deaths (the four years of the First World War had killed 16m).
On 20th October 1918, Virginia Woolf writes in her diary:
“Pain is abhorrent to all Stracheys, but making all allowances for the exaggerations and terrors of the poor creature, Lytton has had a sufficient dose of horror, I imagine, and the doctor privately warns Carrington that shingles may last months. However, Lytton, is probably… avoiding London, because of the influenza (we are, by the way, in the midst of a plague unmatched since The Black Death, according to the Times, who seem to tremble lest it may seize upon Lord Northcliffe & thus precipitate us into peace.)
In mid-October 1918, Edith, the wife of the Viennese painter Egon Schiele, falls ill with the flu. He writes to his mother:
“Edith fell ill with the Spanish flu eight days ago yesterday and is now also suffering from pneumonia. She is six months pregnant. The illness is exceptionally severe and critical; I am preparing myself for the worst.”
She and their unborn child died on 28th October. Schiele died three days later.
The poet Guillaume Apollinaire, one of the great avant-garde figures of pre-war Paris, coined the terms Cubism and Surrealism and introduced Braque to Picasso. A volunteer in 1914 he was wounded in the head two years later. The poet Blaise Cendrars, who had lost an arm in combat, bumped into his friend Apollinaire in Paris on Sunday 3rd November 1918. They discussed “the subject of the day,” the flu epidemic. He succumbed and died on 9th November. Cendrars described the burial which took place on 13th November:
“The final absolution having been given, the casket of Apollinaire left the church…