The way we were: Virginia Woolf and George Orwell on hot English summers

Extracts from memoirs and diaries
June 10, 2020

On 26th July, Dorothy Wordsworth writes in her journal at Dove Cottage, Grasmere: “Still hotter. I sat with William in the orchard all the morning and made my shoes. In the afternoon from excessive heat I was ill with the headache and toothache and went to bed. I was refreshed with washing myself after I got up, but it was too hot to walk till near dark, and then I sat upon the wall finishing my shoes.”


On 6th June, the novelist Barbara Pym notes in her diary:

“On the hottest day of the year I saw two nuns buying a typewriter in Selfridges. Oh, what were they going to do with it?”


On 5th September, Virginia Woolf writes in her journal: “Hot, hot, hot. Record heat wave, record summer if we kept records this summer. 2.30 a plane zooms, ten minutes later air-raid sounds; twenty minutes later all clear. Hot, I repeat, and doubt that I’m a poet.”


On 20th June, George Orwell records in his diary: “We have all been in a semi-melting condition for some days past. It struck me that one minor Benefit of this war is that it has broken the newspapers of their idiotic habit of making headline news out of yesterday’s weather.”


On 18th May, the writer Denton Welch writes in his journal:

“Today I am by the river below East Peckham. I’m writing letters, roasting in the sun, sweating, burning, turning red. The feathers of the grass tickle me and I am almost stupefied. Oh, how lovely it is. Bang in front is a concrete pill-box covered with nets, slowly being swallowed up by weeds. They’ll win, every time.”


On 12th July, Evelyn Waugh observes in his diary from Piers Court, Gloucestershire: “High summer continues. I shall not go to London until it breaks. This is a pleasant house in the heat. For the first time since I planted it the honeysuckle outside my bedroom window scents the room at night. I don’t sleep naturally. I have tried everything—exercise, cold baths, fasting, feasting, solitude, society. Always I have to take paraldehyde and sodium amytal. My life is really too empty for a diarist.”