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Virginia Woolf (thoughts)

April 9, 2007

After three months, I have finally completed my first chunkster challenge, Virginia Woolf by Hermione Lee (ok, I finished it last week). I’m not sure if I’m going to complete the chunkster challenge; I’ve read plenty of books that would qualify, so maybe I’ll cheat. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, Virginia Woolf is a great biography. Lee uses plenty of excerpts from Woolf’s diaries and letters, allowing her to weave together Woolf’s life. Furthermore, while moving somewhat chronologically, Lee organises Woolf’s life into themes, each of which then becomes a chapter. Examples include “Houses,” “Liasons,” “Reading,” “Selves,” and “Waiting.” The greater Parts are arranged chronologically. In this way, Lee can explore how Woolf thought about things throughout her life (i.e.-her father) and still tie the book together. I knew next to nothing about Woolf before picking up this book, so the first few chapters were a bit confusing. However, it quickly became less so, and in the end I found myself wondering what was going on Virginia’s life now, as if she as a close friend. That’s part of why I took so long to read the book.

That said, I only recommend this to people in it for the long haul. If you’re willing to committ to a close to 900 page hardcover tome, you’ll come away with a good understanding of Virginia Woolf and the forces in her life.

Favorite Passages (most of these are actually other people’s quotes, which I’ve acknowledged)For we think back through our mothers if we are women. (Virginia Woolf, 79)She [Julia Stephen] was a woman who believed in working for good, in a practical way, in her immediate domestic circle and through benevolent institutions. (85)

These “prodigies” were extremely nostalgic for their just-ended undergraduate life: they published a little volune of pseudo-classical verse called Euphrosyne as a way of keeping together, they still called each other by their student nicknames, and their letters were full of discussions about whether intellectual standards-or levels of depravity-at Cambridfe had gone up or down since they left. (206)

I do not think that her new existence had “become alive” to Virginia’s imagination in those first years. She gave the impression of being so intensely receptive to any experience new to her, and so intensely interested in facts that she had not come across before, that time was necessary to give it a meaning as a whole. (Duncan, Grant, 208)

They say: “Come to tea and let us comfort you.” But it’s no good.
One must be crusified on one’s own private cross.
It is a strange fact that a terrible pain in the heart can be interrupted by a little pain in the fourth toe of the right foot.
I know that V. will not come across the garden from the lodge, and yet I look in that direction for her. I know that she is drowned and yet I listen for her to come in at the door. I know that it is the last page & yet I turn it over. There is no limit to one’s stupidity and selfishness. (Leonard Woolf, 751)

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Bybee permalink
    April 10, 2007 6:54 am

    I read the Virginia Woolf bio by her nephew, Quentin Bell and liked that quite a lot. The Hermione Lee one sounds really good as well. Even though it is 900 pages, your review makes it sound inviting and not daunting at all. Thanks.

  2. Dewey permalink
    October 11, 2007 9:57 pm

    Yikes, I didn’t know it was that long! It’s on my wish list, and the length won’t keep me from reading it, but it’ll take forever.


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