Virginia Woolf Biography

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Virginia Woolf Biography

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Jul 30, 2008, 11:49 pm

Hello Everyone,

Just wondering if anyone has read Virginia Woolf by Hermione Lee? I'm currently reading it and having a devil of a time trying to keep myself interested. I think the trouble is the depth into which Lee describes Virginia Woolf's ancestors.

Also, has anyone read Woolf's journals?


Jul 31, 2008, 4:02 am


I am currently reading 'A Writers Diary' by VW. I am enjoying it but am reading it along with other books so it is not getting my full attention. Its the first book by her that I have read.

Havent read the Herminone Lee book but have heard that is was good - its on my TBR list.


Jul 31, 2008, 9:12 am

Hi Alexandra,

I've learned with Virginia Woolf that you must read something else and not give her too much attention. I'm not sure why that is, perhaps because with her fiction all of the events happen within the characters.

I've got " A Writer's Diary" on my tbr list as well. If you like it, check out "The Letters of Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf." Both women were splended writers and wrote fantastic letters to one another.


Jul 31, 2008, 1:28 pm

I successfully read Quentin Bell's Virginia Woolf: A Biography in college and have been consistently unsuccessful in reading anything by or about her ever since, except for A Boy at the Hogarth Press by Richard Kennedy, which paints a pretty unflattering portrait of her and Leonard.

I just can't seem to appreciate her writing. Color me a philistine.

I'm seriously considering BookMooching everything I have by/about her except the two books mentioned above.

Mar 15, 2014, 12:07 pm

I donʻt understand how this topic can be "more than 30 days old" with only 4 write-ins and of those all are dated 2008.

Notwithstanding that, Virginia Woolf would not have been surprised by some of the responses/non or anti-responses. She is a complex writer, beyond which she is as real a person as many in and out of literature are -- not wearing masks but appearing to. She is a person of her Social Status and Self-educated at that: the first, she upholds with the usual prejudice and indifference to nay-sayers; the second, she displays brilliantly by actually devising a New Way to Write, from an internal, private modem, always reflecting her society. Leonard Woolf, in Sowing, vol. 1 of his 5 or 6 v. autobiography, is an intellectual, as she is, and as such frankly says VW was a snob and he was not. I do not excuse her for not distinguishing H.D. Lawrence as a superb writer -- VW can only see his parentsʻ coal mining life of grit and misery and him as a resulting grub. She also has a nondescript take of Winifred Holtby, the first woman critic of her work, whom she saw, despite Holtbyʻs Oxford degree claims, as a writer from a lower dimension of life. As it turns out, Holtby wrote a very perceptive review of VWʻs enormous originality and aplomb -- a criticism upheld by every major literary critic in and out of the kingdom as well as by readers like me. Itʻs like this: I donʻt hold a manʻs heavy sex life against him (especially if itʻs true) AS A WRITER and equally neither do I think VWʻs snobbery in taste is pertinent in her writing quality. One may have
stimulated the other; yet, they are different things. Unless a reader wants or needs to meet every writer only of her/his own class, there is VW to show us how it was living in the middle of her thoughts, moving through life with enormous honesty (she was molested by her step-brothers and engaged if rather robotically my view with V. Sackville-West (whose daring and courage awoke VWʻs curiosity, rightly. VW as the daughter of a famous Cantabridgean and its circle is a pioneer in what is a stream of consciousness technique; but she did it elegantly, if pocked with conservative subtleties that cut both ways, fair and prejudicially. As a writer, she was highly respected by men, without exception, I think, who knew a good writer when they read one, which included other controversial members of the
tribe like T.S. Eliot (no small critic but also a conservative). However, she put James Joyce on the outside. She was wrong there. They were two originals -- with Eliot and Pound (not credited sufficiently today, by e.g. Helen Vendler, just because he did not solve his Cantos dilemma of a sailing into home at the end). There is no reason to need to like these. But they ought to be understood. They changed the way people began to write, afterward, and look at things, afterward, or if advanced, at the same time.
Their writing is suffused with a stirring integrity -- for their times and for ourʻs, too, I think. Would you have met a VW in actual life? Well, hereʻs a chance. She would probably pass us by. Thatʻs o.k. to me. What isnʻt is not knowing sheʻs there -- to be met and understood. She understood writing from her inside out.

Mar 15, 2014, 12:55 pm

Of VWʻs writings, I especially love TO THE LIGHTHOUSE. The critics say itʻs about her father Sir Leslie Stephen -- much respected (you can almost feel the way interest perks up when he is mentioned to certain persons, like Henry James . . . who, upon hearing that Leonard Woolf was VW"s husband, stood up to shook Woolfʻs hand again (Woolf noted in SOWING). One way to understand VW is to see her as a member of the BLOOMSBURY GROUP, when she interacts initially with her brother Thobyʻs Cambridge friends like the economic theorist Maynard Keynes, by whose theory the 20th c. Western World ruled itself and art critic Clive Bell, who introduced impressionists and expressionists into England. (Clive Bell married her sister Vanessa.) It was like a Coming-Out party to meet these brilliant young men of wit and pungent tastes. At the same time that, at home, where the Stephens girls mainly lived mentally, for they were seen as females and so not in need of an education like Thoby, sent to Cambridge. They lived otherwise, with their fatherʻs vast library -- and an older, brother, the first and only born son of Sir Leslie Stephen and his first wife (Wm. Thackerayʻs daughter). He was I think autistic or retarded? The difference was not known, I think. Viriginia records her life in her fatherʻs imperially ruling house with eNORmous caring concern, it takes oneʻs breath away to realize how close the family members were to each other, protectively yet straightforwardly for honesty was a form of caring to them. They absorbed pain from being ignorant of some basic things about life, too, like children left to each other and half-brothers who were older because they are males allowed to molest the girls. It seemed to have been the kind of secret children then needed to keep from a stern and caring intellectually hide bound father, not at all rich, but starred on Englandʻs map of scientific history. Everything children did was seemingly thought "natural" so that in the later young adult lives the passing back and forth of heterosexual and homosexual lives were like a seamless movement. Lady Caroline Ottelineʻs house was a big, private garden where the most illustrious writers like Lytton Strachey (very rich, coal mining family) stayed with his greatly modest Carrie, and side by side with the intellectual giant in philosophy and social protests (anti-atomic bomb, pro-free love) Bertrand Russell, etc.

England, the English speaking world and Europe were in the ferment of New Writing. It was a glorious time. VW was a party of one in it, and enormously rich with exchanges, social daring, personal risks of reputation, and full intellectual power.