Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Friday, July 23, 2010

Virginia Woolf by Hermione Lee

Virginia Woolf by Hermione Lee (1996, 893 pages)

Virginia Woolf by Hermione Lee (1948-England) is a great literary biography.    My only complaint on the book was that it was too short (and this for a book with 765 pages of small print-the rest is foot notes and index).   I felt sad when the book was over and I met a lot of people I want to learn more about in its pages.
I really want to learn more about Vita Sackville-West!

Not to long  ago I started The Reading Life Virginia Woolf Project in which I will be reading and posting on a lot of her fiction.    So far I have read The Waves, Jacobs Room, three short stories and two essays.   In part I was motivated to read Woolf for the first time by her relationship with Katherine Mansfield.   (Lee has a beautiful chapter devoted to Katherine Mansfield and her relationship to Virginia Woolf).    

In early 2009 I read Lee's biography of Edith Wharton so I knew in advance her book on Virginia Woolf would be an extremely well written and intelligent biography that would help to prepare me to read Woolf.   I totally endorse this book to any one with more than a casual interest in Virginia Woolf and her circle and times.  

Virginia Woolf is often, even though she died nearly 70 years ago, taken as the first modern woman writer.   From Lee's biography I was left with a picture of a woman in transition.   In many ways her life was very late Victorian.    She clearly did not like being alone and needed to have a very large cultural  and social anchor.   I think part of her ambivalent relationship with Katherine Mansfield comes from the fact that the sensibilities of Mansfield are more of a woman alone in the world cut from her roots whereas Woolf clung to her ancestry and her crowd all her life.

I plan to learn to read Woolf by reading Woolf.    I am now reading Mrs Dalloway (that is the work Lee speaks of most often).    I will read her short fiction as I can work it in and an essay occasionally.   I am open to any suggestions as to ideas of how to read Woolf (other than starting with her first novel and reading from there!).   I want to read her acknowledged best works first.   I plan in a few months to read Quentin Bell's biography of his aunt.  

Mel u


Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

Woolf output of literary essays is vast, almost unmanageable. Any collection of them will be rewarding. She will make an interesting contrast to her contemporary Ford Ford.

mary said...

You have shamed me, I've had this biography out of the library for months and keep renewing it - because I really want to read it but haven't got started! I must push it to the top of my pile!

Mel u said...

Amateur Reader-Lee says she wrote over 500 essays-a lot of her essays can be read on line-in fact close to all of her work is on line-I will read selectively in her literary essays-it seems FMF and Woolf never met-

Mary-I hope you like the work as much as I do-I just became a follower of your blog

Suko said...

Mel, I am so excited that you are reading Woolf (one of the first feminist writers)--in all forms! I look forward to all of your reviews.

Mel u said...

Suko-thanks very much

Hannah Stoneham said...

I do have this biography and have been meaning to read it for ages - I have read some of Hermione Lee's essays on life writing and thought that they were really intelligent and interesting - must get around to reading this! Thanks for sharing Mel!


ds said...

This is terrific, Mel! I particularly like your comparison of Woolf's and Mansfield's lives. It makes so much sense. KM was an expat married to an English critic; VW as you say spent her entire life in the same circle. That does shed more light on their rivalry.Lee's biography is grand, isn't it?
Looking forward to more of your work on Woolf and the others. Thank you.

Mel u said...

Hannah Stoneham-hope you find time to read the bio soon-

ds-Yes I loved the lee biography-I have on ordered the Clarie Tomalin bio of KM now