Virginia Woolf: The Will to Create as a Woman by Ruth Gruber is almost two fascinating books. One of the books is a reprint of Gruber's 1935 dissertation essay on Virginia Woolf that is widely considered the first feminist reading of the works of Woolf. The other book is an account, written decades latter, of her personal relationship with Woolf and of how she came to be the youngest PHd in the world at the time, graduating from a German university as the country was coming totally under the domination of Hitler. Gruber's parents greatly feared for her safety, as she was Jewish. She was only twenty when she wrote her book on Woolf, which was written and published in English.
In Germany in 1935 in order to receive a PhD it was not necessary to take several years of required courses. It seems all one really had to do was to write a dissertation and defend it before a committee of professors. One of Gruber's professors was very interested in Virginia Woolf. still very much a living author, and knew of Gruber's mutual interest and he encouraged her to write a dissertation on Woolf and sponsored her in obtaining a PhD. It was fascinating to learn how this worked in Germany in 1935 and to see how Gruber dealt with antisemitism among the professors.
The idea for this new book began when a research assistant for Gruber discovered three letters from Virginia Woolf to Gruber, written in the 1930s. This discovery motivated Gruber to tell the story of her fascination and personal relationship with Woolf and of her university time in Germany. She also tells us how she made a living as a travel writer and as a reporter after returning to the United States during the depression years. She describes her meetings with Virginia Woolf and deals with Woolf's alleged antisemitism (of course her husband was Jewish so maybe this is kind of a matrimonial issue in part). It was really fun to read of her meeting with Woolf, set up through correspondence, and her reaction to a face to face encounter with a writer she idolized.
The second half of the book, much heavier reading, is a reprint of her dissertation, which was published in 1938. It was very insightful and of great interest as a historical document.
I endorse Virginia Woolf: The Will to Create as a Woman by Ruth Gruber to anyone quite into Woolf for sure and I think people with a general interest in literary history in the 1930s and German academia will also really enjoy it.
Ruth Gruber is an award-winning Jewish American journalist, photographer, and humanitarian. She was born in Brooklyn in 1911 and is the author of nineteen books, including the National Jewish Book Award-winning biography Raquela (1978).
In the interests of full disclosure, I was provided with a free e-book by the publisher Open Road Integrated Media