Sunday, December 23, 2018

A Woolfian Year

Because I have not been teaching, time has opened up for Woolf reading, a project I had put off for lack of time.

Woolf in 1923. From (HT Fran).

My goal this year was to read all ten Woolf novels: I read nine, but comfort myself that I also read her biography of Roger Fry, along with rereading Three Guineas and A Room of One's Own. I also read Leonard Woolf's roman a clef, The Wise Virgins, and Leslie Stephen's Mausoleum Book.

Images like these help bring the Hogarth Press alive: this is from a British Library article found at (HT: Elaine Pigeon)

My list of Woolf reading is below (books by Woolf are further down in the blog), excluding articles on Woolf and bits of Quentin Bell's biography:

Vita and Virginia by Sarah Gristwood
A Boy at Hogarth Press by Richard Kennedy
Virginia Woolf’s Illnesses by Douglas Orr
Mausoleum Book by Leslie Stephen
Wise Virgins by Leonard Woolf
Virginia Woolf: The Impact of Childhood Sexual Abuse by Louise DeSalvo
Deceived with Kindness by Angelica Garnett

As I said in my best books blog, the DeSalvo biography was the best book I read all year. All of the rest of these sources (with the possible exception of the Orr) were extremely helpful, and I am not at all sorry I read the Orr, which was a solid attempt to get at possible physical causes of Woolf's "mental" illnesses.

If Leonard's depiction of Virginia in Wise Virgins is accurate, he married a thoroughgoing lesbian, not a "bi-sexual:" they made their deal and had a partnership that was mutually beneficial--and they clearly liked and respected one another. Leslie Stephen's Mausoleum Book was also revelatory. Written in the wake of his wife Julia's death, Stephen, though trying to put his best foot forward, showed what a needy, insecure, self-absorbed (though not unloving or uncaring) drama queen he was--I felt the blast of his personality even through a book and across the distance of more than a century. Although I know he did not spend all his time in the throws of the grief his book expresses, I can understand why his daughters found him a  difficult person: I would not have wanted to deal with him in person, even remembering his positive attributes.

Books I read or reread by Virginia Woolf:

Roger Fry: A Biography 
Three Guineas
A Room of One's Own
Jacob’s Room
Mrs. Dalloway
To the Lighthouse
The Voyage Out
Between the Acts
The Waves
Night and Day

Most of these book were rereads, but read with new eyes. In terms of new reads, I very much appreciated the Fry biography and Flush, and enjoyed her first novel, The Voyage Out, far more than I expected.

Next year, I plan to begin with the novel I did not read, The Years (and also its draft, The Partigers). I then will move into Woolf's journals: this year I purchased most of them, but read very little. As for secondary sources, I hope to read Julia Briggs's Virginia Woolf: An Inner Life. I also plan to read Leonard Woolf's first novel, The Village in the Jungle and to delve into research on Caroline Stephen. I welcome any book recommendations people might have, but would not like links to lists of "must read" Woolf books: as it unlikely I can read much more than seven books beyond what I have already outlined and the articles I will undoubtedly continue to read, a list of forty books, for example, is not helpful. But if you have read and loved a book about Woolf, or plan to read one on strong recommendation, I would be delighted to hear about it.

I have left out of my above list books such as the Hermione Lee biography or Moments of Being, and the many Woolf essays and short stories that I read before last year that also inform my understanding. However, as  I get "legs" under me, I am starting to assemble my own portrait of who Woolf was. I am deliberately putting off delving into her letters at this point--my instinct is  that she was honest in her novels, essays, nonfiction, and journals in a way she was not in her correspondence, so I hope to bracket that piece of her until I get a firmer picture in place. 

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