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Description - Virginia Woolf by Hermione Lee

Hermione Lee sees Virginia Woolf afresh, in her historical setting and as a vital figure for our times. Her book moves freely between a richly detailed life-story and new attempts to understand crucial questions - the impact of her childhood, the cause and nature of her madness and suicide, the truth about her marriage, her feelings for women, her prejudies and obsessions. This is a vivid, close-up portrait, returning to primary sources, and showing Woolf as occupying a distinct, even uneasy position with 'Bloomsbury'. It is a writer's life, illustrating how the concerns of her work arise and develop, and a political life, which establishes Woolf as a radically sceptical, subversive, courageous feminist. Incorporating newly discovered sources and illustrated with photos and drawings never used before, this biography is a revelation -informed, intelligent and moving.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780099732518
ISBN-10: 0099732513
Format: Paperback
(198mm x 129mm x 48mm)
Pages: 912
Imprint: Vintage
Publisher: Vintage Publishing
Publish Date: 2-Oct-1997
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Other Editions - Virginia Woolf by Hermione Lee

Book Reviews - Virginia Woolf by Hermione Lee

UK Kirkus Review » Virginia Woolf derided most biography as 'poppycock'. When she began her own 'sketch of the past' in the last two years of her life, she insisted that there must be a relation between the obscure areas of personality, the soul, and forces like class and social pressures, otherwise 'how futile life-writing becomes'. Lee has that great gift for a biographer - her own style and firmly authorial voice, without irritating conjecture. So you, the reader, know where she wants to lead you because she is unquestionably in command of her subject, but you also know that she is not going to fool you with surmises. She manages, through intelligent marshalling of meticulously researched material, to present an intensive view of an introspective woman who was also a distinct representative of a social class and the Bloomsbury group. Lee does not begin with any of the typical premises about Woolf. Woolf is not an 'incest survivor', a 'sexually abused child', a 'snob' or, simply, 'insane'. Critically, Lee does not take the view that Woolf is a victim, determined from the outset to kill herself. This fact-based approach means that we are free to enjoy a rich characterization of Virginia Woolf at every stage of her life. Lee writes elegantly, believably and with much new material taken from letters and papers not seen before. This is an intimate picture of Virginia Woolf - Ms Woolf struggling with her work, at home with friends, with family, with pets, with her private griefs and public wit, with her wardrobe, her cigarettes and her muddled sexiness. There is also an unflinching, dissected, carefully reported examination of her periodic illness - her 'nerves' - and her resultant sensitivity that makes her final act of suicide - when she was sure that England would lose the war, and when she had been bombed out badly in London and had her peaceful world in the country turned upside down - if not acceptable, at least understandable. Above all, this is a political life which establishes Woolf as a radical sceptic, a subversive feminist and a fighter against fascism of the state and of the mind. It is also a feast of detail for Bloomsbury fans. But perhaps the most engaging aspect of the book is the amount of sheer fun and physical vanity Virginia Woolf is allowed to display by her Lee. (Kirkus UK)

US Kirkus Review » Following Woolf's own experience of her life rather than later interpretations of it, Lee (English/Univ. of York, England; Willa Cather: Double Lives, not reviewed) delivers a comprehensive, elegantly structured work on the High Victorian modernist. At almost 900 pages, Lee's life seems to be in competition not with the many previous Bloomsbury books, but with Woolf's multivolume diaries, the "great mass for my memoirs," as she called them. Woolf never actually got around to producing a finished autobiography. Yet she once wrote that "only autobiography is literature," and Lee takes this as her cue for Woolf's life story and creative development, from her first anonymous review in 1904 to the militantly feminist essay Three Guineas in 1938. Lee goes back to primary sources (e.g., Woolf's diaries, her incomplete Moments of Being, and her sketches for Bloomsbury's "Memoir Club") to resurrect a fully human personality. Intelligently incorporating into every page letters, diary entries, and other writings, she smartly bypasses previous reductionist versions of Virginia the victim, the snob, the suicide, or the madwoman. Maintaining a degree of objective skepticism, Lee views Woolf foremost as a creative force and a fascinating personality, "a sane woman who had an illness" (although manic-depression, often identified as her malady, is still difficult to diagnose posthumously). Lee also gives balanced due to those in Woolf's life who have been neglected in previous biographies, such as her eminent father, Leslie Stephen, her sister, Vanessa, and the septuagenarian suffragette Ethel Smyth. Leonard Woolf, in Lee's view, was more of a guardian than a husband and helpmeet. Out of the Bloomsbury biography glut, Lee's admirably sympathetic portrait is as close to the Boswellian ideal as one could hope for. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Author Biography - Hermione Lee

Hermione Lee's books include the internationally acclaimed biography Virginia Woolf, a collection of essays on life-writing, Body Parts, and a study of Elizabeth Bowen. She has written on many American authors, from Willa Cather to Philip Roth. She is a well-known reviewer and broadcaster, and, in 2006, Chair of the judges for the Man-Booker Prize. She is the first woman Goldsmiths' Professor of English at Oxford University, a Fellow of New College Oxford, of the British Academy and of the Royal Society of Literature. She was awarded a CBE in 2003 for services to literature.

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