Virginia Woolf Books
Woolf's passionately argued, eloquently written manifesto in support of women artists should be required reading for anyone who cares about art, women or women artists. In it she imagines the life of Shakespeare's fictional sister, who possesses her brother's talent but not the set of—um—equipment that allows him to move ahead with a career. It's funny, poignant and definitely worth a read.
This novel traces a single day in the life of British socialite Clarissa Dalloway as she prepares for a party. The character has been thrashed as the embodiment of a vapid and superficial social class, but Clarissa's particulars are less important than what Woolf does here with language and time. Though the action happens over a single day, the characters' interior lives—always Woolf's focus—jump across decades.
Inspired by the memories of her family's summer trips, this novel focuses on a family vacationing in Scotland. What Woolf attempts in Mrs. Dalloway she nails here. Set across two days, this book snatches moments in the life of the Ramsay family and puts them on display like the pieces of a mosaic.
This is Woolf's most experimental novel, and by most accounts the most difficult to read. The novel (Woolf preferred to call it a "play-poem," so much did it depart from typical novelistic conventions) weaves the voices of six different characters together. The effect is more like reading a prose poem than a novel.
There is a glut of scholarly material on Virginia Woolf, but Hermione Lee's book has been praised as one of the strongest biographies of the writer. In 900 pages, Lee tries to cut through the myths and speculation that have sprung up around Virginia Woolf to get to the truth of the writer's life. What emerges is a portrait of a flawed but still fascinating woman.
In 1972 Woolf's nephew Quentin Bell published a highly regarded biography of his aunt. This book, a personal memoir, also includes his recollections on other members of the Bloomsbury Group. This includes his parents, Vanessa and Clive Bell, his two siblings, and their unconventional family that included his mother's lover. Bell was a great writer (and a serious scholar), and his accounts are entertaining to read.
Leonard Woolf has taken a beating in Virginia Woolf biographies, with some feminist critics accusing him of either causing her mental illness or hampering her talent. Family members and serious Woolf scholars have refuted that portrayal, and Victoria Glendinning's book offers a serious and sympathetic look at Leonard Woolf. Though he is mostly remembered for the woman he married, Woolf was a creative and interesting person in his own right.