Julia Briggs's 'inner life'of Virginia Woolf begins with a joke of Woolf's about biography. In Orlando, the narrator gets fed up watching his subject 'sitting in a chair, day in, day out'. It isn't exciting, it's just what writers do. Of course, no biographer, so Orlando's implies, would write a writing life as the identical motions of a scratching pen, page in, page out.
Briggs takes the point seriously. What matters, she says, is the 'inner life', the one 'invisible to an observer'. By this she means initially what is 'in' the head " that is, dreams and thoughts and imagination. But it is also what gets out onto the paper: the published works, the drafts, the diaries and letters that make up the evidence of that other world.
The 'inner life' has other meanings in the course of the book. It may suggest a preoccupation with the subjective as opposed to the public world, sometimes seen as superficial socialising and sometimes as the large events of history. Or both: 'Despite an energetic and enjoyable social round, [Woolf] always felt that the life of the mind was the only 'real life': its 'great events & revolutions' were always, for her, the most affecting, the most absorbing, even though 'people talk of war & politics'.' In writing The Waves, 'she turned her back on the outer world.'
A different politics, rather than an abandonment of politics, emerges. Here, as elsewhere in her writing, Woolf is suggesting there are inner events that may not just be comparable to but intimately connected with the recognised 'external' kind.
At other times, as Briggs describes, and especially when writing about the status and history of women, Woolf could herself be polemically political in the conventional sense. The TLS reviewer of Three Guineas, her ruthless analysis of the sources of war and women's oppression, called her 'the most brilliant pamphleteer in England'. The inner life can be seen not as idiosyncratic but, on the contrary, as collective: as a daydreaming (and, Briggs thinks, a concomitant moral awareness) that characterises what all people have in common.
Briggs's 'inner life' is also the …