BUILDING A LIBRARY: Virginia Woolf

By Spalding, Frances | The Independent on Sunday (London, England), June 27, 2004 | Go to article overview
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BUILDING A LIBRARY: Virginia Woolf


Spalding, Frances, The Independent on Sunday (London, England)


No other 20th-century writer has been so thoroughly described, analysed, critiqued, satirised and appropriated as Virginia Woolf. Her work has incited shelf- loads of books and thousands of articles, written from a dazzling array of perspectives. This writer has become, in the words of Helen Dudar, "the Marilyn Monroe of American academia", both an industry and a cultural icon.

This notion is brilliantly explored in Virginia Woolf Icon (1999) by Brenda R Silver, who is particularly alert to the gender and sexuality issues that played into Woolf's posthumous reputation. With reference to literary periodicals, stage and screen adaptations, films, photography and fashion, Silver traces Woolf's presence in British and American culture. She touches on Alan Bennett's Forty Years On (1968), in which a parody of the Bloomsbury Memoir Club focuses on Woolf.

Woolf's own works include major novels, enduring literary criticism, seminal social theory, letters (six volumes) and diaries (five volumes), and all this from a women who suffered recurrent bouts of mental illness and died relatively young, aged 59. Inevitably, given the plethora of books on Woolf, critical responses to her work have been fragmented and competing. One outstanding study is Alex Zwerdling's Virginia Woolf and the Real World (1986). It shattered the assumption that she lived in a world of pure aesthetics and fantasy and knew nothing about money and class, politics and war. Instead, he showed how readily she entered into dialogue, in her work, with the social and political realities of her day.

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