Virginia Woolf

Article excerpt


Hermione Lee's engrossing, groundbreaking biography pushes both the range and nature of our understanding of Virginia Woolf. To do so, Lee expands on Woolf's own innovative thinking about what telling a life story can encompass. She offers exciting new ways of comprehending not only the meaning of her subject's outer and inner selves, but our own and those which surround us.

As Woolf herself did, her new biographer stresses that the facts of biography, unlike the facts of science, are subject to change and that for someone as various as Woolf, interpretation verges on the limitless. Illuminating every aspect is Lee's conviction that Woolf is a heroine and not a victim, who grappled with issues which still concern us. She creates a revision to reinforce the change in perception from "delicate lady authoress of a few experimental novels and sketches, some essays and a `writer's diary' to one of the most professional, perfectionist, energetic, courageous and committed writers in the language." Rejecting a linear style, Lee breaks her storyline with fascinating thematic chapters on subjects ranging from a marriage "which made a frame and a space for the work," to her complicated friendships; reading ("her life's pleasure and her life's work") and party-going (with all the flair and glare of social intimacy and activity as Woolf herself described it). Take, for instance, `Madness. …