Imagining Virginia Woolf: An Experiment in Critical Biography

Imagining Virginia Woolf: An Experiment in Critical Biography

Imagining Virginia Woolf: An Experiment in Critical Biography

Imagining Virginia Woolf: An Experiment in Critical Biography


Where other works of literary criticism are absorbed with the question--How to read a book?-- Imagining Virginia Woolf asks a slightly different but more intriguing one: how does one read an author? Maria DiBattista answers this by undertaking an experiment in critical biography. The subject of this work is not Virginia Woolf, the person who wrote the novels, criticism, letters, and famous diary, but a different being altogether, someone or something Maria DiBattista identifies as "the figment of the author." This is the Virginia Woolf who lives intermittently in the pages of her writings and in the imagination of her readers. Drawing on Woolf's own extensive remarks on the pleasures and perils of reading, DiBattista argues that reading Woolf, in fact reading any author, involves an encounter with this imaginative figment, whose distinct, stylistic traits combine to produce that beguiling phantom--the literary personality.

DiBattista reveals a writer who possessed not a single personality, but a cluster of distinct, yet complementary identities: the Sibyl of Bloomsbury, the Author, the Critic, the World Writer, and the Adventurer, the last of which, DiBattista claims, unites them all.

Imagining Virginia Woolf provides an original way of reading, one that captures with variety and subtlety the personality that exists only in Woolf's works and in the minds of her readers.


How many departments a person has: needing historians,
psychologists, poets &c. to interpret.

—V. Woolf, “Notes for Reading at Random”

How should one read a book? Virginia Woolf first asked this question nearly a century ago, but the years have, if anything, made the question more, not less urgent. Books about how to read (a poem, a novel) periodically appear, as do books—How Proust Can Change Your Life, Reading Lolita in Tehran, the Little Chinese Seamstress—chronicling the emotional and political benefits of reading. There are even books, like Pierre Bayard's How to Talk about Books You Haven't Read, that suggest how not to read a book and still get some benefit from it. Finally there are books that promise that anyone can become a reader, even the Queen of England, as happens in Alan Bennett's droll fantasy, The Uncommon Reader, in which Her Majesty, to the surprise of her subjects and the chagrin of her retinue, develops a late-life passion for reading so voracious and ardent that Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Marcel Proust, Nancy Mitford, and Jean Genet are devoured with equal and unmitigated pleasure.

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