Reading Essays: An Invitation

By G. Douglas Atkins | Go to book overview

Homage to the Common Reader
Or How Should One Read Virginia Woolf’s
“The Death of the Moth”?

I rejoice to concur with the common reader; for by the common sense
of readers, uncorrupted by literary prejudices, after all the refinements
of subtilty and the dogmatism of learning, must be finally decided all
claim to poetical honours.

―Samuel Johnson, The Life of Gray

VIRGINIA WOOLF PRESENTS “God’s plenty” of essays from which to choose for reading. A personal favorite is “The Death of the Moth.” Tempting for less personal reasons is “The Moment,” which stands contrast with Woolf’s friend T. S. Eliot’s poetic lucubrations on time, arguably the essayist’s consuming subject. Not to be overlooked, of course, are the essays that make up A Room of One’s Own. I did not, finally, feel confident about this possibility, partly because I am not sure which of the six parts I would have chosen, partly because, in fact, the whole is an essay, or so Woolf herself says. The right choice ultimately presented itself: for a book such as this, with its focus on reading, I could not but choose something from the most famous collections of Woolf’s essays, The Common Reader or The Common Reader, Second Series. The reader can, in any case, rest assured that Woolf’s masterstrokes as an essayist, some of which mark her technically brilliant fiction, are on display in these collections of

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