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Virginia Woolf Paperback – 2 Oct 1997

28 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 912 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (2 Oct. 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099732513
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099732518
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 4.7 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 49,803 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

"My God, how does one write a biography?" Virginia Woolf once asked. Hermione Lee begins her biography, Virginia Woolf, with the same question. Over the years, many biographers have approached Woolf from various directions: she was mad; she was abused; she was weak; she was a survivor. Quentin Bell, Woolf's nephew, wrote his biography of Woolf from a relative's perspective; now Hermione Lee presents yet another interpretation of the great writer's life. Certainly, she had her work cut out. Virginia Woolf was famous among her contemporaries for exaggeration and invention, making even her private diaries suspect, yet often within the pages of her fiction exist solid strands of autobiography. "The life-writer must explore and understand the gap between the outer self...and the secret self," Lee writes. In compiling her account of Woolf's life, she attempted to encompass both selves by researching letters, diaries, and personal papers, as well as Woolf's published works and previous biographies. Amazingly, she has organised this mass of information to present a clear and forceful picture of a woman who was brave, brilliant, and all too aware of the contradictions that raged within her. Virginia Woolf is a well written, well considered portrait befitting its maddeningly elusive subject. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


' is a lasting, and even a great, book. These are not terms one gets to use often, or should ever use lightly.' -- Michael Cunningham, author of The Hours

''s what many people have been waiting for, a balanced and sensible study...this is a very good biography.' -- Doris Lessing, Sunday Times

'An outstanding achievement...superb' -- Selina Hastings, Sunday Telegraph

'Lee's book is not only very good, but very necessary.' -- Penelope Fitzgerald

'One of the most impressive biographies of the decade: moving, eloquent, powerful.' -- Financial Times

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4.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

54 of 55 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 6 Dec. 1999
Format: Paperback
This book probably deserves more than 5 crowns.
Although Hermione Lee is an academic, and the work is scholarly, I was intrigued and my interest was caught right until the very end. I am not a scholar, and didn't find the book difficult.
Having read a number of books about Virginia Woolf, I can safely say that this one is outstanding. Hermione Lee is obviously a more than competent biographer, and the attention to detailed research in this work is superlative.
If were to make one tiny criticism, it is that the author tends to assume the reader will come prepared with a little background information, and thus if you are very new to Bloomsbury, may I suggest you read a general overview before embarking on this very extensive study.
I would advise anyone who has a genuine interest in the subject to take the time to read this big volume with the care it deserves - it is well worth any effort you may feel it demands of you. It is a very well written and highly informative study of a writer's life and the context in which she wrote, whilst at the same time exploring 'life-writing'. As such it would appeal to anyone who is interested in an imaginative account of one woman's attempt to meet the tension between autobiographical and fiction writing, head-on.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By c westwood on 12 Dec. 2003
Format: Paperback
One of the finest biographies around (along with Gibson's biography of Dali) - well turned, fascinatingly collated and considered for the inquisitive reader. Hermione Lee creates a template for the perfect biography; grouping thematic matter on Woolf while maintaining a strong chronological thread; filling the book with fasincating literary detail, but balancing this with gossip from the Bloomsbury group and beyond, and detailed historical contextualisation.
A masterpiece, engaging from start to finish, leaving the reader with a strong sense of Woolf, her work and her circle.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Kate Hopkins TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 19 Mar. 2012
Format: Paperback
Without doubt the best biography of one of the 20th century's most important and most complex writers. Hermione Lee is a top academic, but her style never becomes dry or pretentious, and the book can easily be read by anyone who enjoys literature, as well as academics and students. Woolf is brought gloriously to life with all her charm, intelligence, depression and eccentricities, as are the rest of the family: difficult and tormented father Leslie, resigned mother Julia, Stella the caring sister who died tragically young, artist Vanessa, Thoby the brilliant 'Greek god' of a boy who also died tragically young and Adrian, the youngest Woolf, who never quite fitted in. Lee also paints a marvellous picture of Woolf's friends and other relatives - the portrait of Leonard Woolf is particularly good, and Lee's examination of the marriage impressive. There are very good depictions of Woolf's relationships with other artists, such as Katherine Mansfield, T.S. Eliot, Roger Fry, Dora Carrington and the belligerent but rather gloriously eccentric Ethel Smyth. The more complex sides of Woolf's life (such as her relationship with Vita Sackville-West and the possibility that she was abused as a child) are examined sensitively with no prudery or sensationalism. Lee writes with immense intelligence about Woolf's books, and makes you want to read most of the novels as soon as possible. And there are many fascinating quotes from letters and diaries, and subtle links between Woolf's literature and her life. All in all an absolutely magnificent book. I'm much looking forward to reading Lee's biography of Edith Wharton next.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Pierre C. Ruette on 4 July 2011
Format: Paperback
I had steered clear of Mrs. Woolf's work due to a perceived effeteness to her aesthetics and apparent lack of a mitigating human touch in her writing.I hold the same effete bias against classical ballet so I guess that dooms me as an open minded art lover. However, on the positive side I am a proud reprobate Londoner. Grew up in High Holborn during the blitz years, lived in Fitrovia for another 20 years and proud of Bloomsbury's cultural position as a former literary hot spot, as much for Dickens as the later field of effete Bloomsbury writers and artists.

However, this biography by Miss Lee is a first class literary work in its own right. It creates, on its own terms, a deeper and more rounded image of Virginia Woolf as a woman, as a feminist, and as a driven thinker and writer. Miss Lee's careful reconstruction of the Stephens family ancestry is followed by discussion of Virginia's own unmet paternal needs and a later traumatic physical intrusion from a male relative. That history offers a credible genetic and psychological explanation for both her creativity and depressions. The liberated personal lives her family and circle practised brought no severe judgments from Miss Lee. I admired -- which may just be my naivete -- Miss Lee's calm recital of the various liaisons and the adult camaraderie and bonds that governed their relationships even after passions cooled. It was certainly not the sort of P.G. Wodehouse world that my adolescent imagination fed on about that period.

This book was not at all turgid or too scholarly. My unfamiliarity with Virginia Woolf's works was compensated by Miss Lee's analysis of Virginia's various literary themes and book character explanations.
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