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Virginia Woolf [Paperback]

Hermione Lee
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
RRP: 14.99
Price: 10.49 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

2 Oct 1997
Hermione Lee sees Virginia Woolf afresh, in her historical setting and as a vital figure for our times. Her book moves freely between a richly detailed life-story and new attempts to understand crucial questions - the impact of her childhood, the cause and nature of her madness and suicide, the truth about her marriage, her feelings for women, her prejudies and obsessions. This is a vivid, close-up portrait, returning to primary sources, and showing Woolf as occupying a distinct, even uneasy position with 'Bloomsbury'. It is a writer's life, illustrating how the concerns of her work arise and develop, and a political life, which establishes Woolf as a radically sceptical, subversive, courageous feminist. Incorporating newly discovered sources and illustrated with photos and drawings never used before, this biography is a revelation -informed, intelligent and moving.

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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: 4.1 x 12.9 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 10,456 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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.


"An outstanding achievement...superb" (Selena Hastings Sunday Telegraph)

"It 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)

"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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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
50 of 50 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
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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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping, but not Woolf-lite 11 July 2007
I don't usually read biography as I find it can be dry and poorly written but with the desire to learn more about the always intriguing Woolf and based on the complementary reviews of Lee's writing style I decided to make the change in genre with this book and what a good choice it was.
All that has been said is true; Lee grips the reader and progress through this dense work was quick, I only got it last week. This says a lot for Lee's style as, though interesting, Woolf's life, or the vast majority of it at least, shouldn't really be page-turning stuff. I had been afraid, considering some of the blurbs re the readability of the book that Lee would have simplified Woolf but the opposite is true, VW comes across as a complex, if not always likeable, character and the others of her group are similarly carefully portrayed (do not take this to mean kindly). A well worth while investment as a method of understanding Woolf and as a fine example of biography.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A template for the perfect biography 12 Dec 2003
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful! 19 Mar 2012
By Kate Hopkins TOP 500 REVIEWER
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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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Biography, Shoddy Publishing 26 Jun 2011
In terms of the content, I can largely only echo the other 5 star reviews here. I have been put off Virginia Woolf's writing for many years and only come to it relatively recently (largely thanks to the superb film, The Hours). This was partly due to the formidable reputation of both author and her work. Having discovered that her writing (especially her essays, but also fiction) was actually far more approachable than the myths suggest, Hermione Lee has carried out the same transformation on the author. This is a highly readable, totally fascinating, biography of a very complex individual. The thematic approach largely worked for me, although I occasionally struggled with the chronology, allowing Lee to really develop different aspects of Woolf's life. She is a super writer, pulling so many different threads and characters into a highly coherent whole. Just as Woolf's writing reveals so much of her characters, I really feel that I have been getting to know a fully rounded individual. This has to be one of my all-time favourite biographies, and worthy of a full 5 stars and more.

Sadly, the same cannot be said for Penguin's efforts, who have really let the author down badly. I first of all started reading the paperback version, to find it virtually impossible with cramped typeface (an increasingly perennial problem with paperbacks nowadays) and, far worse, every line disappearing into the gutter at the spine, making the book virtually impossible to read without breaking the spine. I therefore, reluctantly, forked out for the Kindle version - I resent Penguin's ripoff prices, but felt that this book was worth it.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
This is a scholarly biography in terms of researched detail, but written with such a deft, light, energetic verve that it has a really addictive pull and is impossible to put down.
Published 9 months ago by M. Limb
4.0 out of 5 stars A big read.
I have always been facinated by all the characters in this book and have read about them written by other writers, finding this one a little hard going so am reading another book... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Mrs. D. Maguire
5.0 out of 5 stars Balanced - strengths and weaknesses, courage and vulnerability
Lee's biography of Virginia Woolf helped me to understand more deeply the integral connection between the psychological problems that overtook her and influenced her creative life... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Phillip Mason
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
This is a really great biography, which is also very readable. A book I shall refer to again and again as I read more of Virinia Woolf's writings. Read more
Published 17 months ago by C H Bartlett
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic addition to the Bloomsbury canon
Having read the Quentin Bell biography years ago, I avoided this for many years considering it redundant - fool that I am. Read more
Published 18 months ago by George Massey
4.0 out of 5 stars I like it
This book came quickly and fitted the description given, it was a used copy. There were no problems with it.
Published 18 months ago by Mrs. Helen S. Graham
5.0 out of 5 stars An interesting story?
I apologise that this isn't a review of the book in question. But please bear with me - I will try to be brief. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Ann2shoes
5.0 out of 5 stars Subtle and deeply intelligent
As other reviewers have mentioned, this isn't a traditional biography (although it does cover all the aspects of a `life') and is deeply theoretically-informed. Read more
Published on 15 Jan 2012 by Roman Clodia
5.0 out of 5 stars Riveting biography
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. Read more
Published on 4 July 2011 by Pierre C. Ruette
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent.
I can't begin to praise this book enough, as an example of Hermione Lee's even handedness; having been a long time admirer of Virginia Wolf, there were certain chapters where I... Read more
Published on 24 April 2010 by D. Shanahan
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