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53 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An outstanding biography - I couldn't put it down
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...
Published on 6 Dec 1999

versus
26 of 65 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars For lit.crit. academics only
This is a book by an academic, for academics. It is not a biography for the ordinary reader. I'm not thick - I have a master's degree - but I am not a lit.crit specialist, so I found the approach excessively in-house. The references to Proust may excite people who write essays about him every day, but if, like me, you've not read "Remembrance..." for years...
Published on 21 Oct 1999 by pockley@mbox.vol.cz


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53 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An outstanding biography - I couldn't put it down, 6 Dec 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Virginia Woolf (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
5.0 out of 5 stars A template for the perfect biography, 12 Dec 2003
This review is from: Virginia Woolf (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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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping, but not Woolf-lite, 11 July 2007
This review is from: Virginia Woolf (Paperback)
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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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent., 24 April 2010
By 
D. Shanahan "D.Shanahan" (Devon, England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Virginia Woolf (Paperback)
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 found myself positively disliking the woman, her snobbishness, her neediness and self absorption, but then a chapter or two later this dislike was tempered by examples of her subjects shyness, her self doubt and the sheer brilliance of her mind especially when it came to observing and pinning down whatever her sharp little eye fell upon.
David
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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 (London) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Virginia Woolf (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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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best biographies I have read, 21 Sep 2004
This review is from: Virginia Woolf (Paperback)
Hermione Lee does justice to an equally talented author. I was rather phased by the length of the book when I initially came to read it, but it's length didn't bother me in the slightest when I began reading. The language isn't heavy and you can easily cover 30 pages within minutes. Whereas Quentin Bell's biography touches very briefly on all aspects of her life, Lee leaves no aspect of her life untouched. In fact, she goes full tilt into some of the most complex issues within Woolf's life, with a particularly arresting chapter on 'Madness'.

I strongly recommend this biography. I'd almost say this is just as good a piece of Literature as one of Woolf's own novels.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Biography, 11 Nov 2009
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This review is from: Virginia Woolf (Paperback)
A fascinating & detailed account of a literary genius, beautifully written by Hermione Lee , easily the best book on Virginia Woolf.Ifound this book moving,rewarding & revealing.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Riveting biography, 4 July 2011
By 
Pierre C. Ruette (USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Virginia Woolf (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. The book moves swiftly touching all the nuances of personality that made up Virginia's private and public world. The book retained the air of the eras through which Virginia lived. The author was very discreet and never intruded on the narrative. Too often biographers are only too willing to contrast an episode just described against a contemporary example of a similar incident,to allow a current reader - with the hindsight of more acquired knowledge and different mores and manners -- to come to satisfying "superior" judgements.

Excellent book. Sorry it had to end and saddened the reason for the end was indeed such a sorry one.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Biography, Shoddy Publishing, 26 Jun 2011
By 
Blencathra (West Yorkshire.) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Virginia Woolf (Paperback)
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. I find it amazing that Penguin have the cheek to charge the prices they do - the formatting was dreadful, with wrongly set up words on every page (the most common being where random mid-word 'i's were capitalised followed by a space and then the rest of the word, e.g. vI sit). If they are going to charge such steep prices, then the least Penguin could do is carry out basic proof-reading and sort out the formatting. Shoddy.

So 5+ stars for Hermione Lee, 1 star (and less) for Penguin. But as the main focus of these reviews is the contents, the full 5 go at the top of this review (but I do wonder whether what I really wanted was a second-hand hardback copy).

Later edit: I found a copy of the hardback in a charity shop only a couple of days after posting the review. It proved to be a far more pleasurable experience reading that than either the paperback or the Kindle version. And cheaper too!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply sublime., 25 Mar 2010
This review is from: Virginia Woolf (Paperback)
Hermione Lee's biography of Woolf is terrific, serving not only as a moving and incredibly objective biography, but a fantastic piece of literary criticism.

I'm inclined to disagree with the other review's which criticise it for being overly intellectual, I first read the book a few years ago when I was 15 having had a passing interest in Woolf, and wasn't remotely perturbed by Lee's book, nor indeed her style. (That sounds highly precocious, but my point is that it isn't a difficult book; yes, it is vast, and Lee's style is academic, but if you really take the time to engage with the book, and aren't afraid to skip back and forth to clarify relationships and such, you will be vastly rewarded.)

Lee does at times assume a prior knowledge of Bloomsbury, however if you know nothing she offers a plethora of mini-biographies of the key figures, all with relation to Woolf of course. As another reviewer suggested there are references to multiple other literary sources, but if you aren't familiar with Proust, this won't hamper your reading, if anything it'll make you want to rush out and buy a copy of Swann's Way!

A simply stunning read with an incredible integrity. There are a vast number of books available about Woolf (of varying degrees of quality, admittedly), but this is without doubt the definitive book in my opinion. Terrific stuff.
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Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf by Hermione Lee (Paperback - 2 Oct 1997)
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