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Virginia Woolf: A Critical Memoir Paperback – 15 Jan 2007
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'Holtby provides an interesting and contemporaneous view of Woolf...But the primary reason to celebrate the reappearance of A Critical Memoir is that it allows those unfamiliar with it to introduce themselves to an author who ought to be more readily in print.' Duncan Hamilton, Yorkshire Post--Sanford Lakoff "Yorkshire Post "
'Holtby' style is sharp, masterful and concise...She demonstrates a supreme grasp of the difference between modernist and traditionalist writing in the 1920s and 1930s....In fact, Holtby's short, artful critique of Woolf and her work, written with the benefit of having met the author, seems to get closer to revealing the "true Virginia" than many later attempts....Holtby's book has on the whole, stood the test of time...her excellent readings of Woolf's texts hold their ground among more recent studies and there is no better justification for a new edition of her book than [her] insightful conclusion on Woolf both as a writer and woman.' Vanessa Curtis, The Independent on Sunday--Sanford Lakoff "Independent, The "
"Holtby's writes in a very clear, astute and uncluttered way" --Sanford Lakoff
Holtby gives us Woolf the critic, the essayist and the experimental novelist in a critical memoir which is of particular interest as the work of one intelligent, though very different, novelist commenting on another. Holtby's careful reading of Woolf's work is set in the context of the debate between modernist and traditional writing in the 1920s and 1930s. Although Holtby greatly admires Woolf's art, she considers its limitations as an elite form that ignores the material conditions of everyday life and the consequent social responsibility expected of the novel. Choosing to write about Woolf as 'the author whose art seemed most of all removed from anything I could ever attempt, and whose experience was most alien to my own,' Holtby has written a candid appreciation of the complex, groundbreaking work of a contemporary writer at the height of her career. Winifred Holtby was a novelist, journalist and social reformer, who campaigned for the causes of peace and sexual and racial equality. Her most famous work is the novel "South Riding", published posthumously in 1936. She died in 1935.See all Product description
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The criticism of Virginia Woolf was not malicious or sarcastic in this work. But Winifred Holtby cited the limits of her character background, stressing that contemporary life
"...Hardly enters into her work. All her characters write, paint, lecture ,edit the classics or study in the British Museum. " Winifred Holtby was unashamedly provincial, setting her major novels in Yorkshire, and thought Virginia Woolf's was at her worst when she tried to portray life in Scarborough ( in 'Jacob's Room.) And was slightly dismayed by such Virginia Woolf's quite confining generalisations
-" Every second Englishman reads French", and " Ladies desire Mozart"
But Winifred Holtby also notes the impressive side to Virginia Woolf,'-her candour'. due to the "lack of a Victorian upbringing,"
"Perversion and violence , madness and abnormality, vice and cruelty do not frighten her,"
Virginia Woolf's fascination with the classics, particularly Greek philosophy, is cited as an inspiration, though Winifred Holtby certainly notices a lack of deference towards academia and a certain detachment from active politics.
There's admiration for Virginia Woolf too-
"She is inexorable in her demand for sincerity. Devotion to the idea must be absolute."
It's particularly intriguing to read how Virginia Woolf was viewed whilst still alive. When little was known of her psychological suffering and or that she would take her own life. Winifred Holtby found a 'life-affirming ' element to Virginia Woolf , citing the last paragraphs of 'The Waves'. Also some optimism "
The book then examines the body of Virginia Woolf's work up to 1932 in great detail. There's the charming understatement
" Mrs. Woolf does not really like plots." ..."The Waves is not the traditional English novel."
Winifred Holtby demonstrated familiarity with the famous works 'Jacob's Room ( which Winifred Holtby insisted was a 'war book') ', 'To The Lighthouse', 'Mrs. Dalloway' and the less famous 'The Mark on the Wall',
It's intriguing to read Winifred Holtby, a 1930's feminist review tackling the gender and time change in the fantasy 'Orlando' and 'In a Room of One's Own'. Yet when writing about 'The Waves' her criticism at first seems blunt.
"The pictures of the sea are in themselves beautiful. But I cannot feel sure that they were necessary."
But eventually acknowledges
" The beauty, the profundity, the technical accomplishment of the book are great. Mrs. Woolf has achieved in it the music and subtlety of poetry."
Which suggests that Winifred Holtby was eventually won over in spite of any misgivings.
Holtby does an astonishing job diving into Woolf's works - made me remember just how much I used to enjoy my literature classes. She also made me want to read more of Woolf's works - and I have no doubt I would get even more out of her writings now, after reading Holtby's commentary.
A Critical Memoir was published in 1932, and it can't help but haunt me that Holtby herself passed away in 1936 - only 37 years old, while Woolf died in 1941. How we lose some of our greatest writers too soon.
I would highly recommend Virginia Woolf: A Critical Memoir to anyone who has enjoyed the works of Woolf, or are interested in writing or women's history of that time.
*I received a free advanced reader's copy through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review*
The two women met just once and Woolf was typically dismissive of Holtby calling her “a Yorkshire farmer’s daughter, rather uncouth and shapeless.” Holtby is clear-sighted, but never dismissive, about Woolf and her study is a joy and a delight.