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Virginia Woolf (Lives) Paperback – 7 Jun 2001
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"'As a short introduction to Virginia Woolf this deceptively brief book could hardly be bettered and achieves high status instantly as a significant work of reference in its own right' The Times"
An intimate portrait of Virginia, the best-known and most influential Bloomsbury author of them allSee all Product description
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Nicolson was very fond of Virginia but also critical of stories told by herself and her admirers. One example is the story of the incestuous practice of her half-brother George Duckworth which he thinks is pure fantasy written by Virginia to entertain on a special occasion. Another allegation that Nicolson rejects is the feminist one that Leonard neglected his wife. As a boy Nigel observed the tenderness with which Leonard treated Virginia when he and his mother visited them in Monk’s House and Virginia was on the brink of having a break down. He very gently took her away for some minutes to calm her down.
On the whole I think that Nicolson has succeeded in creating a picture of Virginia as she was in flesh and blood and not just an icon of feminism or Bloomsbury. Much could be said about the Bloomsbury Group and their influence, but that I leave to the specialist. It was a heterogeneous group who came together to discuss abstract matters, and at the center of it the two only women, the sisters Vanessa and Virginia. It was said of Virginia that she was always beautiful, but never pretty. But she was also a hardworking woman who was writing every morning from 10 till 1 and typing it in the afternoon. All day long during her walks the book would move subconsciously in her mind. And besides she was a great letter writer who in her letters stuck to the Bloomsbury principle that nothing profound was said unless it was also witty.
Although Virginia Woolf's life is well known and documented, Nicolson's portrait is refreshing due to his personal experience of the subject and the Bloomsbury Circle with which she was inextricably linked.
Anyone looking for a detailed account of Woolf's literary efforts should look to Hermione Lee's 'Virginia Woolf', but as a purely personal account this is a gem.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Nicholson is an editor of Woolf's letters and the son of Vita Sackville-West, with whom Virginia Woolf had an affair. Nicolson's having known and liked Virginia Woolf adds a personal touch without compromising objectivity.
If you want to know about Ms Woolf I highly recommend this book.
Moreover, it is really beautifully written. Nicolson worked with publishing all his life, and was one of the founders of the firm Weidenfeld & Nicolson; he wrote a lovely portrait of his flawed parents in PORTRAIT OF A MARRIAGE, and this funny little book (which incidentally offers revealing information about his mother) was a nice capstone to his full literary career, offering a dual portrait of the two female great writers he loved most in his life. Its unusual angles (delving into Woolf's sexuality, her xenophobia, her snobbishness, and her great gift for conversation) make it perennially interesting, and at the time it did important work rehabilitating Woolf's husband Leonard after his reputation had suffered somewhat among Woolf scholars in the Eighties and Nineties.
That said, this is an enjoyable read. Nicolson is supremely English, in quite a charming way - his prose is coolly elegant with an occasional flash of wit or moment of restrained warmth, and he never declares anything outright, just insinuates or suggests (not unlike Woolf herself). His attitude to his subject is both touchingly and infuriatingly respectful. I think he was so terrified of being scurrilous, of exploiting his position as Vita Sackville-West's son, that this book comes off as over-polite, over-careful; he whets our interest but refuses to supply the goods. It's a pity, because he really does have an unique perspective.
Still, I reccommend it. It's a quick read, and a nice way to spend an afternoon.
Nigel Nicolson gives us an intimate portrait of Virginia Woolf in a highly readable book of 191 pages. Because of his mother Vita Sackville-West's close relationship with Virginia we gain a perspective that a biographer who takes his subject as an assignment cannot always supply. However, Mr. Nicolson maintains his objectivity giving us a Virginia Woolf with all her complexity and contradictions. We are treated to frequent quotes from her diaries and letters that bring her all the closer. I enjoyed the personal touch offered by Mr. Nicolson; he is not intrusive and when he speaks from his personal knowledge of his subjects he adds a dimension of intimacy. You come away with a feeling that you know something of Virginia Woolf rather than facts about her.
There are several photographs illustrating the book. If you want to know about Virginia Woolf, or want to become reacquainted with her life and books, this is a book to read.