From Publishers Weekly
Virginia Woolf is a feminist icon, and her husband, Leonard, was a committed socialist and supporter of workers' rights. Yet, says Light, in this fresh take on Bloomsbury, the couple perpetuated the class system by paying a pittance to their charwoman. In her attempt to restore the servants to the Bloomsbury story, Light also ruminates about whether the dependence of Woolf and her sister, Vanessa Bell, on their assorted live-in maids and cooks plays havoc with the idealized image of them as bohemian, free women creating a new kind of life. Light also dissects Woolf's fictional servants as a window into contemporary social class prejudices and delves into the personal histories of Woolf's servants in context with their peers. British scholar Light (Forever England
), the granddaughter of a live-in domestic, often seems to be pushing a personal agenda, and her insistence that without the hard work of the servants there would have been no Bloomsbury is unconvincing, yet her analyses of both the Bloomsbury notables and the servant class of their time are deft and engrossing. Illus. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
This engrossing portrait of Virginia Woolf and the women who looked after her explores how modern ideas of class and gender crucial to Woolf's writing ran up against her lingering ties to a waning Victorian domestic order. Woolf frequently pondered the "servant question," but her concern for those she employed was tinged with distaste. "I am sick of the timid spiteful servant mind," she wrote of Nellie Boxall, her cook for eighteen years. Though Woolf professed a desire for a time when masters and servants might be "fellow beings," and argued in her work for space and autonomy for women, her life was one of dependence; she did not learn to cook until she was forty-seven. Light deftly "restores the servants to the story," arguing that Woolf's relationships with them were "as enduring, intimate and intense as any in her life."
Copyright ©2008 Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker