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Virginia Woolf Paperback – October 5, 1999

4.4 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"Woolf's story is reformulated by each generation," writes Hermione Lee, a professor of English literature. But her richly human portrait, so respectful of the complexities of her subject's life, seems unlikely to be surpassed. Lee extricates Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) from clichés about madness and modernism to reveal a vigorous artist whose work is politically probing as well as psychologically delicate. She makes brilliant use of the formidable Woolf archives to let the writer speak directly to us, then comments shrewdly on her words' hidden significances. Biographies don't get much better than this. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Before dismissing this new biography as just another in a long line of familar material, one would do well to stop and take in it. Lee (English, Univ. of York, England) has succeeded in presenting a different side of Woolf somewhat overlooked in previous studies. Aspects of Woolf's personal life like her childhood abuse by her stepbrother and her stormy family life are already well documented (see Louise DeSalvo's Virginia Woolf, Ballantine, 1990, and Panthea Reid's Art and Affection, LJ 9/15/96, respectively); and literary studies abound (see James King's Virginia Woolf, LJ 4/1/95, and Lyndall Gordon's Virginia Woolf, Norton, 1993). By making use of Woolf's extensive correspondence, diaries, and works, Lee strives to present her not as a fragile, eccentric victim, as has been done often, but as a complex, sometimes troubled, yet brilliant artist who overcame much to accomplish what she did. What results is a biography that is part social history, part literary analysis, and overall a fuller picture of Woolf. Lee's eye for detail allows us to get closer than ever to knowing who she was. While the subject may not be new, this biography is well worth a close reading.
-?Ronald Ratliff, Chapman H.S. Lib., Kansas
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 944 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Vintage Books ed. edition (October 5, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375701362
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375701368
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #279,802 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Probably the best bio of Woolf we are likely to see for some time. Lee has succeeded brilliantly and gracefully in that most elusive and troublesome task of capturing the "spirit" of another human being and then conveying that without simplification or reduction. What is most moving is that Lee allows Woolf her complexity and contradictions, her courage and cowardice, her generosity and meaness, without indulging in a sort of inconoclastic glee in smashing received images of Woolf as victim or feminist icon (or any other of the several and various "Woolfs" to be found these days.) Lee's bio is a stunning feat of sympathetic imagination and rational scholarship which ranks with the other "best" bio of the last 20 years or so, Deirdre Bair's marvelous and beautiful "Simone de Beauvoir." I am grateful to both of these writers.
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Format: Hardcover
just a few words about this book. I have been studying the works and life of Woolf since the early '70's and this bio by Hermoine Lee is by far the most comprehensive and for my money 'honest'. The hagiography is over. Now we are getting to the bones of Woolf at last. The 'madness', as we always suspected is not as easily explained away from a clinical aspect and in her book Lee deals with an overall composite of the traumas of Woolfs early life and subsequent stresses. Leonard woolf too becomes more real and his role in the shaping of Woolfs inner and outer life is seen more clearly. The book humanises them both,. Not always a comfortable feeling for the reader but for the serious student of the writer and the woman,this book must be best yet. There will always be something beguiling about a woman writer who lives life dangerously and dies by her own hand, especially for other women writers.You may not 'like' Woolf the woman after reading this book but you will come so much closer to understanding what drove her to her greatness, what drove her 'madness and subsequently what led her to that long walk one afternoon down to the river.
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Format: Hardcover
Hermione Lee has compiled a brilliant and passionate account of the life of Virginia Woolf. Whether she is exploring the political or personal aspects of the prolific author, Lee manages to paint an intriguing portrait of Woolf. Her style ranges from technical to cinimatic, varying upon the circumstances and subject matter. The effect leaves the reader celebratinging the acquisition of an intimate new aquaintance, as well as mourning the loss of a life cut short.
The experience of reading this biography would be enriched by a familiarity with some of Woolf's works (Mrs. Dalloway, To The Lighthouse), but a person unfamiliar with these writings would enjoy the experience of this book just as well.
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Format: Paperback
Of the many literary biographies I've read, only Peter Ackroyd's "Dickens" seems to me as "definitive" as Ms. Lee's terrifically compelling book. One finishes it with the sense, however illusory (see Janet Malcolm's extraordinary "The Silent Woman" for a convincing argument that it must be), that the Virginia Woolf found in its pages is essentially identical to the actual woman who lived and wrote and died. Anyone with even a slight interest in her must consider this book essential reading. I found it a real page-turner throughout its considerable length despite being unconvinced of Woolf's literary eminence (except for her sparkling correspondence) and finding her character unattractive (i.e. snobbish, frigid, a false friend, etc.) even by the usual standard for writers.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Literary biography is a tough genre to master, but Hermione Lee has tackled one of the toughest subjects imaginable and emerged triumphant. Even those who have never picked up even an essay or short story by Virginia Woolf feel somehow familiar with her work; Michael Cunningham's The Hours: A Noveland the film based on that has taken her story and turned it into part of pop culture (albeit at a very high level.) That makes the task of producing an unbiased evaluation of Woolf's literary contributions and a balanced view of her life (both subjects of heated debate among her admirers) far more difficult than penning a standard literary biography.
Far from being scared off, Hermione Lee rises to the occasion and delves deeply into every primary source on which she can lay her hands. The result is a triumph. She is able to weave these into a compelling narrative, never allowing the vast mass of detail to distract her or bog down the pace of the book (quite an accomplishment, given the 800-900 or so pages...)Whenever the reader is poised to ask of Lee how she reaches a given conclusion, within a paragraph the answer is presented, deftly and effortlessly.
The result is a highly accomplished biography and one that should serve as a model for any other aspiring literary biographer. The Woolf that emerges is one that stands apart from the existing biographies, all of which have their own flaws (written by a family member, with all the flaws that brings; written to demonstrate that Woolf was first and foremost a victim of sexual abuse, etc.) Lee's Woolf is an independent woman who constructed a life that suited her, however little understood it may have been by those around her.
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