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Virginia Woolf Paperback – June 7, 2001

4.2 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

While most of Virginia Woolf's biographers (with the possible exception of her nephew Quentin Bell) bond with their subject through her vivid diaries and fiction, Nicolson (Portrait of a Marriage), the son of Woolf's lover Vita Sackville-West, draws on family archives and first-hand experience for his brisk, dutiful biography. For the young Nicolson, Woolf first appeared as a lively and amusing visitor. Not yet famous, to Nicolson she was like "a favourite aunt who brightened our simple lives with unexpected questions." Visiting Vita's stately home, Woolf might ask the young Nigel, "What's it like to be a child?" by way of research for To the Lighthouse, or she might make up histories for unidentified ancestral portraits as background for Orlando, her love-letter fantasy to Vita. Such personal glimpses enliven Nicolson's respectful position between various, often hotly contended views of Woolf as writer, feminist and Bloomsburian. Despite his insider's knowledge, which is nonetheless welcome, Nicolson manages to offer an objective perspective on Woolf's parents and siblings and on her childhood and youth. He is, however, less sensational than was Quentin Bell on her mental illness and the notorious early episodes when one of her half brothers examined her genitalia and the other forced his affections on her. Nicolson filters Woolf's writing career through VitaAand her opinions: she delighted in Orlando and was exasperated with the hyperbolic polemics of Three Guineas, the 1938 pacificist tract that was her penultimate work before her suicide. The world is no doubt weary of Woolf biographies, but this tidy and homely little introduction will sell to readers who may have been too intimidated by Woolf's modernist reputation to broach her life and work before. 3-city author tour. (Oct.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Woolf entered Nicolson's life when she and his mother, the writer Vita Sackville-West, fell in love, precipitating Woolf's only extramarital affair and inspiring Orlando (1928), the book that made her famous. An elegant stylist in his own right and one of the editors of Woolf's letters, Nicolson, whose boyhood recollections remain startlingly vivid, presents a unique perspective on Woolf and the now legendary world of Bloomsbury, recounting highly amusing conversations with the unpredictable woman he thought of as a "favorite aunt," and sharing insider information including the fact that she baked good bread. But he has more serious missions in mind, such as dismantling the myths associated with Woolf's childhood, accurately depicting her marriage and bouts with madness, and celebrating not only her transcendent novels but her prolific output as a journalist and the impact of Hogarth Press, an endeavor to which she and her husband were extraordinarily devoted. Nicolson's superb addition to the remarkable Penguin Lives series offers a deeply personal, compelling, and indelible likeness of one of the most fascinating and influential writers of all times. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Phoenix (an Imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd ) (June 7, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0753811472
  • ISBN-13: 978-0753811474
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,480,872 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By C. Ebeling on December 12, 2002
Format: Hardcover
VIRGINIA WOOLF by Nigel Nicolson departs from the template used by the Penguin Lives series so far as I've read down the list. It cannot claim that its subject exists in obscurity behind clouds of legend or of lack of existing documentation. Woolf was a public person in her life time, she left not only a respectable body of work but an extensive collection of letters, essays and journals. She has been the subject of substantial, well received biographies and is also featured prominently in profiles of Bloomsbury, the Hogarth Press and biographies of her contemporaries. This volume is also distinguished from others in the Penguin Lives Series in that it was written by the son of Woolf's female lover, Vita Sackville-West; in other words, someone close to the inner circle. Woolf belongs to the visitable past. The book remains, however, a fine member of the Series because of its skill in purveying the whole through a spritely revisiting of the significant passages in Woolf's life. Nicholson writes with warmth and holds forth his opinions in controversial areas, but he is impressively objective given his relationship with his subject and those closest to her. Nicolson manages to capture all the ambiguities of the woman, makes them comprehensible, honest and, sparingly, poignant.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is a personal, quirky memoir by the son of Virginia Woolf's lover Vita Sackville-West. The author does not attempt an objective, complete study of Woolf's life, which is a disappointment if that's what you're looking for. Rather, he draws on his own personal recollections of Woolf during his childhood and those of Woolf's contemporaries. Although interesting, I felt a lot was missing--if you are not very familiar with the Bloomsbury circle you will find the many references to people who moved in and out of that orbit over the years confusing. And the author offers no explanation or insight into the mental illness Woolf strugglesd with her entire life. As a result, her suicide seems to come out of the blue. This book is an interesting look at an interesting woman, but shouldn't be the first thing you read about Woolf.
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Format: Hardcover
When this little biography came out as part of the Penguin Lives series at the turn of the millennium, it caused some real joy among Virginia Woolf scholars and aficionados. The author, Nigel Nicolson (then in his eighties), not only had worked with her writing for decades, as the co-editor of her letters, but was one of the last living people who knew her well during her lifetime. His mother, Vita Sackville-West, was one of the great loves of Virginia Woolf's lives, and Nigel Nicolson had grown up with his mother's great friend visiting their ancient estates of Long Barn and Sissinghurst Castle, playing with him and his brother Ben and (among other things) helping them collect butterflies (an anecdote that begins this book). This short work is half-memoir, half-biography. As a brief life, it offers little more than a sketch of Woolf's life (that is more thoroughly outlined in multiple works, including most famously Hermione Lee's standard biography), but it also offers so much new and unexpected for Woolf students that it's an essential work in the critical bibliography.

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.
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Format: Hardcover
I would call this a portrait and not a biography. This is not meant to denigrate a wonderful book but differentiate it from full-blown biographies that extend to volumes. Rather, this is an intimate portrait by someone who knew Virginia Wolf, has read her books and edited her letters for publication.
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.
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