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Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf: Becoming a Writer

Katherine Dalsimer
Copyright Date: 2001
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 224
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    Virginia Woolf
    Book Description:

    By the time she was twenty-four, Virginia Woolf had suffered a series of devastating losses that later she would describe as "sledge-hammer blows," beginning with the death of her mother when she was thirteen years old and followed by those of her half-sister, father, and brother. Yet vulnerable as she was ("skinless" was her word) she began, through these years, to practice her art-and to discover how it could serve her. Ultimately, she came to feel that it was her "shock-receiving capacity" that had made her a writer.Astonishingly gifted from the start, Woolf learned to be attentive to the movements of her own mind. Through self-reflection she found a language for the ebb and flow of thought, fantasy, feeling, and memory, for the shifts of light and dark. And in her writing she preserved, recreated, and altered the dead, altering in the process her internal relationship with their "invisible presences." "I will go backwards & forwards" she remarked in her diary, a comment on both her imaginative and writerly practice.Following Woolf's lead, psychologist Katherine Dalsimer moves backward and forward between the work of Woolf's maturity and her early journals, letters, and unpublished juvenilia to illuminate the process by which Woolf became a writer. Drawing on psychoanalytic theory as well as on Woolf's life and work, and trusting Woolf's own self-observations, Dalsimer offers a compelling account of a young artist's voyage out-a voyage that Virginia Woolf began by looking inward and completed by looking back.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13376-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xviii)

    This is not a biography of Virginia Woolf.

    There are already many excellent ones from the last quarter of the past century,¹ and they have been buttressed by fine editions of Woolf’s writings. In addition to her novels and short fiction, there are the essays and book reviews that began to appear in print when she was a young woman, and the many volumes of her diaries and letters. Unquestionably the most vibrant portrait of Virginia Woolf as a person is the one she wrote herself, over the course of a lifetime, in these diaries and letters. Their richness and...

  5. 1 To the Lighthouse
    (pp. 1-24)

    “We think back through our mothers if we are women,” Virginia Woolf declared inA Room of One’s Own. Her observation is one that lodges in the imagination and takes root there, deepening through time. Woolf was referring to literary tradition. Where, she asked, could Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot turn for precedent as they set pen to paper? What tradition did the great women novelists of the nineteenth century have to draw upon? But her metaphor reaches further and deeper than questions of literary antecedents. In the years since she wrote those words, Virginia Woolf herself has become...

  6. 2 The “Hyde Park Gate News”
    (pp. 25-38)

    Looking back to her childhood, whether in fiction or memoirs, Virginia Woolf was of course drawing on memories—and memories, she knew well, were subject to revision. She was acutely aware of the allusiveness and elusiveness of memory. But although Woolf herself could not look back on her early life except through the changing lens of memory, a remarkable document survives that allows us to recapture what she could not. Beginning in 1891, when Virginia was nine years old, she collaborated with Vanessa, Thoby, and Adrian on a family newspaper they called the “Hyde Park Gate News.” What survives in...

  7. 3 Diary, Age Fifteen: “A VOLUME OF FAIRLY ACUTE LIFE”
    (pp. 39-56)

    InTo the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf ascribes to her fictional surrogate, the painter Lily Briscoe, the thought, “A brush, the one dependable thing in a world of strife, ruin, chaos.” If one substitutes “pen” for “brush,” these words might well be an epigraph for the diary that Virginia Woolf kept when she was fifteen years old. The diary is, as she wrote in drawing it to a close, “a volume of fairly acute life.” As a documentation of family life, the diary could be said to resume the narrative begun in the pages of the “Hyde Park Gate News.” Clever,...

  8. 4 Journals, Ages Seventeen and Twenty-One: “THE RIGHT USE OF REASON”
    (pp. 57-78)

    A year and a half would go by before Virginia Woolf again took up her pen to keep a journal. When she was seventeen, her family took a seven-week summer holiday in the village of Warboys, in Huntingdonshire (now Cambridgeshire). There they settled into an early-nineteenth-century rectory and spent what Virginia would describe at its end as a summer [that] ranks among our happiest I think.”

    At the beginning of the holiday she inscribed on the cover of her diary, in capital letters, “WARBOYS SUMMER HOLIDAYS 1899.” Most of the entries are dated, and her intention, it seems, was to...

  9. 5 Early Reviews and Essays: AGE TWENTY-TWO TO TWENTY-THREE
    (pp. 79-100)

    While Virginia Woolf was writing her meditation on suicide, her father was declining visibly, the ebbing of his strength documented day by day in her letters. “If he had died at first it would have been easier,” shewrote toViolet Dickinson on the last night of the year 1903, “but now one has to give up more—I mean all these days he has been there, and able to talk a little, and one has had time to think—however, I know I shall be glad for him.” Still Leslie Stephen lingered on, into February of the new year. Through this...

  10. 6 “I write of things as I see them”: AGE TWENTY-FOUR TO TWENTY-FIVE
    (pp. 101-129)

    By the spring of 1906, Virginia Woolf, now twenty-four years old, was working regularly as a book reviewer and essayist and continuing to practice her art as a writer of fiction. In a letter to her cousin Madge Vaughan that seems to resume a conversation about her work, she declares, “I write of things as I see them; and I am quite conscious all the time that it is a very narrow, and rather bloodless point of view. . . . But my present feeling is that this vague and dream like world, without love, or heart, or passion, or...

  11. 7 The Voyage Out
    (pp. 130-172)

    The Voyage Out‚Virginia Woolf’s first novel, is the one least read. Begun when she was twenty-five years old and revised many times before it was published, it is far less fluent than the book reviews and essays that had been appearing in print since she was twenty-two. “The first novel is always apt to be an unguarded one” (Essays1: 225), she wrote in one of those reviews—but her own first novel is surely an exception. Leonard Woolf, in his autobiography, recalls her discovering a mountain of discarded versions of the novel in a cupboard and burning them....

  12. 8 “On Being Ill”
    (pp. 173-196)

    In 1925, unable to begin work on the autobiographical novel she had envisaged because she was ill for a period of months, Virginia Woolf produced an essay on illness itself. It appeared in January 1926 in T.S. Eliot’sNew Criterion.Ostensibly about the ordinary illnesses that everyone experiences at some time or other, the “daily drama of the body”—fever, toothache, flu—the essay “On Being Ill” moves beyond these common place ailments, familiar to all, to encompass tacitly the experience of psychosis and to reflect upon the relation between body and mind. The essay offers a point of entry...

  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 197-201)
  14. Index
    (pp. 202-206)