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Imagining Virginia Woolf

Imagining Virginia Woolf: An Experiment in Critical Biography

Maria DiBattista
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Imagining Virginia Woolf
    Book Description:

    Where other works of literary criticism are absorbed with the question--How to read a book?--Imagining Virginia Woolfasks a slightly different but more intriguing one: how does one read an author? Maria DiBattista answers this by undertaking an experiment in critical biography. The subject of this work is not Virginia Woolf, the person who wrote the novels, criticism, letters, and famous diary, but a different being altogether, someone or something Maria DiBattista identifies as "the figment of the author." This is the Virginia Woolf who lives intermittently in the pages of her writings and in the imagination of her readers. Drawing on Woolf's own extensive remarks on the pleasures and perils of reading, DiBattista argues that reading Woolf, in fact reading any author, involves an encounter with this imaginative figment, whose distinct, stylistic traits combine to produce that beguiling phantom--the literary personality.

    DiBattista reveals a writer who possessed not a single personality, but a cluster of distinct, yet complementary identities: the Sibyl of Bloomsbury, the Author, the Critic, the World Writer, and the Adventurer, the last of which, DiBattista claims, unites them all.

    Imagining Virginia Woolfprovides an original way of reading, one that captures with variety and subtlety the personality that exists only in Woolf's works and in the minds of her readers.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3004-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature, 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)

    • 1 The Figment of the Author
      (pp. 3-13)

      How should one read a book? Virginia Woolf first asked this question nearly a century ago, but the years have, if anything, made the question more, not less urgent. Books about how to read (a poem, a novel) periodically appear, as do books—How Proust Can Change Your Life, Reading Lolita in Tehran, The Little Chinese Seamstress—chronicling the emotional and political benefits of reading. There are even books, like Pierre Bayard’sHow to Talk about Books You Haven’t Read, that suggest hownotto read a book and still get some benefit from it. Finally there are books that...

    • 2 Personalities
      (pp. 14-38)

      For someone who believed that “the people whom we admire most as writers . . . have something elusive, enigmatic, impersonal about them,”¹ Virginia Woolf had decidedly strong feelings about the personalities of other writers. Not even ideological differences could dislodge her affections for writers once they were formed. Thus the woman who wrote so passionately about the inequities institutionalized and routinely inflicted by patriarchal society openly confessed her love for “a man who, if he had lived today, would have been the upholder of all the most detestable institutions of his country; but for all that a great writer.”...


    • 3 The Sibyl of the Drawing Room
      (pp. 41-63)

      “To begin with—admire our new address.”¹ So wrote Virginia Woolf on the eve of her move into a new house where she was soon to discover—and enjoy—a different and decidedly new way of life. There is still much to admire and indeed to celebrate in Virginia Woolf’s new address, 46 Gordon Square, and in the new era it inaugurated in her personal and professional life as a writer. Her arrival retrospectively came to mark the cultural ascendancy of Bloomsbury not just as a London neighborhood, but as a mode of living—irregular, informal, experimental—and a mode...

    • 4 The Author
      (pp. 64-91)

      In 1915, under the terms of the National Registration Act, Virginia Woolf was registered by her husband Leonard as an “author.”¹ This official classification seems straightforward enough. The literary vocation of Virginia Woolf seems a public fact, now as then, to which we might hardly give a second thought, especially given the avalanche of work on her literary ideas, politics, psychology, autobiographical and critical writings that began with Quentin Bell’s 1975 biography of his aunt and gathered force and momentum with the subsequent publication of her complete diaries, letters, and collected essays. In truth, everything about Virginia Woolf, author, is...

    • 5 The Critic
      (pp. 92-118)

      You might think that Woolf the author and Woolf the critic would work hand in hand in revolutionizing the way the novel is written and the way it is read. How logical as well as untroubled a relationship it promises to be: the critic explaining and advocating the work of the author, the author confirming the insights of the critic; the author working to deepen, extend, and confirm our sense of reality, the critic working to sort out the good, true, and enduring from the bad, false, and ephemeral.

      But the relationship between Woolf the author and Woolf the critic...

    • 6 The World Writer
      (pp. 119-139)

      In the second chapter ofOrlando, Woolf’s transhistorical hero, despondent over his disgrace at Court and the flight of Sasha, the Russian princess who has bewitched him, retires to his great country house to nurse his wounds in solitude. There he succumbs to that besetting vice of the Elizabethan nobleman—writing. His biographer discloses that Orlando has long been “afflicted with a love of literature,” the “fatal nature” of which is “to substitute a phantom for a reality” (O, 57) Seeking to relieve his disordered mind by populating it with phantoms of his own creation, he retrieves from the huge...

    • 7 The Adventurer
      (pp. 140-166)

      Even those willing to greet Woolf as a world writer might balk at hailing her as an adventurer. This reluctance is understandable, as long as the sense of adventure is a commonly held and traditional one.¹ But in or about December 1910, the sense of adventure seems to have changed. Woolf noted the change and helped provoke as well as prepare for it. Retrospectively she greeted it when, inA Room of One’s Own, she turned her critical gaze from the epic age of women’s writing to the literature of her own time and selected, apparently at random, a novel...


    • 8 Anon Once More
      (pp. 169-172)

      “Suddenly the sense of what people are leaves one. I return him to the pool where he will acquire lustre” (W, 244). Thus muses Bernard, in one of his abstracted moments inThe Waveswhen the reality of the world or of other people seems to desert him. Abstracted, but, remarkably, not bereft, not even forlorn. He seems, indeed, admirably calm and deliberate in the face of this sudden loss. He seems intent on converting a passive sense of loss into a willing relinquishment of what he calls, with gentle mockery, “these minute objects which we call optimistically ‘the characters...

  7. Notes
    (pp. 173-190)
  8. Index
    (pp. 191-194)