The Pargiters: The Novel-Essay Portion of ‘The Years’
Books and Portraits: Some Further Selections from the Literary and Biographical Writings of Virginia Woolf
Sir Leslie Stephen’s Mausoleum Book
Moments of Being
The Diary of Virginia Woolf, Volume I: 1915-1919
The Letters of Virginia Woolf, Volume III: 1923-1928
A Marriage of True Minds: An Intimate Portrait of Leonard and Virginia Woolf
Bulletin of the New York Public Library: Virginia Woolf Issue
Virginia Woolf is acquiring a totally new place in literature. Her fame has always rested on her novels and partly on her essays, which, though they resemble the feathers in a boa beside the achievements of modern literary criticism, can still delight those who have an ear and an eye as well as a mind. She has always been a phenomenon, an event which anyone who regards the novel as a great art form cannot ignore whether or not he dismisses her claim to be as important as she desperately hoped to be.
But now a new fame awaits her. She is emerging as a great literary personage. It may even be that just as we read Boswell more often than we read Johnson, she will seem to future generations more interesting than her own creations because she is her own interpreter. It seems she hardly ever stopped writing: though, as she records in her diary, she really must have done so. For she took country walks, read Sophocles in Greek, attended meetings and parties, kept house, printed on a hand press, and occasionally—as seldom as she could—took up a hem. No work of hers ever appeared without its going through draft after draft. Two of the publications here under review deal with the development of The Years and its evolution from a speech to a women’s society into the six novel-essays entitled “The Pargiters,” and thence to the finished novel which gave her perhaps more agonies of doubt and indecision than any other she wrote. This drive to perfect whatever she wrote was not confined to her novels. It was behind her reviews. Nigel Nicolson tells of a young American scholar at Columbia reading her review of his first book, full of praise yet the only review it had received, on the very day when he read of her suicide—and later receiving from Leonard Woolf not only the manuscript but the six drafts which preceded it.
Then there are still despite the volumes of essays which Leonard Woolf published after her death a further hundred or so from which Mary Lyon has selected fifty pieces of literary and biographical interest. And even this is only part of the story. She spouted letters and for years kept a day-to-day diary. Six volumes of the first will supplement five volumes of the second.
But to twitch this curtain back only reveals other curtains which have now to be pulled aside. For some time, owing to the skillful tactics of the Leavises, Bloomsbury ceased to be a group of people who wrote distinct works. It became an artifact, a shorthand description of a set of values which right-thinking people ought to reject and despise. Bloomsbury was cast in the role of the pantomime Demon King who was out to corrupt the virtue of the dear maid, English culture, and, attired in the clothes of a fop and displaying the manners of a metropolitan snob, minced across the stage …
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.