There has only been one biography of Virginia Woolf since her death thirty years ago -- Aileen Pippett's 1955 The Moth and...

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VIRGINIA WOOLF

There has only been one biography of Virginia Woolf since her death thirty years ago -- Aileen Pippett's 1955 The Moth and the Star with its sometimes numinous sentimentality and admitted disregard for what she called ""literal facts."" Professor Bell's fine and fascinating work on the other hand is defined at the outset as ""purely historical""; he is a historian not only with an innate respect for truth but also with access to all the personal materials about her since he is the son of her sister -- the more equable Vanessa to whom she was always preternaturally attached; he was also a friend of Leonard Woolf's who encouraged this undeluded portrait. There is no question that Virginia Woolf was and still remains a difficult figure -- moody, capricious, enervating, but also sociable and gay during those periods when she was free of ""those horrible voices."" She was awkward and slow to emotionally evolve but then her early years in the complicated household (of older and threatening step-siblings), the death of her mother (the first breakdown) and then her father (the first suicide attempt) were very difficult ones. Branching out, Virginia -- still called ""the Goat"" -- became part of the experimental if exclusive Bloomsbury circle, briefly considered marriage to its ""arch-bugger"" Lytton Strachey while entertaining homosexual inclinations of her own, and finally agreed to marry Leonard although she questioned his capacity to make her sexually ""vehement."" Leonard then became the stabilizing, tutelary force in her life and coped throughout a very rough three years of despondent to violent madness. Professor Bell avoids the subliminal quicksand: ""To know the psyche of Virginia Woolf, and this is what she is in effect asking of a biographer, one would have to be either God or Virginia, preferably God."" What he continues to do is to provide the complete record of her life, until she chose to end it, in an unindulgent and essentially tactful fashion. It is an admirable accomplishment, pervaded by actuality, refusing to sanctify or sentimentalize her as a ""sort of tragic victim claimed by the darkness.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 1972

ISBN: 0156935805

Page Count: -

Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1972