VIRGINIA WOOLF by Julia Briggs
Kirkus Star


An Inner Life
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Exemplary literary biography eschewing Bloomsbury gossip and psycho-sexual speculation in favor of what really matters: the English writer’s groundbreaking writing.

Woolf scholar Briggs (English/De Montfort Univ., England) makes perceptive use of diaries and letters, the memoirs of contemporaries and most importantly, the surviving drafts of each book to trace the author’s creative process from 1915, when her first novel was published, to her suicide in 1941. By doing so, Briggs reminds us of the revolutionary changes Woolf wrought on the modern novel as she sought to capture the texture of everyday experience and the way people thought, in such masterpieces as Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse and The Waves. The evolution of Woolf’s critical, social and political thought over the same period is almost equally important: Books like The Common Reader, Three Guineas and, most famously, A Room of One’s Own supported her efforts to reshape fiction with trenchant analysis of gender, ethnic and class prejudices that hindered not just female writers, but anyone not from the English elite. (Woolf herself, Briggs acknowledges, could be something of a snob and an anti-Semite.) The narrative hews to the current fashion of downplaying the writer’s bouts of mental illness, or at least putting them into perspective alongside reminders of her productivity and commitment to her work. Writing was Woolf’s “real” life, Briggs demonstrates; gregarious and gossipy though she was, she valued socializing primarily as fodder for her art, and politics interested her insofar as it impinged on people’s freedom to achieve personal fulfillment. The grim final chapters, delineating the traumas endured by all Britons during the Blitz, quietly make the point that the despair that led to Woolf’s suicide was not entirely the product of individual neurosis.

A sober, sympathetic profile that amply fulfills the author’s goal: “to lead readers back to [Woolf’s] work with a fresh sense of what they might find there.”

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-15-101143-5
Page count: 544pp
Publisher: Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2005


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