CONCEIVED WITH MALICE by Louise DeSalvo

CONCEIVED WITH MALICE

Literature as Revenge in the Lives and Works of Virginia and Leonard Woolf, D.H. Lawrence, Djuna Barnes, and Henry Miller

KIRKUS REVIEW

 DeSalvo (Virginia Woolf: The Impact of Childhood Sexual Abuse on Her Life and Work, 1989) demonstrates that when the act of creation is also one of revenge, the primal ooze of literature can be extremely foul. But her project begs the underlying question for literary criticism of the relation between a writer's life and work. DeSalvo examines four authors who turned family and friends into characters in their fiction. Before Leonard and Virginia Woolf's marriage settled into an exemplary working partnership, it went through a poisonous phase; he published The Wise Virgins, which attacked the way Virginia ``looked, talked, and thought,'' satirized and rewrote scenes from her novel The Voyage Out, and fictionally erased their marriage when the ``Leonard'' character decided not to marry the ``Virginia'' character. When D.H. Lawrence became disenchanted with his friend Lady Ottoline Morell, he created a contemptuous portrait of her as Women in Love's Hermione Rodrice. Although Bloomsbury gossips (and his wife, Frieda, whose dislike for Ottoline was returned in kind) were delighted, Ottoline was crushed and humiliated. During the first 18 years of her life Djuna Barnes had no contact with people outside her family, which, DeSalvo reports, practiced incest, ritual rape, group sex, spirit possession, bestiality, and forced voyeurism. Although her early works referred obliquely to these events, it was not until her mother died that Barnes penned her most autobiographical work, The Antiphon, exploring the horrors inflicted on children by their own parents. Henry Miller's obsession with his dark muse and second wife, June (and her insistence that a former Western Union clerk could become a writer), dragged them through an emotionally explosive and mutually exploitative relationship during which her work as a prostitute barely maintained them in grinding poverty. A work that reveals a disturbing fascination with the rottenness at the core of some literature and delivers it with the relish of a tabloid.

Pub Date: Nov. 9th, 1994
ISBN: 0-525-93899-0
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Dutton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1994




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