GRANITE AND RAINBOW by Mitchell Leaska

GRANITE AND RAINBOW

The Hidden Life of Virginia Woolf
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

 Another effort at what Woolf herself once described as the ``compromise, evasion, understatement, overstatement, irrelevance which we call biography.'' Woolf biographies and studies are still churned out at nearly an annual rate. Leaska, the editor of Woolf's early journals (A Passionate Apprentice) and her correspondence with Vita Sackville-West, as well as the author of several critical studies of her work, is a longtime mainstay of that academic industry. His appraisal of Woolf's life, here made largely through the lens of her writings, offers a thoroughgoing and yet curiously limited version of her portrait. Crucial aspects of her father, Leslie Stephen, the emotionally demanding patriarch of letters, and of her devoted but distant mother, Julia Duckworth Stephen, are viewed essentially through their fictional counterparts in To the Lighthouse. According to Leaska, the influence of her parents combined Leslie's dependency on others for approval and affection with Julia's defensive aloofness, leaving Woolf unbalanced as she embarked on her writing career and marriage. Perhaps Leaska took Woolf at her word when she wrote, ``Nothing is real unless I write it.'' He overdoes it with documentation, plumbing her voluminous diaries, as well as her novels, at the expense of taking a wider and more objective view of her relationships with the remarkable people in her life: husband Leonard, sister Vanessa, Clive Bell, Lytton Strachey, Roger Fry, Vita Sackville-West. Typically--and narrowly--these people are characterized as parental substitutes. Unsurprisingly, Vita emerges in a pivotal role as both a strong father-figure and an emotional mother-substitute (and as the inspiration for Orlando). Leaska seems overly concerned with Woolf's imaginative existence and not curious enough about her daily life. Earnest and faithful, but do we really need another after last year's superb Woolf biography by Hermione Lee? (photos, not seen)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-374-16659-5
Page count: 512pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1998