ART AND AFFECTION by Panthea Reid

ART AND AFFECTION

A Life of Virginia Woolf
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 This year's newest contribution to the Bloomsbury collection is another rather lugubrious biography of Virginia Woolf, with special attention paid to her relationships with the painter and critic Roger Fry and her artist sister, Vanessa Bell. ``How on earth does one explain madness and love in sober prose with dates attached?'' Woolf asked in her diary, while at work on her biography of Fry. Woolf's own biographers have had even more trouble with her tragic life, and Reid (English/Louisiana State Univ.) lurches with leaden pedantry through her interpretation of Woolf's unhappy family relations, Bloomsbury associations, mental illness, and artistic drive. With the biographic facts essentially known but still open to interpretation, Reid forgoes the Oedipal complex some previous biographers have attributed to Woolf's relations with her industriously literary, eminently Victorian father, Leslie Stephen. Instead, she focuses on Woolf's estrangement from her compulsively self-sacrificing and distant mother, Julia, and her sibling rivalry with her sister. Sometimes nearly villainizing Vanessa Bell, Reid casts her both as an artistic competitor and an unreliable mother- substitute, who helped take charge of Virginia during her first suicide attempt and, Reid argues, precipitated her last, successful one. Even when lengthily recounting Virginia's innocent (for Bloomsbury) but indiscreet flirtation with Vanessa's husband, Clive Bell, Reid can still rap Vanessa for insensitivity. Roger Fry displaces Leonard Woolf and Vita Sackville-West as the central figure in Woolf's life as both friend and aesthetic cohort, illuminating the way in which Virginia took inspiration from Modernist painting for her literary experiments. Otherwise, though, Reid treats Woolf's literary drive as largely an emotional defense (against her siblings), attention-getter (with her parents), and inevitably, therapy, with all the latest ``enabling'' jargon. Despite her tracing of the more interesting theme of writing vs. painting in Woolf's life, Reid's try for psychological insight here often reads like a psychiatrist's report. (60 illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-19-510195-2
Page count: 608pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1996