THE LETTERS OF VIRGINIA WOOLF: Vol. I, 1888-1912 by Virginia Woolf


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The initiation of a massive enterprise: the publication of all six volumes of Virginia Woolf's 3800 collected letters will not be completed until 1980. They will be unabridged and judging from this first volume, covering Virginia Stephen's childhood up to the eve of her marriage to Leonard Woolf, they will be a great tool for scholars and a great toil for the general reader. Her out-of-the-ordinary intelligence and wit are striking from the first precocious (age six) effort, but at this stage, Virginia is a cloistered, neurasthenic gift who writes reams of tea-party gossip about and to her distinguished family and later, the circle of her brothers' university friends who became the Bloomsbury group. Even in her twenties, she has a penchant for baby talk and coy nicknames which often makes unbearable reading. Editor Nicolson, son of Portrait of a Marriage, remarks that each of her successive, fairly frequent bouts with insanity helped clear up this treacly, adolescent condition. Much of the book consists of adoring, intimate letters to older women. While Nicolson exonerates George Duckworth, the dandified half-brother, of Quentin Bell's charge of incest, he raises the other eyebrow over Virginia's ""hot"" feelings for Violet Dickinson. Her interest in men seems latent until sister Vanessa's marriage to Clive Bell, with whom she dallied briefly before Leonard, her ""penniless Jew."" Lady Robert Cecil, useful critic and confidante at the start of Virginia's journalistic career, is heavily represented. Less so are Strachey, Fry, Keynes, Lady Ottoline, Desmond MacCarthy. Child genius is a perennial bore, but one anticipates the mature volumes with greater curiosity. This suggestive genesis will appeal to litterateurs, Bloomsbury buffs--and apparently feminists, since it will be excerpted in Ms. magazine here.

Pub Date: Nov. 17th, 1975
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich