THE ESSAYS OF VIRGINIA WOOLF: Vol. I 1904-1912 by Virginia Woolf


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The first in a planned series of the complete essays of Woolf; the edition already in print as edited by Leonard Woolf is highly selective, and organized by subject. The present volume is chronological, ending with Woolf at age 30. Scholars and devotees of the writer will be happy to see these pieces, of which 83 (out of 109) have never been collected before. However, all other readers will have to face the fact that the reason they have never been collected before is that they are not very interesting. Even Leonard Woolf acknowledged that his wife's literary apprenticeship was unusually long. By 30, she was still a rank beginner. Indeed, it is the last essay in this volume, printed in that year of Woolf's life, which starts to show a little of the personality that has fascinated so many readers: the slightly aloof, forbidding figure who pulls herself together and finds the courage to take a strong stance. Here the stance is on the novels of George Gissing. Later in her career she found more compelling topics. Woolf herself admitted that she began writing these occasional reviews for spare pocket money; they read like hackery. Woolf's thoughts on Wagner and Bayreuth will delay no one past train time. In another essay, she values Carlyle on Charles Lamb so highly that the reader realizes that Woolf's origins were in an atmosphere far from the modernists who appreciate her now: she derived essentially from the esthetics of her father, the Victorian biographer. McNeillie's annotations to these essays are scrupulous, but some of these slight pieces seem hardly to merit such devotion. Nevertheless, future volumes promise to be considerably more interesting, and the project is certainly in good hands. Woolf was lucky in her friends and, posthumously, in her editors.

Pub Date: Feb. 10th, 1987
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich