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Imagining Virginia Woolf: An Experiment in Critical Biography

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Overview

Where other works of literary criticism are absorbed with the question--How to read a book?--Imagining Virginia Woolf asks a slightly different but more intriguing one: how does one read an author? Maria DiBattista answers this by undertaking an experiment in critical biography. The subject of this work is not Virginia Woolf, the person who wrote the novels, criticism, letters, and famous diary, but a different being altogether, someone or something Maria DiBattista identifies as "the figment of the author." This is the Virginia Woolf who lives intermittently in the pages of her writings and in the imagination of her readers. Drawing on Woolf's own extensive remarks on the pleasures and perils of reading, DiBattista argues that reading Woolf, in fact reading any author, involves an encounter with this imaginative figment, whose distinct, stylistic traits combine to produce that beguiling phantom--the literary personality.

DiBattista reveals a writer who possessed not a single personality, but a cluster of distinct, yet complementary identities: the Sibyl of Bloomsbury, the Author, the Critic, the World Writer, and the Adventurer, the last of which, DiBattista claims, unites them all.

Imagining Virginia Woolf provides an original way of reading, one that captures with variety and subtlety the personality that exists only in Woolf's works and in the minds of her readers.

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Editorial Reviews

The Age
What interests Maria DiBattista is not who Woolf actually was—the flesh and blood woman—but the multiple personalities that emanate from her books. Reading a writer familiar to us is, in many ways, no different from seeing people we know, she says. In both cases, the person we think we know is a composite of the various facets of them we have glimpsed.
— Fiona Capp
English Literature in Transition
[W]hen people ask me about biographies about Woolf, I will recommend this one. Certainly, it cannot replace the more traditional biographies DiBattista acknowledges in her introduction, but it is an important supplement to them. My own understanding of the traditional biographies is more nuanced, a result of reading DiBattista's book.
— Molly Youngkin
Virginia Woolf Bulletin
[T]his short book is full of insights. . . . I recommend it to you; it is a pleasure to read.
— Stuart N. Clarke
Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature
[T]he more vivid impressions generated by DiBattista's study: namely, the reader's sensation of having been shown 'Virginia's Room' in a new light, as well as the realization that Woolf's 'room of one's own' is now a multitude of rooms, imaginative spaces where her readers have the freedom to hang looking-glasses in whatever odd corners they may choose.
— Rosemary Joyce
The Age - Fiona Capp
What interests Maria DiBattista is not who Woolf actually was—the flesh and blood woman—but the multiple personalities that emanate from her books. Reading a writer familiar to us is, in many ways, no different from seeing people we know, she says. In both cases, the person we think we know is a composite of the various facets of them we have glimpsed.
English Literature in Transition - Molly Youngkin
[W]hen people ask me about biographies about Woolf, I will recommend this one. Certainly, it cannot replace the more traditional biographies DiBattista acknowledges in her introduction, but it is an important supplement to them. My own understanding of the traditional biographies is more nuanced, a result of reading DiBattista's book.
Virginia Woolf Bulletin - Stuart N. Clarke
[T]his short book is full of insights. . . . I recommend it to you; it is a pleasure to read.
Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature - Rosemary Joyce
[T]he more vivid impressions generated by DiBattista's study: namely, the reader's sensation of having been shown 'Virginia's Room' in a new light, as well as the realization that Woolf's 'room of one's own' is now a multitude of rooms, imaginative spaces where her readers have the freedom to hang looking-glasses in whatever odd corners they may choose.
From the Publisher

"DiBatistta (Fast-Talking Dames) pieces together a portrait of Virginia Woolf as experienced by readers. . . . For general fans of literary criticism or of Woolf's writing in particular, DiBattista's experiment will offer an intriguing perspective on Woolf's relationship to her art and her audience."--Publishers Weekly

"Like Anne Fernald's Virginia Woolf: Feminism and the Reader, DiBattista's study extends understanding not only of Woolf's craft and intellectual life but also of reading practices in general."--Choice

"What interests Maria DiBattista is not who Woolf actually was--the flesh and blood woman--but the multiple personalities that emanate from her books. Reading a writer familiar to us is, in many ways, no different from seeing people we know, she says. In both cases, the person we think we know is a composite of the various facets of them we have glimpsed."--Fiona Capp, The Age

"[W]hen people ask me about biographies about Woolf, I will recommend this one. Certainly, it cannot replace the more traditional biographies DiBattista acknowledges in her introduction, but it is an important supplement to them. My own understanding of the traditional biographies is more nuanced, a result of reading DiBattista's book."--Molly Youngkin, English Literature in Transition

"[T]his short book is full of insights. . . . I recommend it to you; it is a pleasure to read."--Stuart N. Clarke, Virginia Woolf Bulletin

"[T]he more vivid impressions generated by DiBattista's study: namely, the reader's sensation of having been shown 'Virginia's Room' in a new light, as well as the realization that Woolf's 'room of one's own' is now a multitude of rooms, imaginative spaces where her readers have the freedom to hang looking-glasses in whatever odd corners they may choose."--Rosemary Joyce, Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature

Choice
Like Anne Fernald's Virginia Woolf: Feminism and the Reader, DiBattista's study extends understanding not only of Woolf's craft and intellectual life but also of reading practices in general.
Choice
Like Anne Fernald's Virginia Woolf: Feminism and the Reader, DiBattista's study extends understanding not only of Woolf's craft and intellectual life but also of reading practices in general.
Publishers Weekly
Taking an approach that combines biography and literary criticism to draw out an abstract of the author's life and personae, independent of historical fact, Princeton English professor DiBatistta (Fast-Talking Dames) pieces together a portrait of Virginia Woolf as experienced by readers. Taking one of modern writing's most famous authors, DiBatistta examines the "figment of the author" that coalesces through the author's presence in her own writings, and how readers get to know this representative Woolf. The personae DiBatttista identifies and examines are the Author, the Critic, the World Writer, the Adventurer and the youthful Sibyl of the Drawing Room. For general fans of literary criticism or of Woolf's writing in particular, DiBattista's experiment will offer an intriguing perspective on Woolf's relationship to her art and her audience, but casual readers will find it frustratingly cryptic; it doesn't help that Woolf herself is an author who elicits extreme reactions, further limiting the work's appeal.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691138121
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 12/29/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author


Maria DiBattista is professor of English and comparative literature at Princeton University. Her books include "Virginia Woolf's Major Novels" and "Fast-Talking Dames".
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

THE DEMON OF READING Chapter 1. The Figment of the Author 3
Chapter 2. Personalities 14
WOOLF'S PERSONALITIES Chapter 3. The Sibyl of the Drawing Room 41
Chapter 4. The Author 64
Chapter 5. The Critic 92
Chapter 6. The World Writer 119
Chapter 7. The Adventurer 140

EPILOGUE Chapter 8. Anon Once More 169
Notes 173
Index 191

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