On Being Ill: with Notes from Sick Rooms by Julia Stephen
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On Being Ill: with Notes from Sick Rooms by Julia Stephen

by Virginia Woolf, Hermione Lee, Mark Hussey, Rita Charon
     
 

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"By turns lyrical, self-mocking, and outlandish, Woolf's meditation on the perils and privileges of the sickbed lampoons the loneliness that makes one 'glad of a kick from a housemaid.' When Woolf imagines beauty in a frozen-over garden . . . it seems less a triumph of nature than of art."—The New Yorker

"Brilliant and beautiful."—Francine Prose,

Overview

"By turns lyrical, self-mocking, and outlandish, Woolf's meditation on the perils and privileges of the sickbed lampoons the loneliness that makes one 'glad of a kick from a housemaid.' When Woolf imagines beauty in a frozen-over garden . . . it seems less a triumph of nature than of art."—The New Yorker

"Brilliant and beautiful."—Francine Prose, Bookforum

"[A] long-neglected reverie on illness . . . reprinted by the sterling Paris Press. This is a brilliant and odd book, charged with restrained emotion and sudden humor."—Los Angeles Times Book Review

"The resurrection of this forgotten work on illness is a boon indeed. . . . This is Woolf at her spangled best."—Booklist

In this poignant and humorous book, Virginia Woolf observes that no human being is spared toothaches, colds, and the flu. Yet illness—transformative and as common as love and war—is rarely the subject of polite conversation, let alone literature. This paperback facsimile of the 1930 Hogarth Press edition, with Hermione Lee's introduction to Woolf's life, work, and On Being Ill, is ideal for book groups, general readers, students, caregivers, and of course anyone suffering from a cold or more serious illness.

Virginia Woolf (1882–1941) is among the greatest literary geniuses of the twentieth century. Her groundbreaking books include Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, and A Room of One's Own.

Hermione Lee is the renowned author of Virginia Woolf. Her other best-selling biographies include Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, and Philip Roth. She is president of Wolfson College, University of Oxford, England.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
“In illness words seem to possess a mystic quality,” writes Woolf, and she proves her observation correct in this essay (originally published in 1930), which leaps from observations of clouds to heaven to Shakespeare in stream-of-consciousness prose that, by design, borders on delirium. Her immersion in this mental state rings all the clearer for its contrast, in this edition, with “Notes from Sick Rooms,” an essay written by Woolf’s mother, Julia Stephen in 1883. While Woolf believes illness in literature should be no less stirring than war or love, her mother offers gentle instruction on things like pillows, baths, and the omnipresent scourge of crumbs, in what amounts to a nurse’s how-to guide. Hermione Lee’s introduction provides much appreciated context for Woolf’s essay, though at 34 pages to Woolf’s 28, it seems unnecessarily long-winded. Separating the two original texts is Mark Hussey’s introduction to Stephen’s essay, which notes that Stephens died when Woolf was 13, one potential explanation for the profound isolation Woolf experiences in illness. The book closes with a more personal note from internist Rita Charon, founder and director of Columbia University’s Program of Narrative Medicine. In the conjunction of the two essays, Charon finds “the necessary equilibrium between knowledge and feeling.” The book may have a surplus of commentary, but Woolf and Stephen will certainly change the way readers think of illness. (Nov.)
The New Yorker
The first sentence of this essay, which was originally published in T. S. Eliot's New Criterion, in 1926, includes references to both the consolations of angels and the indignities of the dentist's chair, and this almost gleeful waywardness is characteristic of what's to come. By turns lyrical, self-mocking, and outlandish, Woolf's meditation on the perils and privileges of the sickbed lampoons the loneliness that makes one "glad of a kick from a housemaid" and extolls the merits of bad literature for the unwell. As Hermione Lee points out in her excellent introduction, the author only hints here at the mental and physical illnesses that plagued her throughout her life, but one's knowledge of them gives the references to "waters of annihilation" and "deserts of the soul" an added resonance. And yet the consolations of creation are also considered. When Woolf imagines beauty in a frozen-over garden, even after the death of the sun -- "There, thrusting its head up undaunted in the starlight, the rose will flower, the crocus will burn" -- it seems less a triumph of nature than of art.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781930464131
Publisher:
Paris Press
Publication date:
11/06/2012
Pages:
160
Sales rank:
517,136
Product dimensions:
4.90(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.60(d)

Meet the Author

Virginia Woolf (1882–1941) is one of the great literary geniuses of the 20th century. Her innovative fiction and essays are revered by readers around the globe. She was a central member of the Bloomsbury group and a groundbreaking feminist, publishing book-length essays that continue to change the lives of women today. Her most popular novels include To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway, and Orlando. When she was not writing, Virginia Woolf operated Hogarth Press with her husband Leonard Woolf.

Hermione Lee (1948- ) is the acclaimed Virginia Woolf scholar and the author of Virginia Woolf (Knopf, 1997). She is a biographer, critic, broadcaster, and Goldsmith’s Professor of English Literature and Fellow of New College, Oxford, England. She is also the author of Willa Cather: A Life Saved Up; Philip Roth; Elizabeth Bowen: An Estimation; The Novels of Virginia Woolf; and Edith Wharton. She is one of the co-editors of the Oxford Poets Anthologies.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
January 25, 1882
Date of Death:
March 28, 1941
Place of Birth:
London
Place of Death:
Sussex, England
Education:
Home schooling

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