Virginia Woolf: An Inner Life

Overview

Virginia Woolf is one of the most influential figures in twentieth-century literature. She was original, passionate, vivid, dedicated to her art. Yet most writing about her still revolves around her social life and the Bloomsbury set.

In this fresh, absorbing book, Julia Briggs puts the writing back at the center of Woolf's life, reads that life through her work, and mines the novels themselves to create a compelling new form of biography. Analyzing Woolf's own commentary on the...

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Overview

Virginia Woolf is one of the most influential figures in twentieth-century literature. She was original, passionate, vivid, dedicated to her art. Yet most writing about her still revolves around her social life and the Bloomsbury set.

In this fresh, absorbing book, Julia Briggs puts the writing back at the center of Woolf's life, reads that life through her work, and mines the novels themselves to create a compelling new form of biography. Analyzing Woolf's own commentary on the creative process through her letters, diaries, and essays, Julia Briggs has produced a book that is a convincing, moving portrait of an artist, as well as a profound meditation on the nature of creativity.

Virginia Woolf: An Inner Life-a brilliant new insight into a literary genius.

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Editorial Reviews

Biloxi Sun Herald
"Briggs masterfully uses Virginia Woolf's own thoughts and words to gain entrance into the layered world of her life and work."
Atlanta Journal-Constitution. - Elaine Margolin
"Briggs pulls together a high-wire act; biographer and subject seem to commingle on the page, the result being a joint effort of imaginative force."
Curtis Sittenfield
Briggs is a fluid writer, and she offers astute insights into both Woolf and her work. Making deft use of letters and diaries, Briggs always steps aside to let Woolf express it best: The urge to write was "like being harnessed to a shark," Woolf wrote, while receiving praise was "like being a violin and being played upon." Briggs even allows Woolf to have her say on the subject of biography: "People write what they call 'lives' of other people; that is, they collect a number of events, and leave the person to whom it happened unknown." Wisely, Briggs chooses not to quarrel directly with such comments. Instead, in its entirety, this biography offers a graceful refutation.
— The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
The famous question, surely, needs amending by now: who isn't afraid of Virginia Woolf-of writing about her, at least? Ever since this most singularly gifted of women, whose genius is as protean as it is profound, committed suicide at the age of 58 in 1941 at the height of her creative powers, her life and work has engendered an unremitting flow of books. These have included massively researched tomes and slender impressionistic volumes on every aspect of Woolf, from her pedigreed background and difficult Victorian childhood to her unconventional marriage to Leonard, the "penniless Jew," her Sapphic inclinations and the modernist Bloomsbury circle in which she moved. Certain subsets of questions-what was the particular nature of her mental illness? Did she or did she not suffer sexual abuse as an adolescent at the hands of her two half-brothers?-have inspired whole bookshelves of answers. In the more than half-century since Woolf put a large stone in her pocket late one March morning and walked into the Ouse River near her house in Sussex, the documentation and speculation have not ceased. Enough has been said, or so one would think. I might add, with all due lack of humility, that I am in a particularly good position to think thusly, since it would not be stretching things too far to say that I have read the vast majority of these books, including Hermione Lee's magisterial biography, which appeared in 1997. So it is the more surprising to find Julia Briggs's new intellectual biography of Woolf not only a mesmerizing read but one that adds fresh dabs of paint to what I had otherwise assumed to be a finished portrait. The emphasis on Woolf's "inner life"-on her ongoing creative process and on her response to the critical reception of her work-is especially suited to a writer who was in the rapt habit of watching herself think, keeping track of the quicksilver movements of her own mind like a fisherman on the lookout for the sudden tug on his pole, the flash of a fin. (Woolf was drawn to water imagery throughout her life as a metaphor for the process of intellection.) And Briggs has done an extraordinarily skillful job of interweaving Woolf's experience as a writer with her experience as a woman in the world, one who pondered the "life of frocks" and who had arguments with her cook. "How I interest myself!" Woolf wrote in a diary entry. And how she continues to interest us, not least because of the fascination she exerts on other talented readers and writers, like Julia Briggs. That this book is a must for Woolf fans goes without saying, but it is also a must for anyone interested in the nature of female consciousness at its most self-aware and the workings of artistic sensibility at their most illuminating. B&w photos. (Nov.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"Briggs pulls together a high-wire act; biographer and subject seem to commingle on the page, the result being a joint effort of imaginative force."

— Elaine Margolin

Library Journal
Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) has been the subject of numerous biographical examinations, including Quentin Bell's Virginia Woolf: A Biography, Hermione Lee's Virginia Woolf, and Panthea Reid's Art and Affection: A Life of Virginia Woolf. Briggs (English, De Montfort Univ., England) adds to the voluminous inquiry with a wonderfully different approach that allows Woolf's writing, not social or historical events, to dictate the overall biographical structure. Each chapter is devoted to one of Woolf's works and concludes with a superb discussion of its critical reception. Briggs offers an enthusiastic account of Woolf's creative process without idealizing the writer and commendably discusses problematic issues that include Woolf's often ambiguous relationship with servants and others of lower economic classes. Twenty-nine black-and-white illustrations of original dust jackets and manuscript pages lend the volume a simple elegance. Although Briggs sets out to reach the "common reader," as she explains in her preface, the tone and depth of her writing will appeal primarily to a sophisticated audience. Recommended for all academic and larger public libraries.-Stacy Shotsberger Russo, California State Univ. Lib., Fullerton Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Exemplary literary biography eschewing Bloomsbury gossip and psycho-sexual speculation in favor of what really matters: the English writer's groundbreaking writing. Woolf scholar Briggs (English/De Montfort Univ., England) makes perceptive use of diaries and letters, the memoirs of contemporaries and most importantly, the surviving drafts of each book to trace the author's creative process from 1915, when her first novel was published, to her suicide in 1941. By doing so, Briggs reminds us of the revolutionary changes Woolf wrought on the modern novel as she sought to capture the texture of everyday experience and the way people thought, in such masterpieces as Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse and The Waves. The evolution of Woolf's critical, social and political thought over the same period is almost equally important: Books like The Common Reader, Three Guineas and, most famously, A Room of One's Own supported her efforts to reshape fiction with trenchant analysis of gender, ethnic and class prejudices that hindered not just female writers, but anyone not from the English elite. (Woolf herself, Briggs acknowledges, could be something of a snob and an anti-Semite.) The narrative hews to the current fashion of downplaying the writer's bouts of mental illness, or at least putting them into perspective alongside reminders of her productivity and commitment to her work. Writing was Woolf's "real" life, Briggs demonstrates; gregarious and gossipy though she was, she valued socializing primarily as fodder for her art, and politics interested her insofar as it impinged on people's freedom to achieve personal fulfillment. The grim final chapters, delineating the traumas endured by all Britonsduring the Blitz, quietly make the point that the despair that led to Woolf's suicide was not entirely the product of individual neurosis. A sober, sympathetic profile that amply fulfills the author's goal: "to lead readers back to [Woolf's] work with a fresh sense of what they might find there."
From the Publisher
PRAISE FOR VIRGINIA WOOLF
 
"An intelligent and well-researched new biography...[O]ffers astute insights into both Woolf and her work."—The New York Times Book Review

 
"Briggs pulls together a high-wire act; biographer and subject seem to commingle on the page, the result being a joint effort of imaginative force."—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780151011438
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 11/1/2005
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 544
  • Product dimensions: 6.44 (w) x 9.34 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

JULIA BRIGGS is a professor of English at De Montfort University in Leicester, England. She was professor of Woolf studies at Hereford College, Oxford, for many years and is currently the editor of the reprint series of Woolf's novels. She lives in Leicester.

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Table of Contents

1 Beginning : The voyage out (1915) 1
2 Into the night : Night and day (1919) 29
3 'Our press arrived on Tuesday' : Monday or Tuesday (1921) 58
4 In search of Jacob : Jacob's room (1922) 84
5 A woman connects : The common reader (1925) 109
6 'What a lark! What a plunge!' : Mrs. Dalloway (1925) 130
7 Writing itself : To the lighthouse (1927) 160
8 'The secret of life is ...' : Orlando (1928) 187
9 To the women of the future : A room of one's own (1929) 216
10 'Into deep waters' : The waves (1931) 238
11 The years of The years : The second common reader (1932), FLush (1933), The years (1937) 269
12 Attacking Hitler in England : Three guineas (1938) 305
13 Life writing : Roger Fry (1940), 'A sketch of the past' 338
14 The last of England : Between the acts (1941) 370
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