Partially in preparation for my Woolf Seminar and partly as deep background for the flower book, I am currently reading/re-reading eight books on Virginia Woolf’s novels. I am reading them piecemeal, in chronological order: Intros, sections on The Voyage Out, then sections on Night & Day etc. It’s an interesting exercise because the eight books come from four different decades and represent a number of different perspectives on Woolf. I chose these books partly because I think they are good and have offered/ will offer me insights; also because quite simply, they are organized with a chapter on each novel, and because I happen to have copies of most of them that I can mark up. There are other books I could have/should have included, but I realized if I set myself the task of reading, say, twelve books, I would never get through them all in the course of the summer.
· Fleishman, Avorm. Virginia Woolf: A Critical Reading. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1975.
I just happened to have a copy of Fleishman that I had picked up somewhere. I remembered the really excellent essay he wrote on the structure of Woolf’s short stories, and then doing a search on Woolf and flowers on Amazon, I picked up a reference to a passage on flower symbolism that intrigued me. Although Fleishman’s book is way old (in 1975, Quentin Bell’s biography had just been published and AF only had access to Woolf’s diaries and letters through Bell and the compilation of excerpts , A Writer’s Diary, that Leonard Woolf had published in 1953), I still find it useful, perhaps because I share some of his critical antecedents, such as Northrop Frye. Although the book is mostly a study of imagery, Fleishman has a good eye for structure and presents helpful analytical outlines of nearly every book.
· Lee, Hermione. The Novels of Virginia Woolf. New York: Holmes and Meier, 1977.
I picked Hermione Lee’s book because I respected the hard-nosed acumen of her magisterial biography of Woolf and was curious as to what she thought of the works, apart from the life. Being published before the great waves of Woolf scholarship, the book is sometimes amusingly dismissive of aspects of Woolf’s work that have since been treated with great seriousness. But I do admire her critique of the overly facile dichotmomizing of early Woolf criticism. Like Fleishman, she has a rather formalist approach, focusing on how Woolf changes the structure of each novel to “match her vision of reality with its appropriate form” (14).
· Moore, Madeline. The Short Season Between Two Silences: The Mystical and the Political in the Novels of Virginia Woolf. Boston: Allen & Unwin, 1984.
This is one of the first books I read on Woolf, way back in 1993, when I was writing my initial paper on Woolf and Georgia O’Keeffe. It had been useful to me then, and several people at this year’s Woolf conference quoted passages from it that I found intriguing, so I decided to revisit it. The central question of her work – how did VW “reconcile her materialist beliefs with her spiritual longings?”— combines aspects of both archetypal and social/historical criticism with a somewhat psychological emphasis on mystical elements in Woolf’s world view.
· Zwerdling, Alex. Virginia Woolf and the Real World. Berkeley: U of CA P, 1986.
Zwerdling’s book was the first to thoroughly document the social and historical contexts of Woolf’s work and remains a vital and often-quoted source today. I had read bits and pieces of it, and so liked the idea of actually reading it all the way through as a coherent argument. Once I started to get into it, I particularly admired the way in which he managed to get beyond the simple dichotomies characteristic of early Woolf criticism and see the inextricable complexity with which Woolf’s inner and outer world interact with each other, how she challenges “the familiar distinction between objective and subjective observation” (23) .
· Dick, Susan. Virginia Woolf. Routledge, 1989.
Dick’s slim little volume was something I had picked up at a used bookstore somewhere. I knew she had done the definitive edition of Woolf’s short fiction and had read the chapter on how the short stories of Monday or Tuesday related to Jacob’s Room. Interested in how the importance and function of storytelling is revealed through individual characters, Dick analyses how the short fiction often tests out narrative strategies subsequently used in the novels. Her explanation of how the rhythms of consciousness shape Woolf’s narratives is especially helpful.
· Briggs, Julia . Virginia Woolf: An Inner Life. London: Penguin[Allen Lane] 2005.
Re-reading Julia Briggs’ study of Woolf’s creative processes is a real labor of love. I remember how excited I was to be able to get a copy in London several months before the book appeared in the US, going deep into the basement of Foyles to get my reserved copy and having a long, enthusiastic conversation with the sales clerk, who was one of Jane Goldman’s graduate students and eager to talk Woolf with a fellow academic. Briggs’ book is that rare synthesis which sees both the forest and the trees: it presents both the kind of general, structural pattern-recognition that only comes from having read and thought about and connected everything in Woolf with wonderful nuggets of carefully researched information about obscure allusions.
· deGay, Jane. Virginia Woolf’s Novels and the Literary Past. Edinburg UP, 2006,2007.
I am reading this book because I am interested in Woolf’s relationship to her literary past, especially the Victorians. DeGay’s book focuses on Woolf’s reading process, how she engages with texts and transforms them to fit her own historical contexts, and in the mechanisms of influence.
· Goldman, Jane. The Cambridge Introduction to Virginia Woolf. Cambridge UP, 2006.
After looking at all the available introductions to Woolf’s life and work, I decided that Jane’s was the best and so ordered it for the seminar. Her elegant and concise summaries of the issues of each novel incorporate her established interests in modernism and Woolf’s engagement with the visual arts, and her critical references are impeccable.