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The Common Reader: Vol. I

4.17 of 5 stars 4.17  ·  rating details  ·  719 ratings  ·  39 reviews
This is Virginia Woolf's first collection of essays, published in 1925. In them, she attempts to see literature from the point of view of the 'common reader' - someone whom she, with Dr Johnson, distinguished from the critic and the scholar. She read, and wrote, as an outsider: a woman set to school in her father's library, denied the educational privileges of her male sib ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published January 2nd 2003 by Vintage Classics (first published 1925)
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Rakhi Dalal
Sep 14, 2014 Rakhi Dalal rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Woolf fans
The first thing that occurs to you while reading Virginia’s essays is that they are not laced with academic, high brow language and style. In fact, her writing is so accessible that it easily seems to mirror a common reader’s thoughts and expressions. While writing these essays, nearly twenty five of them in this collection, Virginia offers a glimpse into her mind and it becomes clear how she manages to write so lucidly yet so unassumingly. She writes as she knows the reader will enjoy reading. ...more
Virginia Woolf wrote these essays to us, the reader who "above all is guided to create for himself some kind of whole-a portrait of a man, a sketch of an age, a theory of the art of writing." Our opinions and ideas may be insignificant in themselves, yet they contribute to so mighty a result. The artistry of Virginia Woolf, the essayist, is on display in these twenty-five musings published in nineteen twenty-five.

What is the purpose of a sentence? "It is to stimulate reality-both external and in
This was the second time I'd read "The Common Reader", and when I reread books I always find that they show me new faces. Virginia Woolf said the same thing in one of her essays. After rereading this one, I have resolved to look at contemporary literature with a different attitude; I tend to believe that the writers of the past are better than the writers of today, which is, as William James would have said, "Contempt prior to investigation". I spend most of my reading time with books written be ...more
Sep 14, 2014 Shelley rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: bibliophiles
If there ever is a book to remind us why we read, this is it: reading for the sheer enjoyment of reading, the pleasure of the act.

As probably the finest (wo)man of letters in England of her time, Virginia Woolf's take on reading is intensely personal, not in the way of "this character/situation reminds me of so-and-so/what happened in my life", but in the way of "this is how the author speaks to me, this is how I am reacting to this piece of art." Her take is refreshing free from politics, ideol
By turns delightful, instructive, and illuminating. I don't think I've done so much simultaneous marking and laughing aloud since school.

One of the great pleasures was in learning about writers I knew nothing about, from the famous ones to the totally obscure. Woolf could summarize like nobody's business; she delighted in making long semi-coloned lists of absurdities (as I believe she remarked of some other writer in the collection); she could distill a writer's entire oeuvre into a few short,
Woolf writes for her own time, which unfortunately, means that this book does not translate so well into our own. Save for some pieces written about great authors of literature who are still read (at least in some circles) today, such as Jane Austen, many of her essays are very easily ignorable because they have no familiarity or importance to today's reader; I had no knowledge about many, probably most, of the people she writes about. The book is not so much for the common reader as about commo ...more
Jan 19, 2008 Evan rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who has carried boxes of lit crit up flights of stairs
This collection of essays (some original, many revised from publications for the Times Literary Supplement) was published in 1925 a month prior to Mrs. Dalloway, and apparently many of the critics who disliked the novel, admired this work. Most contemporary readers would invert that judgment, accepting the canonization of her modernist novels but finding the essays in this collection dated, still rooted, by and large, to a pre-war, perhaps even Victorian, style and tone. Feminist readers looking ...more
What strikes me in reading Virginia Woolf's nonfiction is how very much the context she's coming out of is strange to me. Her Common Reader, who might pick up Chaucer, and to whom Addison, Johnson, and Macaulay are familiar personages with no need for an identifying first name, even if he or she has not actually read them, is an alien creature. Despite her modernism, the context of her time, the newspapers in which these essays were originally printed, was one of people who were born in the 19th ...more
Though much of the criticism in this volume is focused on work that a lot of contemporary readers will either never have read, or may not have looked at in a long while, it's still not only an instructive read, but a fun one. You get to wander into her felicitous constructions here and there and find yourself gasping with delight at passages like this one, from "The Modern Essay": “Yet, if the essay admits more properly than biography or fiction of sudden boldness and metaphor, and can be polish ...more
Es una pena que el editor español solo haya publicado un extracto del libro original. Aun así, en esta selección de artículos sobre los autores y las lecturas que más influyeron en la obra de Virginia Woolf late la esencia de una escritora con una inteligencia y un bagaje cultural extraordinarios. Si yo no hubiese leído nada de Virginia Woolf, sin duda comenzaría por este libro de crítica literaria. Es de esos libros que uno atesora y se resiste a prestar. Mi ejemplar está muy subrayado, y de ve ...more
It's hard to even say how much I love those book. Woolf does essays on random literary topics that interest her, and she's so, so skilled, they interest you. For example, Jacobean drama. She starts out saying what everyone really thinks who bothers to read or watch it (I paraphrase), "Who are these crazy people following self-destructive plots?" She joins with us. Then, slowly, she makes us putty in her hands to the point where we can see magic in the plays. I think it's these essays we should r ...more
A set of widely diverse essays and literary criticism, ranging from Chaucer to Conrad, with many off-the-beaten-path excursions into the absurd (reviews of truly dreadful works) and the very practical (the author's difficulty infinding a patron). Some essays meander all over and never come to a point; some demonstrate two diametrially opposed opinions, each defended and proved sound; some are comically spiteful reviews. Well worth dipping into.
I'm marking this as "read," which is not the case. I read about a hundred pages of it. But I'm not "currently reading it" anymore either. I'm picking it up now and again and reading an essay. I'll finish it at some point this year, but it doesn't seem honest to leave it up there on "currently-reading."

And if we bookworms can't be honest on our bookshelves at least, whatever is the world coming to?
Elizabeth Adams
In this collection of essays about other writers through history, some known and some less-known, Woolf brilliantly weaves description and character study into her astute commentary to place each author into an historical context that is absolutely alive and vibrant, moving from ancient times toward our own.
David Gan
One is struck by the sheer amount of reading Virginia Woolf must have done. Her passion for literature, especially English literature, its history, its greatest practitioners and some of its lesser, leaps out of every essay.
Read the essay: Modern Fiction

Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end.

It is, at any rate, in some such fashion as this that we seek to define the quality which distinguishes the work of several young writers, among whom Mr. James Joyce is the most notable, from that of their predecessors. They attempt to come closer to life, and to preserve more sincerely and exact
Reading this notable book of essays doesn't disappoint me since I've long awaited it as well as the second volume (instantly placed an order via Kinokuniya Books in Bangkok). In fact, I've already had the 2-paperback Penguin set edited by Rachel Bowlby but I couldn't help thinking I should read "the real thing" as well.

It's my delight to read her "The Common Reader Vol. I" and thus more light to me why she wrote these scintillating essays and thus adopted such a title. It's first topic, "THE COM
“We are nauseated by the sight of trivial personalities decomposing in the eternity of print”.

I think I may have a minor literary crush on Virginia Woolf. She’s so damn erudite (in absolutely her own, self-made style), witty (drily and almost unconsciously so), brazen and yet also sometimes so frustratingly elusive.

The Common Reader is Woolf’s own version of literary history, mainly English, but with a few Greeks and Russians thrown into the pile.’ The common reader’, a term first coined by Dr J
I enjoyed this book immensely. It was insightful, educated, witty, and according to her own essay on essays proves she "knows how to write". Virginia Woolf was obviously well-read to such an extent that she could analyze, compare, contrast, and get to the heart of all things literary in a seemingly effortless manner.

I've read several novels by her, and while I enjoyed them several of my friends found her confusing or depressing. But these essays are clear and pleasant. So still attempt to read
Much better than that splendidly pointless Mrs. Dalloway. Woolf is a skilled writer--particularly when she has an objective in mind--and keeps the mind going as she goes--carefully making her way from author to author, offering careful, precise insights on each one. I do wish she'd spoken of Dickens, though--I'd love to know her opinions on him.
Immensely well-written and wonderfully not-morbid.
Totally unexpected. Having read her fiction in college, which i appreciated but did not love; I was unprepared for her essays on literature, which i here fully admit to adore. She dazzles you with a turn of phrase, she makes you want to dig out ancient books that you had forgotten and reread them, she spins you and leaves you gobsmacked, hungry for more. I am heartily impressed, and will be buying copies of this to keep. Because so many things she says in these essays she casts out in mixed hand ...more
The Common Reader is a collection of Woolf's literary criticism; Woolf focuses on authors ranging from Chaucer to Austen as well as the act of reading itself. In my focus on a nonfiction approach to literature, I found her essay on Montaigne to be particularly useful. Of Montaigne's accomplishments as a the first memoirist, Woolf writes, "After all, in the whole of literature, how many people have succeeded in drawing themselves with a pen?" and expounds on the act of writing about one's self. T ...more
Woolf is like Ingmar Bergman in that she is a visionary with obvious talent whose work is often saddled by the most boring source material available. She still manages to create these wild moments-- sudden turns, unexpected images-- but my god, I wish she'd been born when she died. Her fixation on Victorian and earlier British history makes for a stuffy, tiring read.
John Keats
If her novels are too experimental for you, or you've absorbed the idea that she's dark and unappealing, see these essays. The writing's clear, the voice is warm, and the respect for experience and artistry is infectious. I'm not sure any of those qualities are as appreciated anymore, now that the obscure and the loud and the bold are so endorsed, if they still make you feel warm and fuzzy, go to Woolf as essayist.
I rather liked this book, however some essays were more comprehensible than other. I think that it is difficult to read any of these if you didn't read the book the essay is one.
The essay on Montaigne is amazing, but the others left me a bit cold - save for a few gems sprinkled here and there. Not a waste (how could it be??), but not my favorite.
This is a fine collection of essays. The writing is elegant, the ideas luminous. The essay on Joseph Conrad rather glows on the page. On the back of my copy is a quotation from E.M. Forster that says more about the book than I might hope to: "She pushed the light of the English language a litte further against the darkness."
This is a book for anyone who loves reading.
Woolf is a terrible snob, and some of the writing must have seemed affected even when it was written...but her observations about writers as individuals are great, as are her assessments of how personality affects the kind of work you produce. The profiles of the most obscure (e.g. Laetitia Pilkington) are inspirations to further reading, as well.
Denise M
After A Room of One's Own, the Common Reader is a good 2-volume set of writings on the craft. I love one of the texts - can't remember the title right now - where she plainly says you don;t have to like all the writing others say you must like or you must read. She encourages you to make your own decision and have your own opinions. Brilliant!
Some of these essays were incredibly useful to me as a writer. Others were extremely dull and at times, frankly, I had no idea what she was talking about. Many references to her contemporary culture were lost on me and I didn't feel particularly motivated to research them.
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  • Readings: Essays and Literary Entertainments
  • A Literature Of Their Own: British Women Novelists From Brontë To Lessing
  • Virginia Woolf: An Inner Life
  • Art and Ardor
  • The Uses of Literature
  • Axel's Castle: A Study of the Imaginative Literature of 1870-1930
  • Seven Types of Ambiguity
  • The Anatomy of Bibliomania
  • Virginia Woolf
  • Reading in Bed: Personal Essays on the Glories of Reading
  • The Art of Fiction: Illustrated from Classic and Modern Texts
  • Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts
  • This Craft of Verse
  • Lectures on Literature
  • Aspects of the Novel
  • The Victorian Age In Literature
  • Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews
  • The Irresponsible Self: On Laughter and the Novel
(Adeline) Virginia Woolf was an English novelist and essayist regarded as one of the foremost modernist literary figures of the twentieth century.

During the interwar period, Woolf was a significant figure in London literary society and a member of the Bloomsbury Group. Her most famous works include the novels Mrs Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), and Orlando (1928), and the book-length es
More about Virginia Woolf...
Mrs. Dalloway To the Lighthouse A Room of One's Own Orlando The Waves

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“Communication is truth; communication is happiness. To share is our duty; to go down boldly and bring to light those hidden thoughts which are the most diseased; to conceal nothing; to pretend nothing; if we are ignorant to say so; if we love our friends to let them know it.” 66 likes
“Let us record the atoms as they fall upon the mind in the order in which they fall, let us trace the pattern, however disconnected and incoherent in appearance, which each sight or incident scores upon the consciousness. Let us not take it for granted that life exists more fully in what is commonly thought big than in what is commonly thought small.” 30 likes
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