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Virginia Woolf

4.24  ·  Rating Details ·  2,407 Ratings  ·  101 Reviews
Hermione Lee sees Virginia Woolf afresh, in her historical setting and as a vital figure for our times. Her book moves freely between a richly detailed life-story and new attempts to understand crucial questions - the impact of her childhood, the cause and nature of her madness and suicide, the truth about her marriage, her feelings for women, her prejudies and obsessions. ...more
Paperback, 912 pages
Published 2008 by Vintage Books (first published October 15th 1996)
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Jan 24, 2014 Paul rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
This is an excellent, erudite and extremely detailed biography weighing in at well over 700 pages (without footnotes). It is a literary biography and so there is much emphasis on Woolf’s writing. Lee knows her subject and her subject’s works and is able to separate the myth from the reality. This is very much not a casual read easy biography as it is so steeped in Woolf’s work, her life, Bloomsbury and her ideas about writing and women. It is one of the best biographies I’ve read and is a must f ...more
Jun 12, 2016 AB rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amazing, stellar, incredible, etc. etc. Has been the centre of my attention since I started reading it, to the chagrin of everyone who's had to hear me talk about the combined awesomeness of both Woolf and Lee non-stop for weeks.

Hermione Lee wrote a meticulously researched, ruthlessly balanced, clear-eyed, compassionate, respectful biography. I got the sense that she seemed to be actively wrestling with the material in order to present VW in the most complete way possible instead of choosing to
Mar 12, 2015 Antigone rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir-biography
While I haven't read other biographies of Virginia Woolf, it's easy to believe the many who assert this volume stands head-and-shoulders above the rest. Hermione Lee's lengthy work is clearly a labor of dedication. Her intellectual investment is indisputable; her rigorous research and deep rumination manifest on every page. In addition, and rare to the craft of biography, is the artistry with which Ms. Lee conveys this material. Similar in design to jazz music, the base line of chronology is con ...more
Jee Koh
Aug 24, 2011 Jee Koh rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Hermione Lee's Woolf is a major Modernist who in conscious reaction against Victorian society and in artistic competition with other modern writers (Katherine Mansfield, Lytton Strachey, among others) set herself formal problems and solved them in her novels. Revealing is her process of writing. The intensity of writing a complete first draft gripped her but the coldness of revision was repugnant. She revised with great reluctance and labor, for re-reading what she wrote often shook her confiden ...more
This was easily the best biography I read all year, and possibly the best I've ever read: certainly in the top ten. Lee shows Woolf from many angles and with many layers, allowing her full complexity to shine through, never reducing her to just one self.
Dec 06, 2014 Kim rated it it was amazing
Shelves: woolf
"Virginia Woolf's story is reformulated by each generation. She takes on the shape of difficult modernist preoccupied with questions of form, or comedian of manners, or neurotic highbrow aesthete, or inventive fantasist, or pernicious snob, or Marxist feminist, or historian of women's lives, or victim of abuse, or lesbian heroine, or cultural analyst, depending on who's reading her, and when, and in what context." (p. 769)

Hermione Lee has written an excellent book about an excellent writer. Her topical chapters help to unfold Woolf's life in an engaging and enlightening way.

One caveat I would offer to the reader is to be familiar with Woolf's more well-known novels and books. Lee makes many connections between the author's work and her personal life, which given the nature of Woolf's fiction, makes perfect sense. At a bare minimum, I suggest that the reader should have read To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway, and A
Apr 16, 2013 Leslie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, abandoned
I gave up on this book about 300 pages in... This is well-written and full of information -- maybe too much information! It is more of an analysis of how Woolf's life affected her writing than a biography. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say it felt like reading an academic treatise on Woolf's life, full of references to her novels and letters (both hers and those of friends and family). Although I found it mildly interesting, it was very slow reading and never absorbed me, so when it wa ...more
Jun 18, 2014 Edward rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This massive tome reinforces why I'm generally not too enthused about reading lengthy biographies. Lee has written nearly 800 pages about the life of Woolf, one that ended in suicide at the age of 59. How much detail does a reader need to know about her life? I recently reread her TO THE LIGHTHOUSE which I think is a great novel, and as I happened to have a copy of this biography, I thought I'd read it, hoping it might fill in some obscurities of the novel. It didn't help particularly as the nov ...more
Sep 03, 2012 Theophanu rated it it was amazing
I can without a moment of doubt say that this is the best biography I have ever read. I was curious to know how such a biography would be handled, given Woolf's own thoughts on the problems of describing other people's lives. Hermione Lee devotes her first chapter to this, and seems to keep this in mind all through the text. She has built a text that is both thematically and chronologically organized, so that one's understanding of Virginia Woolf developes in an organic way. The constant referen ...more
Jan 03, 2016 Elisa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Lovely, fully updated biography. Takes full advantage of tremendous amount of (mostly American) scholarship. Masterly synthesis of a huge amount of detail. Generally sane and balanced on controversial issues.
Peter Mcloughlin
Very enjoyable book about a very complex person. Virginia Woolf was involved with Bloomsbury and wrote in a very sensual style creating characters with rich inner worlds separated at times from quotidian surroundings. Mrs. Dalloway and to the Lighthouse being good examples. Hermione Lee brings Woolf and her her world in this beautiful biography. Her depiction of the complex and contradictory nature of Woolf out in this book. She takes you into the mind of her subject much in the same way Woolf d ...more
Joe Moody
Sep 06, 2014 Joe Moody rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Hermione Lee portrays Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) as a difficult person to categorize whose life appears a struggle from start to end. Even though criticizing the narrow confines of Victorian mentality, she tended to actively play a role within that mentality. Her life appears a sort of testament to the inability to be confined to expectation.

From the outside, it may have seemed that Virginia’s family had it all. Her father, Leslie Stephen, gained fame as an historian and biographer leading to
Mardin Aminpour
Apr 06, 2014 Mardin Aminpour rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Hermione Lee’s biography of Virginia Woolf offers a discerning account of the life of an author whose unconventional lifestyle and writings evade simplistic categorizations. Lee’s book, as if apprehensive to attract her subject’s criticism, follows a thematic order that predicates on scenes and episodes from Woolf’s evolving selves. A prolific author, Woolf herself wrote on the nature of biography-writing, identifying it as “a bastard, an impure form of art.” Lee demonstrates her knowledge of Wo ...more
Aug 08, 2015 Geraldine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved this. It is extremely thorough and the mid-section of the book seemed too detailed with all the people Virginia Woolf knew. Otherwise, it was a sympathetic but not sycophantic biography. I liked the way Lee addressed the less attractive traits in VW's character without being unkind. In terms of increasing my understanding of the social, literary and historical context in which Virginia Woolf wrote, this book was wonderful and will really underpin my understanding of her writing.
Jan 14, 2015 Mary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Dense but not tedious examination of Woolf's contentious, wrought and often contradictory journey. The book is organized chronologically and relies largely on available materials. Clearly, Lee is attempting to portray Woolf with honest and compassion and seems largely successful. She challenges some of the taken for granted views of Woolf but only when evidence suggests these views are limited or wrong.

All of Woolf's work is interwoven in the chronology so that each novel, essay, biography is pl
Anne Fitzpatrick
Nov 01, 2011 Anne Fitzpatrick rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is almost certainly a great biography for Woolf scholars, but anyone else should keep looking. It assumes you have an encyclopedic knowledge of Woolf's life, writings, and historical context. I respect Lee's achievement, but it's actually kind of unbelievable how completely she disregards the need for any sort of explanation of anything. Why not take the time to make all this work more accessible? Where were her editors?
Oct 16, 2012 NancyKay rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ravishing literary biography which I read ravenously. Definitely in the top 3 of lit bios that I've read anyhow, with nothing dull or monotonous, and reflecting a keen, admiring but nuanced viewpoint on the subject. Organized chronologically but taking on in each chapter a particular theme, so that the emphasis is always on the work, the inner life, the friendships, the and how she evolved in her writing and her life.
Heather Fryling
May 05, 2015 Heather Fryling rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I finally finished Virginia Woolf. It wasn't easy. This biography is long, hard, and academic. But it's also gracefully written, and its subject is one of the most fascinating women ever to live. If you're interested in Virginia Woolf, this is the book to read. It's as close as you can get to the source materials--the diaries, the letters, the notes--without actually digging through it all yourself.
Aug 19, 2015 CuteBadger rated it liked it
I was lucky enough to win a copy of Priya Parmar's novel "Vanessa and Her Sister" from Goodreads and enjoyed it so much that I wanted to find out more about Vanessa and Virginia Stephen. I found a copy of this weighty paperback (nearly 900 pages) in a charity shop and have taken a couple of weeks to read it. This biography is traditional and non-traditional at the same time. It isn't always chronological, instead concentrating on particular aspects of Woolf's life (e.g. her mental state, reading ...more
Apr 08, 2016 Bob rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've been intimidated by the size of this 882-page book since it was published in 1996, but after reading the Autobiography of Leonard Woolf, I felt compelled to leap into the deep end. Been swimming underwater for 202 pages through the Perils of Virginia Stephen, finally surfacing in Bloomsbury, 1904. She is 21 years old, living the dream with brother Theo and big sister Vanessa:

"If one lived here in Bloomsbury, she began to theorise waving with her hand as her cab passed through the great tran
This one leaves me just speechless; in all likelihood, the most astonishing biography I've read. Positively *required* for Woolf lovers & those interested in the problems & possibilities of biography as a literary form.
Finally done! At last completed. Exhaustive biography. Learned: the river Ouse is pronounced "Ooze" not "Wheeze" (thanks, wikipedia).
Mar 18, 2016 Daniel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
somehow, this excellent biography manages to be as distinctly compelling as its subject
Rebecca H.
Oct 14, 2012 Rebecca H. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bio-autobio
I have spent so much time with this book and am sad it's finished. Amazing.
Sally Irvine
Feb 08, 2016 Sally Irvine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
800 pages of detailed analysis and explanation of a troubled curious and intense writer.lee tends to adulation, and gives importance and significance to details that don't always warrant it. vW was a rather dull lady, struggling to make real re,action ships, even with Leonard or Vita. It was interesting to 'meet' the Bloomsbury group who all seemed more alive and interesting than Virginia. So a book to admire and be in awe of, about a writer with enormous capacity to worry about the meaning of l ...more
Jul 20, 2012 Tarah rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Ah man, I REALLY wanted to like this book. Hermione Lee is a stellar biographer. Lyrical, interesting, thorough, accurate, and actually FUN to read. Find THAT in another biographer out there (David McCullough, you WISH you were these things).

And her biography of Wharton was fucking riveting. Like at the end of 800 pages I was like "nooo! please give me more!".

The Woolf biography, on the other hand, was a slog. I'm a big Woolf fan: and a number of her novels had a profound effect on me. And I'm
As with many wonderful things having to do with words and stories and books, I first discovered Virginia Woolf through Ursula K. Le Guin. I'm guessing it was in Le Guin's essay "Science Fiction and Mrs. Brown" from The Language of the Night, which I read at some point in middle school or early high school (books usually stand out much more clearly in my memory than the surrounding context). And then, of course, Le Guin's later collection of essays, The Wave in the Mind, is titled after a quote f ...more
Kim Harris
Jan 15, 2016 Kim Harris rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It was a long haul reading this very comprehensive biography, interrupted by other books more urgently needed. However, it was well worth while. Each of the 767 pages conveys a profound knowledge of Woolf's life; both literary and personal. You get a real sense of what drove her as a writer and how she came across to her friends and acquaintances, both her good points and her less attractive ones. As an insight to Virginia Woolf's writiing, it is probably indispensable.
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Hermione Lee grew up in London and was educated at Oxford. She began her academic career as a lecturer at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va (Instructor, 1970-1971) and at Liverpool University (Lecturer, 1971-1977). She taught at the University of York from 1977, where over twenty years she was Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, Reader, and Professor of English Literature. From 1998-200 ...more
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“I ransack public libraries, and find them full of sunk treasure.” 34 likes
“A self that goes on changing is a self that goes on living': so too with the biography of that self. And just as lives don't stay still, so life-writing can't be fixed and finalised. Our ideas are shifting about what can be said, our knowledge of human character is changing. The biographer has to pioneer, going 'ahead of the rest of us, like the miner's canary, testing the atmosphere, detecting falsity, unreality, and the presence of obsolete conventions'. So, 'There are some stories which have to be retold by each generation'. She is talking about the story of Shelley, but she could be talking about her own life-story. (Virginia Woolf, p. 11)” 3 likes
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