Chris's Reviews > Virginia Woolf: The Will to Create as a Woman

Virginia Woolf by Ruth Gruber
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Jun 02, 12

bookshelves: netgalley, history-ww-ii, favorites, literature-criticism-and-essays
Read from May 30 to June 02, 2012

Disclaimer: I got an ARC via Netgalley.

At the end of her study on Virginia Woolf, Ruth Gruber writes,

The woman of the past found an intimation of the laws of nature, of life and immortality, in bearing children; the woman of the future, retaining this experience, will give it words and form. Virginia Woolf, of the present, is still a seeker, struggling to prepare the world for a woman Shakespeare, a woman Rembrandt, even a woman Christ. She is the transitional link between the past which produced a Jane Austen and the future yet to produce the great "Shakespearianna". Conscious of her limitations, she finds a beautiful gratification in being one of her mediators, one of the spiritual mothers.

The woman she is helping to create will culminate in herself the physical creativeness of the past with mental creativeness of women like Virginia Woolf - the woman of today.


Gruber is one of those women that people should know more about. This book is her study, her Ph. D. study of Woolf, written when Woolf was still alive and Gruber study in Germany during the rise of Hitler. The reissue of the study includes a foreword by Gruber as well as facsimiles of letters from Woolf and her publishers. In truth, the forward is worth the price of the book, for it is Gruber’s description of her meeting the Woolfs that is fascinating. Gruber captures them so well, her prose transports the reader to the room. The descriptions of Gruber’s decision to go to Germany, of her studies there, and her meeting with Woolf form the perfect introduction to this study of Woolf’s work.

Gruber’s focus on Woolf consists of paying close attention to Woolf’s use of language and description. Gruber than applies that close level of reading to the connection, if any, to Woolf and the male writers who she drew from. Gruber argues that Woolf saw female as creative and male as destroyer. She argues that Woolf used that only prose poetry, but details to highlight how Female things, such as dinner, were just as important as male things, such as sport.

I can hear the student today say, “Yeah, I know this. So what?” Here’s the so what; in her study, in particular in the closing remarks above, Gruber connects Woolf to those woman writers of today. It is though this study that Woolf (and Gruber) and Gruber (and Woolf) foreshadow the coming of such authors as Toni Morrison and A.S. Byatt among others. It is hard to read Gruber’s analysis of Woolf and detail, and not see that influence on Byatt’s Still Life or the similarities in the use of detail and langue in the works of Morrison.

Yet, when I think about this book, I keep thinking about the introduction, the wonderful introduction that describes the introduction of three great minds – Gruber, Leonard Woolf, and Virginia Woolf. The introduction not only describes the meeting in such detail that you are there, but also deals with hero-worship and how one feels after learning what your hero really thinks, this is especially powerful coming from a woman such as Gruber who in her own right is as much of hero, if not more of one, as Woolf. It is this feeling that connects the reader to Gruber in a rather intimate way, the way that occurs whenever a reader discovers that a favored author shares the same literary taste. Here, the feeling is so much that, but that Gruber ‘s sharing of the meeting puts Gruber on even footing with the reader. The reader is not intimidated by a woman who got her Ph D. at the age of twenty and was celebrated for it. Gruber, in the introduction, makes herself one of “us”. She’s still a genius, but the introduction makes her an accessible genius, a human genius, a relatable genius.

And at the same time, while keeping the hero worship idea of Virginia Woolf, does the same thing for the author of Orlando. This is not an easy task, and not many people could have kept the hero worship but shown the humanity. Gruber does, and while her reading of Woolf is “spot on” and thought provoking, it is the introduction to the work that makes Gruber’s book magical.
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Chris It was. You should like it.


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