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Moments of Being: A Collection of Autobiographical Writing

4.26  ·  Rating details ·  2,221 ratings  ·  169 reviews
Moments of Being contains Virginia Woolf's only autobiographical writing. In "Reminiscences," the first of five pieces, she focuses on the death of her mother, "the greatest disaster that could happen," and its effect on her father, the demanding Victorian patriarch. Three of the papers were composed to be read to the Memoir Club, a postwar regrouping of Bloomsbury, which ...more
Paperback, 230 pages
Published August 23rd 1985 by Mariner Books (first published 1976)
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Ahmad Sharabiani
Moments of Being: Autobiographical Writings, Virginia Woolf

Moments of Being is a collection of posthumously-published autobiographical essays by Virginia Woolf. The collection was first found in the papers of her husband, used by Quentin Bell in his biography of Virginia Woolf, published in 1972.

The title for the collection was chosen by its original editor, Jeanne Schulkind, based on a passage from "A Sketch of the Past".

As described by Woolf, 'moments of being' are moments in which an indiv
Violet wells
Aug 13, 2014 rated it liked it
Not as good as I remembered it. For the most part interesting rather than inspired. But then Virginia Woolf never intended this collection of memoirs to form a book. That said, how I’d love it if a member of my family had written such a detailed memoir of another era.

What’s striking is how one individual circles all her recollections like a menacing fin. George Duckworth, her considerably older stepbrother, once made her stand on a chair and put his hands all over her young body. It would appea
Jan 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015, recs
A series of five autobiographical sketches, Moments of Being moves between past and present as Woolf reflects upon her upbringing and her writing. Woolf privately considers her childhood and coming of age in the first and last pieces, while the three intermediate works are memoirs she delivered in public to Bloomsbury's interwar Memoir Club. The sketches overlap in content, even as the way in which Woolf positions herself in relationship to her subjects differs dramatically amongst them. The mem ...more
“The past only comes back when the present runs so smoothly that it is like the sliding surface of a deep river. Then one sees through the surface to the depths. In those moments I find one of my greatest satisfactions, not that I am thinking of the past; but that it is then that I am living most fully in the present. For the present when backed by the past is a thousand times deeper than the present when it presses so close that you can feel nothing else, when the film on the camera reaches onl ...more
Jan 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this memoir. I'll admit I didn't read the editor notes or the introductions, but I feel like those were a waste of time to get to the good stuff, reading about Virginia Woolf's life in her own words. It's a very hunting look into her past and you can see where she got some ideas for her novels. I highly recommend this to people who enjoy Virginia Woolf's novels or to people who what to know more about her and her life.

UPDATE: I should note this book goes into some heavy topics,
Beth Bonini
Seeing the ballet "Woolf Works" inspired me to read this collection of autobiographical essays by Virginia Woolf. In the live cinematic performance, Maggie Smith read several excerpts from "Sketch of the Past" - the piece of memoir that Woolf was working on at the beginning of World War II, and not long before her own death by suicide. Certain lines and ideas in the first pages of this Sketch are among the most beautiful and moving bits of writing she ever accomplished:

If life has a base that
alyssa carver
Feb 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: woolfies
Shelves: favorites
ok, so i have to admit that i've never read this entire volume. but it contains some of my favorite writing EVER, not just of virginia woolf. it's the very early sections that were to be her memoir, had she finished it instead of lying in the river.

so, yes, i am a fan of her other work. but there's something in this, these pure, raw, childhood memories; it has a pulse, an open vein. it is absolutely haunting. there's this one image she describes that i think of often, very often, of lying in a b
Re-read January 2016.

April 2015:
Thoughts on "Reminiscences," the opening piece, are on my blog here:

I'll likely write about the other pieces collected in this wonderful collection individually, in the depth they deserve. And I'll try to remember to update this when those are up on the blog, but the link is there now in case you want to check back.
Aug 06, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir
Reading these five memoir pieces "written for different audiences and spanning almost four decades" (back cover) by Virginia Woolf is amazingly illuminating and entertaining since this sole collection has allowed its readers, literally, to look at herself and her expertise by means of her formidable, powerful and unique narrations. I mean it might be a bit difficult if the readers would like to know her intimately from her literary works; however, we could read her published letters or diaries i ...more
Oct 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This little book is magnificent; a must-read for any fan of Virginia Woolf. For all intents and purposes, it's an autobiography (or parts of it, at least) but it reads like one of her novels. I am so happy that I own it - I will go back to it several times in the future, I'm sure!
sarah gilbert
Jan 13, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Virginia! You shine so in your moments of being. At first, of course, you are sentimental and foolish and you gloss over things so. Your writing, when you are young, is almost cloying; and it took me so, so long to get through your "Reminiscences." But then I came closer and closer to the truth: you pass at it in "A Sketch of the Past"; you own it in the pieces for the memoir club. Oh how I hang on your descriptions of how dull you found the society when living at 22 Hyde Park Gate! Oh how I fli ...more
Check this review out and others on my blog: Get Real.

The moments that can't be articulated. Virginia Woolf is the only writer I have ever encountered who can describe those moments - the surreal nature of existence and the blur between the conscious and unconscious - and have them make perfect sense. These memoirs are just a non-fiction extension of the writing she pioneered throughout her life.

Much of this work concerns her childhood, with particular focus on her mother and the issues that aro
I really enjoyed reading these auto biographical essays from Woolf. Her fiction usually feels a bit autobiographical, so reading these essays helps to show the similarities and differences between the two. Then again, even autobiography has a bit of fiction thrown in ...

I am concurrently reading Hermione Lee's biography of Woolf and have found Moments of being to be an excellent companion read. Lee quotes heavily from all of Woolf's oeuvre, including these essays, and so it was tempting to get t
Nov 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"[...] And for the first time I understood the poem (which it was I forget). It was as if it became altogether intelligible; I had a feeling of transparency in words when they cease to be words and become so intensified that one seems to experience them; to foretell them as if they developed what one is already feeling."

this quote might be the best way to try and describe the emotions i felt while reading this volume (or woolf's writing in general). her writing and the way she expresses her emot
Aug 31, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Virginia Woolf is truly one of my favorite writers of all time, and this collection of posthumously published autobiographical writings makes me love her even more. In fact, I love her so much that I can't even talk about why I love this collection so much without sounding goofy. So I will just say that this is a perfect companion to To the Lighthouse with much discussion of Woolf's childhood and her mother and father. Love. It.
Travis Lucas
Jan 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
Some of the best life writing I've come across. The nature of Woolf's mind definitely comes through, and it is interesting to watch her style and psyche develop through all the pieces. It suffers a little from not being finished by Woolf herself (or Leonard), but you can definitely get the idea of where she was going, especially in Sketch of the Past and Moments of Being. Woolf's sentences, as usual, are terrific and her images incredibly resonant.
Sep 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
What did I like about this book? I enjoy memoirs of this nature, autobiographical essays and snippets. The majority of the memoirs covered the period of the 1890s and first decade of the 20th century which is an extremely interesting time historically and in the development of literature. So, I liked the history of it, the insight into life of a (barely) upper middle class family with its generations covering the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

I've enjoyed what I've read of Woolf and had little pe
Jun 28, 2018 added it
Shelves: nonfiction
Reading Virginia Woolf has always felt like hearing a familiar voice. I love the cadence of her essays, her particular kind of sharp observation, and her attention to the small moments in this world. Reading Moments of Being, her posthumously published collection of autobiographical essays, is such a pleasure. In “Am I a Snob,” Woolf makes an unusual argument for what qualifies as a snob (the prime example involves a member of the English nobility feeding a dog a bloody bone at the lunch table), ...more
Paulo Santos
Jul 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I wonder why I hadn't read this wonderful book yet, being such a fan of Virginia Woolf and Bloomsbury. Which was fine, since I could have the unspoiled pleasure of reading it now for the first time. What a joy, after so many biographies of Bloomsberries, diaries of Frances Partridge and such, to read the real thing, the exquisite prose of Virginia Woolf herself, so much better than all the rest! This book is a posthumous collection of autobiographical essays written at different points of her li ...more
J. Alfred
Nov 07, 2017 rated it liked it
This is a series of memoirs Woolf wrote either for her particular Bloomsbury friends or as part of a project that she didn't live to revise. It made for uncomfortable reading in many places, both because Woolf is normally such a polished, mirrored writer and this is pretty intensely raw, and also because the material itself is sad. Death of loved ones, emotional betrayals, sexual assault and sexual lawlessness: this is a tough read. It is, however, a valuable one: if you're interested in Woof (y ...more
Jan 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
TW: sexual abuse/child sexual abuse/incest

Virginia Woolf had a really shitty life.

But damn she can write.

(If you aren't already familiar with her family tree, I think this could be a little confusing to read, but I loved it.)
Lil' Bamboo
Feb 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
I found it a lot more helpful and interesting than Writer's diary, which is most likely very censorised.
Oct 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
favorite quote:
"Am I alone in my egotism when I say that never does the pale light of dawn filter through the blinds but I open my eyes and exclaim, "Good God! Here I am again!" - not always with pleasure, often with pain; sometimes with an acute spasm of disgust - but always, always with interest?"
Jun 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
I just really love Virginia Woolf.
Aug 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
No one writes grief like Woolf.
Woolf rejecting Freud’s Oedipus complex in “A Sketch of the Past” is a thing of beauty…
Sep 13, 2008 added it
I read "A Sketch of the Past" and "Old Bloomsbury" out of Moments of Being, the only source of her autobiographical writing (aside from the Diaries and Letters) as far as I know. Then I read The Voyage Out, Woolf's first novel. This experience raised the question (which I have yet to find a definitive answer to) of whether or not books, poetry, music, art, etc. should stand on their own with no consideration of the artist's life. I admit I definitely read The Voyage Out with an eye towards Woolf ...more
Mar 18, 2010 rated it liked it
p. 39-40 "Reminiscences"
What is noticeable about her, as I am come to think, is not the waste and the futile gallantry, but the niceness, born of sure judgement, with which her effort matched her aim. There was scarcely any superfluity; and it is for this reason that, past as those years are, her mark on them is ineffaceable, as though branded by the naked steel, the sharp, the pure. Living voices in many parts of the world still speak of her as of someone who is actually a fact in life. Whethe
Brent Woo
Sep 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Oh Virginia. I see now why people say that you feel like an old friend. These intensely personal, autobiographical writings put her deepest thoughts on display, and in classic Woolfian fashion that doesn't mean that she dramatically reveals some teenage angst, scandalous thoughts, or traumatic events—she simply freezes a second in time, records her interior monologue as far down as the spiral goes, .... and down, and down, and down it goes.

There's five essays here, organized in roughly chronolog
Dec 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a marvelous read this was! I'm a Woolf fan from way back, but hadn't read this one before. The story of Woolf's childhood in the gloomy house in Kensington, the deaths of her mother and father and stepsister, Stella, are poignant and tragic. The effects of these deaths on Woolf's psychology and fiction are obvious; it was difficult for her to recover from the loss of her mother when Woolf was only 13 and it had a horrible effect upon her mind. She used her fiction to work through these loss ...more
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(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 e

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