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Virginia Woolf: A Biography

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  2,799 ratings  ·  95 reviews
The first full-scale biography of the eminent British writer, written by her nephew. Index; photographs.
Paperback, 576 pages
Published March 20th 1974 by Mariner Books (first published January 1st 1971)
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Paul Bryant
Nov 17, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
Virginia Woolf was the fiercely brainy and extremely posh girl I would have been far too shy to even dream of speaking to, had I been around then.

But, in an alternative slipstream of history, it turned out that I was alive at the time, and blow me down, there she was in the Smoke Room at the Old Butcher's Dog in Oxford one lovely spring evening in 1927. Her dress shimmered like an aura of sheer organdie, and just as she was about to tuck into some doves' brains on parsley, I turned to her and sa
Feb 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
It's quite amazing. Seriously, it's even better than I thought it was gonna be. I am really grateful that he was the one who wrote her biography, cause he is a skilled writer and a family member who could not be accused of engorging or minimizing her flaws and virtues. ...more
Mar 13, 2008 rated it it was ok
Outdated. If you want the most up to date Biography of Virginia Woolf, check out the one by Hermione Lee. There are certain sections of this biography that really angered me. At one point Bell states that Woolf's claim that she was sexually abused as a child is either false or exaggerated. There really is no reason I can think of to believe that, especially when she has described the encounters herself in her own autobiographical writing. ...more
Dec 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone with even the slightest interest in Virginia Woolf
I was expecting this book to be kind of dry, and slow going, but was pleasantly surprised at how exciting, readable and just plain fun it was most of the time! (Other times it could be very sad, but it was never boring).

What did I learn from this book? Where to start?! Probably the most surprising (and also the funniest) thing I found out in this book was that, as a young woman, Virginia participated in something called the "Dreadnought hoax," which involved a group of people (her, her brother a
Sep 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a fabulous and intimate look into Virginia Woolf's life. She is the first author I've been so interested in, that I've wanted to know as much as I can find out about her life. There wasn't a boring bone in her body. I continue to yearn for more, and have Vol II waiting on my shelf.
I found Bell's writing to be quite easy, it feels effortless, and yet thoroughly engaging.
Apr 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is the first biography I've ever read and I really liked it. I'm sure it's outdated, and perhaps Hermione Lee's biography is better, but I loved this book. It felt like I got to know Virginia personally and like I was there experiencing her life with her. I'm also excited to read her work knowing so much more about her now. Would definitely recommend if you're a fan of Woolf. ...more
Aug 04, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
Appreciated this book so much that I took my two very young children to Rodmell for the summer. We walked her walks, spent time in her garden and toured the now historic house. With a life-long friend, Sylvia, wandered down the lane to river, sad yet understanding her decision. Seminal biography. I'm willing to consider re-reading it. ...more
Joyce Jellison
Jun 27, 2009 rated it did not like it
I could not finish this book. Quentin Bell is the mumbling, english uncle I never wanted or could understand. He goes on and on and I know he is saying something important but he has that damn accent and I am pissed he is taking so long to just tell me the story.
Jun 08, 2021 rated it really liked it
I took my time with this one, solely because I wanted to. Getting to know Virginia more and more only gave me the pleasure that I didn’t know I very much needed. While I couldn’t stop reading more about her at times, the other times it was hard to go through. I cheered for her as often as I got depressed with her.

The book helps experiencing Virginia’s life in ways unknown to others. I don’t think that Bell made her aunt a hero and he certainly didn’t glorify her. Virginia Woolf was one of the br
Matthew White
Text, not insignificant, which does its part to smooth those gaps of unfamiliarities that are likely present in the manner of non-illumined visage. Ironically and even with its volume, there is little added to the cracked portraiture by its presence. This does not dilute it altogether, but a necessary linearity and occasional elemental restraint does. This is at once a biographical work, scientifically drawn; as examining its exhibit with imagination + skill. Artist is handled as is - facts and ...more
Feb 09, 2013 rated it liked it
Despite being a faithful accounting of Woolf’s life with much useful information for Virginia Woolf fans, I did not get what I wanted most from Quentin Bell’s book. After reading Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse, I was fascinated by the observant, insightful mind that so clearly saw into itself and the minds of others to create such nuanced and genuine characters. The person I found in this biography was a self-centered, difficult and periodically psychotic woman whose friends all recognized ...more
Mar 18, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bloomsbury, lives
I don't know that I get on very well with Quentin Bell as an author. His style is quite singular, a little dated maybe, although overall quite readable. He has great insight into his aunt's life, which helps make this an interesting biography, but sometimes I felt he was being a bit circumspect (for instance concerning her relationship with Vita Sackville-West), and indeed points to things that 'still cannot be said'.

The beginning of the book, filling in the family background, I found quite a ch
Jan 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
Quentin Bell had the benefit of knowing his subject, which is rare in a biographer. As a result there is a veracity to this book, something of a counterweight to balance Virginia Woolf's own biographical writings. Extracts of Virginia's writing sear the pages where they appear and she can't help but steal the show, but even so this is a sympathetic work which seems to treat the subject fairly. Virginia's brilliance and genius are celebrated. The pain of her mental sickness and the difficulties t ...more
Mar 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A must read for those interested in Virginia Woolf. Very detailed and well written. The book is a history of Virginia Woolf. A lot has been written about Virginia Woolf's life and her works; there is no need to add anything here. The most interesting thing about this biography was the voice of the writer: Quentin Bell who was Virginia's nephew. The assumptions he makes, and the way he judges things are foreign to me, and I think it gives an idea of how things must have been for the Bloomsbury ty ...more
Aug 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book changed my perceptions of myself and my cultural values. I confess that I read it straight through one weekend when I was living alone in North Hollywood while I waa studying for my MFA at Cal Arts.
I am sorely, sorely tempted to give this five stars. Terrifically solid stuff - so well-executed that it is almost perfection.
Dana Safian
Oct 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
A perfectly written source on Woolf's life.It's amazing how you find her character exceptional just as much as her works are. ...more
Jul 16, 2008 rated it liked it
I don't read a lot of biographies of writers since they so really give insight to the art. While I found this also true here, the book is still quite fascinating. The times she lived, the people she lived among, and the ways she lived and traveled are all very illuminating about her time and place. It's like our own lives, but different. What time they had for socializing and traveling! And still got so much work done! To maintain households, hold down jobs, write scores of letters, and still de ...more
Pradeep Badatiya
May 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Awestruck by her last letter:
Dearest, I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can't go through another of those terrible times. And I shan't recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can't concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don't think two people could have been happier till this terrible disease came. I can't fight any longer. I know that I am sp
Feb 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
A biography of Virginia Woolf by her nephew Quentin Bell. I can't exaggerate how much I was not looking forward to this book and how much it has been an unexpected delight. It was on my biography shelves, inherited from my mother, and for nine years I have been slowly reading the books on the biography shelves in alphabetical order. So I am near the end. I have never been able to get into a Virginia Woolf book and I didn't think I'd like her as a person but I do love the Bloomsbury world and her ...more
Mary L.
Aug 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
"Virginia Woolf: A Biography"is written by Virginia Woolf's nephew, Quentin Bell, son of Virginia's sister, Vanessa Bell. If you want a wonderful and captivating description of the Bloomsberry group by all means head straight for Quentin Bell's biograpy. It is beautifully written, filled with wonderfully full descriptions of life as a member of the English literary society of the day. There are also a large set of photographs illustrating life in London and at Charleston Farm rented by Vanessa ...more
Heather Denigan
Sep 21, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
Enjoyed Bell's biography of his famous aunt. He portrays her complexities, her passions, her whims and her humors, her affections and her prejudices, her fears, and yes, her sexuality too. (Although, Virginia appears far less fixated on her own sexuality than her modern readers are.) She appears with a varied cast of characters, all nearly as fascinating as she is. He writes with Austen-esque minuteness but I found the book moved quickly all the same. He portrays the everyday exterior events of ...more
Beatrice Marie
Mar 29, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Virginia Woolf nuts
You have to be a Virginia Woolf nut to even think of reading this book. It's over four hundred pages long in small print. I hesitated between giving it two or three stars. Its strong point are her nephew's encylopedic comments on her life. Who did she see? When? Where? The weak point is sometimes there was too much of "she did this with so-and-so" -- almost a Facebook of her life without enough comment on why she did what she did. Perhaps he wanted to remain objective? I did give it three points ...more
Dec 19, 2011 rated it liked it
A fine biography - straightforward, chronological - though a bit removed from the action, despite the fact that the author was the subject's nephew. There's a light, bumbling sort of way he describes things - that he isn't interested in getting too close to the thick of it all (unlike Hermione Lee who may go a bit too far). Still it's concise and gives a decent overview of the major events of Woolf's life, and her difficulties in writing each of her novels and essay collections. I think that the ...more
Sep 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
In my opinion, Virginia Woolf, by her nature, would seem to be an elusive subject for a biography. She was so very much a singular, inscrutable being. The source material of her life and personality are, to a certain extent, well-documented in her extensive journals and correspondence. Quentin Bell's achievement in this book is to bring a coherence to this material that gives the reader as intimate a portrait of Mrs. Woolf as can be created by a biographer. The fact of Mr. Bell being the nephew ...more
Elizabeth Olsen
Jul 08, 2010 is currently reading it
I am sort of fascinated with Virginia Woolf. She seems odd and other worldly in the loveliest way. But to be honest I most wanted to learn about her sordid home life as a child. This book is unintentionally funny, not giving up the 'sick stuff that happened' goods though. However if you ever want to read gossip about what happened to V.W.'s great great great aunt who lived in India and is described by the author as "her person was pleasing, her manners courtly, her tastes extravagant and her hor ...more
Ashlee Reed
May 20, 2014 rated it liked it
Fascinating insight...however peculiar. You would think a biography written by Virginia's nephew would lend itself to some deeper understanding of this woman and her life. However, one gets the impression while reading this that Mr. Bell cannot be objective and skims and glosses over major themes and events in Virginia's life (her lovers, her female friends, and even her death).

If, however, you are looking to know everything about Bloomsbury group and how each member took their tea - this is fo
Feb 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic book- interesting from a literary, historical, and psychological perspective. Virginia Woolf was hanging out with some pretty interesting people who pushed the envelope of Victorian morality. One of the most intriguing parts for me was learning about Virginia's manic-depressive illness and how it affected her writing. My only regret was that I was so invested in all the characters, that when Virginia dies at the end, I was left hanging- not knowing what became of all the people in her ...more
Mar 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
A very good biography because it is easy to read (despite words like pullulate and inchoate) and gives the reader VW as a rounded person, neither mad, sad, nor bad, but a mix of many things.
My only problem is that QB was probably too close to be entirely objective, although he tries, and so she might be painted with either too kind or too stern a brush.
Ironically Vanessa Bell, his mother, appears cold and snobbish.
It does make me want to read more of VW's books and another, possibly more object
Sep 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: abandoned
Had this book since college, moving it from home to home. Decided to re-read it to remember why I saved it and discovered... Meh, just don't care that much about the life of another mentally ill artist, self-absorbed, struggling, meticulous about the written word but annoyingly weak in her envy, insecurity, worship of those she perceived as better than herself. The biography itself is well-written and researched, but I've lost my hero worship of the early 20th century British literary scene. I g ...more
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