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Virginia Woolf

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  2,836 ratings  ·  129 reviews
"A majestic literary biography, a truly new, surprisingly fresh portrait. --
Newsday

A New York Times Book Review  Editors' Choice
National Book Critics Circle Award finalist

"A biography wholly worthy of the brilliant woman it chronicles. . . . It rediscovers Virginia Woolf afresh."  
--The Philadelphia Inquirer
            
While Virginia Woolf--one of our century's most brilli
...more
Paperback, 893 pages
Published October 5th 1999 by Vintage (first published October 15th 1996)
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Cynthia Yes, I have read both of them, although the Quentin Bell I read a long time ago. Both are elegant respectful biographies. Bell's is shorter, and more…moreYes, I have read both of them, although the Quentin Bell I read a long time ago. Both are elegant respectful biographies. Bell's is shorter, and more conventional, and shows his intimate knowledge of Woolf and her family (being a family member); among other things, Lee's biography shows a more modern (feminist) appreciation of the writer. Both (if my recollection is correct) are well worth reading.(less)
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Paul
Dec 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Susan
Mar 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a biography of great depth and detail, which left me feeling that I understood Virginia Woolf far more than I had before I started it. However, Lee questions how exactly should she write Virginia Woolf’s biography? As a victim, through her family history, class, as part of the Bloomsbury group? For she can be seen in many ways, through many different aspects of her personality or life. Where I think Lee succeeds, is to look at Virginia Woolf objectively, but sympathetically – putting her ...more
Roman Clodia
Feb 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an exemplary biography and one which is thoughtful and self-conscious about what it means to write a life. Lee's introduction and conclusion top and tail Woolf with the musings of Lee herself, always conscious of the various Woolfs that her reception over a century has prompted.

It's easy to forget that Woolf, the arch feminist-modernist, was born as a confirmed Victorian child in 1882, and her struggles to escape, not always successfully, her inbred ideas about class, gender (her mother
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AB
Dec 29, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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.
Aubrey
So the making of art, in reaction to the blows of life, is both an active, controlling process, in which she orderes reality by "putting it into words"; and a passive, self-abnegating process, whereby she recognises that what she is making is part of something pre-existing and universal: "There is no Shakespeare; there is no Beethoven; certainly and emphatically there is no God; we are the words; we are the music; we are the thing itself."

Fear, as usual in her case, became a form of courage.
Th
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Antigone
Mar 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
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 rated it it was amazing
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
Jim
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
...more
Margaret
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.
Petra
Hermione Lee's biography of Virginia Woolf is definitely one of the best biographies I have ever read. It is definitely one to read if you are intrigued by Woolf and want to know more about her life but as it is so dense, I don't think that person who isn't that interested at Virginia Woolf and her work wouldn't really enjoy it. Still, as I said, I truly think that this biography is a work of art and I learned so much while reading it. It was an experience; saddening, exciting and tiresome at th ...more
Oisín
Well, that only took six months.
Kim
Feb 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"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)

meer: http://winterlief.blogspot.nl/2012/10...
Leslie
Sep 13, 2012 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
Anne Fitzpatrick
Apr 22, 2011 rated it did not like it
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?
Nicholas Whyte
Dec 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
https://nwhyte.livejournal.com/2920196.html

Lee's biography of Woolf was published in 1996, and I see there have been a couple more since; but this is pretty comprehensive, covering 59 years in 770 pages. Woolf bitterly regretted not having had a formal education, but maybe her more chaotic intellectual upbringing was a necessary precursor for her genius to take the shape that it did. Certainly being brought up with and mixing with writers gave her a keen understanding for the writer's life. Lee
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Martin
Jun 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really, truly extraordinary. One of the best biographies I've ever read, certainly at least as good as Shelley: The Pursuit by Richard Holmes (my previous favourite). I rather suspect it's instilled a lifelong love of Woolf in me - I had previously only read Orlando, but am currently also reading Mrs Dalloway and planning on continuing through the body of work. Highly, highly recommended.
Debbie Aruta
Jul 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book is filled with so much info!! my hats off to Hermione Lee!!!
Tjaša
Jul 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Incredible. Brought VW alive in front of me - in all her complexity.
Joanna Dobson
Oct 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
One brilliant woman writing about another with compassion, curiosity and dazzling scholarship. The book is also absolutely gripping: more than 700 pages without a single dull paragraph.
Edward
May 31, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Theophanu
Apr 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Lydia
A sublime meeting of author and subject: Lee manages to chronicle Woolf's life, times and literary achievements comprehensively, while at the same time brilliantly capturing the essence of her many selves and how they are reflected in her writing. Lee's admiration and affection are evident throughout and this is eminently readable, while still being a thorough and comprehensive review of a complicated (and not always terribly likeable) woman living through changing and difficult times.

If you hav
...more
John
Apr 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
I have read 12 or 13 biographical works on Virginia Woolf and I will be listing them all here, once I dust them off and try to remember exactly what it was I read. Lee's book is quite memorable, However. By far the most thoroughly researched, detailed and documented of all the biographies I know of. Yet, I wonder if Lee didn't loose something essential in Woolf's life in the welter of information she presents. Of course, Woolf was a notoriously illusive individual, so I'm not sure that it will e ...more
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
Heather Fryling
Apr 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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.
NancyKay
Oct 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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.
Geraldine
Jul 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
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.
Jamie
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.
Elisa
Jan 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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.
Kari
Jul 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
This is a gorgeous biography that gives great insight into the life and mind of Woolf. Lee brings together letters and insights into Woolf's books so that you feel like you're given an up-close and intimate impression of this remarkable woman.
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Reading the 20th ...: Virginia Woolf by Hermione Lee (Jan - April 2018) 181 45 May 31, 2018 08:52AM  
  • Virginia Woolf: An Inner Life
  • Virginia Woolf: A Biography
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  • Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell
  • The Diary of Virginia Woolf, Volume One: 1915-1919
  • The Letters of Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf
  • The Brontës
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  • Portrait of a Marriage: Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson
  • Lytton Strachey: The New Biography
  • Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead
  • The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham: A Biography
  • Vita: The Life of Vita Sackville-West
  • Charlotte Brontë: A Passionate Life
  • The Brontë Myth
  • Shelley: The Pursuit
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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.” 43 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)” 6 likes
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