This fourth volume of the first complete edition of Virginia Woolf’s essays and reviews celebrates her maturing vitality and wonderfully reveals her prodigious reading, wit, and original intelligence. Written while she worked on To the Lighthouse and Orlando, these pieces explore subjects ranging from the world’s greatest books to obscure English lives. The Common Reader, First Series, in which she influentially revives women’s place in history, comprises a quarter of the volume. Also included are Woolf’s contributions to American journals during these years, contributions that for the first time in her career outnumbered those to the Times Literary Supplement and the Nation & Athenaeum, under Leonard Woolf’s literary editorship. The volume also provides her moving introduction to the Modern Library Edition of Mrs. Dalloway, not previously published.
In his superb notes, editor Andrew McNeillie adds variations in Woolf’s essays as they appeared in different versions; for example, he includes lines in her essay on Joseph Addison that she later omitted: “our range of delights … persuade us that the whole business of life is better worth while.” Virginia Woolf’s creativity and industry in these three years bespeak astonishing gifts, remarkable robustness, and a passion for “the whole business of life” that inspires.
Praise for previous volumes of The Essays of Virginia Woolf
“Lovely.”—The New Yorker
“Extravagantly demonstrates what we already suspected . . . that Woolf was easily the greatest literary journalist of her age.”—James Wood, The Guardian
Andrew McNeillie edited Virginia Woolf’s The Common Reader and The Second Common Reader and assisted Anne Olivier Bell in editing The Diary of Virginia Woolf. He lives in England.
Virginia Woolf was born in London, the daughter of the prominent literary critic Leslie Stephen. She never received a formal university education; her early education was obtained at home through her parents and governesses. After death of her father in 1904, her family moved to Bloomsbury, where they formed the nucleus of the Bloomsbury Group, a circle of philosophers, writers and artists. As a writer, Woolf was a great experimenter. She scorned the traditional narrative form and turned to expressionism as a means of telling her story. Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and To The Lighthouse (1927), her two generally acknowledged masterpieces, are stream-of-consciousness novels in which most of the action and conflict occur beneath a surface of social decorum. Mrs. Dalloway, set in London shortly after the end of World War I, takes place on a summer's day of no particular significance, except that intense emotion, insanity, and death intrude.To the Lighthouse's long first and third sections, each of which concerns one day 10 years apart, of the same family's summer holidays, are separated and connected by a lyrical short section during which the war occurs, several members of the family die, and decay and corruption run rampant. Orlando (1928) is the chronological life story of a person who begins as an Elizabethan gentleman and ends as a lady of the twentieth century; Woolf's friend, Victoria Sackville-West, served as the principal model for the multiple personalities. (The book was made into a movie in 1993.) Flush (1933) is a dog's soliloquy that, by indirection, recounts the love story of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and their elopement and life in Florence. Her last short novel, Between the Acts (1941), was left without her final revision, but it is, nonetheless, a major representation of a society on the verge of collapse. Having had periods of depression throughout her life and fearing a final mental breakdown from which she might not recover, Woolf drowned herself in 1941. Her husband published part of her farewell letter to deny that she had taken her life because she could not face the terrible times of war. Leonard Woolf also edited A Writer's Diary (1953), which provides valuable insights into his wife's private thoughts and literary development. Equally informative are his own autobiographies, particularly Beginning Again and Downhill All the Way (1967), and The Letters of Virginia Woolf and Lytton Strachey . Virginia Woolf's Granite and Rainbow contains 27 essays on the art of fiction and biography. There are many sidelights on Woolf in the writings, letters, and biographies of other members of her Bloomsbury circle, such as Roger Fry, John Maynard Keynes (see Vol. 3), and Lytton Strachey (see Vol. 3). Also casting much light on her life, thought, and creative processes are The Common Reader (1925), The Second Common Reader (1933), A Room of One's Own (1929), Three Guineas (1938), The Captain's Death Bed and Other Essays, The Death of the Moth and Other Essays (1942), and various collections of her autobiographical writings, diaries, and letters. In addition, in recent years there has been a veritable industry of writers dealing with Woolf and her work.