In 1907, when she was twenty-five and not yet a published novelist, Virginia Stephen had everything still to prove. She felt herself to be at a crossroads: “I shall be miserable, or happy; a wordy sentimental creature, or a writer of such English as shall one day burn the pages.”
Today her prose is still blazing; perhaps it burns brighter than ever. This is the story of how a determined young woman with a notebook became one of the greatest writers of all time. It is a story that sparkles with wit and friendship, language and love, wicked jokes and passionate appreciation of ordinary things.
In this illuminating new account, Alexandra Harris uses vivid flashes of detail to evoke Woolf’s changing backgrounds and preoccupations. We move from the close-packed rhythms of a Victorian childhood to the experiments of Bloomsbury and Woolf’s trial-and-error answers to the pressing question of how to live. We see her tackling challenging forms of writing, trying out different voices, following flights of fancy, and returning to earth. Above all, we see her making conscious decisions about what to do next.
The book considers each of the novels in context, gives due prominence to a range of Woolf’s dazzlingly inventive essays, traces the contentious course of her “afterlife,” and shows why, seventy years after her death, Virginia Woolf continues to haunt and inspire us.
Will appeal to newcomers and acolytes alike.
Handsomely illustrated and beribboned, Harris’s little volume is a miracle of clarity and concision, and an example of the brief life at its best.
— The Washington Post
The accessibility of this study is grounded upon authentic research and suffused with a lovely literary sensibility.
This volume is sure to delight both the newbie and seasoned Woolf scholar. Summing Up: Highly recommended.
…Harris offers not only summations, but also invaluable nuanced insights about things that Woolf scholars have either missed or neglected—and always with a striking clarity, avoiding the abstruse and abstract.
Harris has accomplished the most triumphant biography of Woolf yet…. with an eagle-eye toward clarity, readability, and conciseness
— Virginia Woolf Miscellany
Alexandra Harris is a cultural historian and writer. She is the recipient of the Guardian First Book Award and a Somerset Maugham Award for Romantic Moderns. She is a Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Liverpool and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. She lives in Oxford and Liverpool.