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Virginia Woolf: An Inner Life

By Julia Briggs

ISBN 0151011435
Review by: Michelle Humphrey


When Virginia Woolf wrote of a symbolic library with its patriarchal treasures locked safely within, did she imagine that someday, years after her death, scholars would be churning out critiques and biographies of her life that could fill a library of its own? Recent volumes have presented inventive spins on Woolf: Virginia Woolf’s Women (2003) by Vanessa Curtis tours a quirky nexus of women in Woolf’s inner circle, from artist Dora Carrington to writer Katherine Mansfield. Naomi Black’s Virginia Woolf as Feminist (2003) interprets the neglected work Three Guineas as the epitome of Woolf’s feminist declarations. Julia Briggs’ analysis is similarly unique, investigating the Woolfian oeuvre book by book. In chapters that unfold in a timeline of Woolf’s creative epiphanies, Briggs delves into her subject’s writing process and examines what the books have come to signify not only during the novelist’s lifetime but also to the subsequent generations of readers, writers and thinkers.

Briggs resists the temptation to romanticize Woolf (she documents Woolf’s aristocratic awkwardness with her servants and examines certain anti-Semitic strains in her writing), while emphasizing the foresight of Woolf’s feminism. Woolf may not have considered herself a political creature, but she was nonetheless an activist through her essays, stories and novels. Her concentration on women’s education and economic independence aligned her with the old-school feminists of the 1920s and ‘30s while her campaign to end women’s poverty reflects the views she shared with the progressive feminists. Yet it was her primal concern with the female artist – and that artist’s need for both the physical and cultural space to create – that led Woolf beyond the polemics of her day to address a contemporary audience.

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