With epic scope and a rich use of detail, Hermione Lee has created a miraculously evocative portrait that lets us know as never before how Virginia Woolf looked, how she sounded, how she dressed and behaved, and how she wrote. She shows us a brave, powerfully intelligent woman who suffered from a terrifying chronic illness and wrestled with the contradictions of her own character.
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"Woolf's story is reformulated by each generation," writes Hermione Lee, a professor of English literature. But her richly human portrait, so respectful of the complexities of her subject's life, seems unlikely to be surpassed. Lee extricates Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) from clichés about madness and modernism to reveal a vigorous artist whose work is politically probing as well as psychologically delicate. She makes brilliant use of the formidable Woolf archives to let the writer speak directly to us, then comments shrewdly on her words' hidden significances. Biographies don't get much better than this.From the Back Cover:
While Virginia Woolf -- one of our century's most brilliant and mercurial writers -- has had no shortage of biographers, none has seemed as naturally suited to the task as Hermione Lee. Subscribing to Virginia Woolf's own belief in the fluidity and elusiveness of identity, Lee comes at her subject from a multitude of perspectives, producing a richly layered portrait of the writer and the woman that leaves all of her complexities and contradictions intact. Such issues as sexual abuse, mental illness, and suicide are brought into balance with the immensity of her literary achievement, her heroic commitment to her work, her generosity and wit, and her sanity and strength.
It is not often that biography offers the satisfactions of great fiction -- but this is clearly what Hermione Lee has achieved. Accessible, intelligent, and deeply pleasurable to read, her Virginia Woolf will undoubtedly take its place as the standard biography for years to come.
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