In 1907, when she was twenty-five and not yet a published novelist, Virginia Stephen has 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 one day burn the pages.’
Today her prose is still blazing; perhaps it burns brighter than ever. For 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. Hers was a life lived with intensity from moment to moment and shaped into the lasting patterns of art. It was also a courageous life, defiant of conversation and marred my mental illness.
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’. We see her ‘drawn on and on’ to tackle ever more changing forms of writing.
This gripping new account offers an ideal introduction to both the life and work of Virginia Woolf. It considers each of Woolf’s novels in context, traces the contentious course of her ‘afterlife’, and shows why, seventy years after death, Virginia Woolf continues to haunt and inspire us.
Thames and Hudson 2011