Thursday, March 22, 2007

Book Report/Recollections of Virginia Woolf

Remarkable, worthy of being remarked upon, is such an over-used word. Its meaning has been diminished. But when I began to write about this book, it was the first word that came to mind. It is thus for many reasons.

The first comes from what the editor writes in her introduction. She explains that this book is not a critical look at the work of Virginia Woolf, but is concerned with the person, and here is the amazing part, the remarkable thought, "about whom little has been said in print." The book was published in 1972. So much has been written about Virginia Woolf in the 35 years since Recollections came out; her diaries have been published, her letters are available to us.

The second reason for the adjective is the luck this reader feels just knowing these essays have survived. They were written down or broadcast on the radio and kept. One can pick up this book and read not only the eloquent words of T.S. Eliot, but also the honest regard of Leonard and Virginia's cook. These people knew her. That this book exists is a miracle. Joan Russell Noble has given us such a gift by collecting these writings.

A third reason this book is remarkable is that so many different people, really incredibly different people, quite often give the same impressions. From relatives, to close friends, to acquaintances, the reader hears the same descriptions. Which leads me to the fourth reason this book is so remarkable. The picture we get of Virginia, drawn by these disparate sources, is invariably not what we expect. When one hears the name Virginia Woolf, one doesn't immediately think funny, or curious, or mischievously questioning. She is also spoken of by everyone as very, very beautiful. Her face, the way she moved, even the way her clothes hung on her, she who cared nothing for fashion. She made her own bread, and taught the cook to do so. Can you imagine it? Virginia in the kitchen kneading bread. It makes me ache with affection for her.


  1. Your "book report" makes me want to rush out to our lovely used bookstore and see if I can find an old copy of this in their stacks. Definitely one I want to read!

  2. Nan, You're right! It is a remarkable book! I discovered it in our little library 34 years ago, and it was my introduction to an author I'd never heard of before--Virginia Woolf. It sparked years of reading of Woolf's books, letters, etc. A very enjoyable read.

  3. I really liked reading this entry. Though the only thing I really know about Virginia Woolf is from the movie The Hours.....what should I read by her? I always think of her writing as something I would not understand for some reason...

  4. Thanks to all of you for your comments. Les, the essays aren't all great. They aren't all even that well written. Yet there are those people who really saw her, and heard her, and knew her which makes them an utter wonder to me.
    Robin, what a great introduction to VW. Really, an introduction. You met her and then read her. Wonderful. Your blog is great, and I'll be visiting often!
    Thanks, Marcia. The book really means a lot to me. I read it very slowly over two months, just savoring each essay.
    Laura, I think so many people think she is too hard to understand. I think you can just read and let the words flow over you. So many of the essayists mentioned her prose was like poetry. I think we can feel it as well as understand it on a literary level. I guess I would start with Mrs Dalloway. It's the "story" of a day in the life of a woman giving a party and the story of a poor shell-shocked veteran of WWI. But it is oh, so much more. And I also love the movie. You might even watch it first without hurting the book at all. I think Vanessa Redgrave is the perfect, perfect choice for Mrs D.


I'll answer your comments as soon as I possibly can. Please do come back if you've asked a question.
Also, you may comment on any post, no matter how old, and I will see it.