While the details of Virginia Woolf’s life are well known, interpretations differ. How significant was the early sexual abuse by her two half brothers, Gerald and George Duckworth? Roger Poole’s THE UNKNOWN VIRGINIA WOOLF (1978) and Louise A. DeSalvo’s VIRGINIA WOOLF (1989) make much of these episodes. Reid, on the other hand, disagrees. She regards as much more important the unconsummated affair between Virginia and Clive Bell, husband of Virginia’s sister, Vanessa—an episode that James King and Jane Dunn minimize.
Reid also considers how Woolf’s books were attempts to keep or recapture friendships. When she felt that Vanessa was drifting away from her after marrying Clive and giving birth to Julian, Virginia began a biography of her sister. ORLANDO (1928) was a response to Vita Sackville-West’s affair with Mary Campbell; through ROGER FRY (1940), Virginia sought to recover something of the dead artist.
Woolf’s attitude toward painting provides another major theme in Reid’s biography. Reid notes how Virginia’s choice of literature placed her in opposition to her artist sister. The two played out their sibling rivalry through their criticisms of each other’s medium. Yet Woolf was deeply influenced by post-Impressionist theory and tried to create fiction that shunned photographic realism in favor of abstract representation.
Reid includes a generous selection of sixty-six photographs and four short appendices. The most significant of these plausibly argues for redating Woolf’s three suicide notes. While not everyone will agree with all of Reid’s claims, no student of Woolf or Bloomsbury can ignore this study.
Sources for Further Study
Baltimore Morning Sun. November 3, 1996, p. F1.
Booklist. XCIII, November 15, 1996, p. 566.
Buffalo News. January 26, 1997, p. F8.
Library Journal. CXXI, September 15, 1996, p. 69.
Publishers Weekly. CCXLIII, October 14, 1996, p. 71.
Times Picayune. December 8, 1996, p. D6.