The Essays of Virginia Woolf (Magill’s Literary Annual 1990)
In March of 1923 Arnold Bennett, then one of England’s most popular and acclaimed novelists, wrote thus of a novel which had appeared the previous year:I have seldom read a cleverer book than Virginia Woolf’s Jacobs’ Room, a novel which has made a great stir in a small world. It is packed and bursting with originality, and it is exquisitely written. But the characters do not vitally survive in the mind because the author has been obsessed by details of originality and cleverness. I regard this book as characteristic of the new novelists who have recently gained the attention of the alert and the curious, and I admit that I cannot yet descry any coming big novelists.
Few critics could have singled out Jacobs’ Room, James Joyce’s Ulysses, and T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land as three literary events of 1922 that marked a turning point in literature. It seems likely that Bennett, who had published novels at the rate of better than one a year for a quarter century, thought he was doing well by Woolf’s third novel. He had deemed her book original, well written, capable of attracting the alert. Could he have guessed how inevitably his remarks would fire her indignation? Her book was a curiosity in a small world, obsessively clever. She could not create character. Virginia Woolf knew a put-down when she read one....
(The entire section is 2326 words.)
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