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Virginia Woolf (by Quentin Bell)

I immersed myself in the pages of this intimate and comprehensive portrait of Virginia Woolf, one of the most celebrated writers of the 20th century. The author, Quentin Bell, had a close personal relationship with her – he was her nephew.

Divided into two parts, the first covers Woolf’s childhood, adolescence, and goes until she was 30 years old. While this section contains undoubtedly valuable background information on Woolf’s upbringing and later years, I found it to be a bit slow-paced.

The second part of the biography covers her life from her engagement to Leonard Woolf to her last day of life, going through her literary career. This is where Bell’s writing truly shines – engaging, well written, full of details, and juicy enough to keep me up late at night.

For me, one of the most thought-provoking aspects of Woolf’s world is her mental illness, and its impact on her life and work. It forces me to question whether her struggles with mental illness, which affected her so much as a woman, perhaps gave back to her as a writer. In other words, could we have had her work without her struggles? I will never receive an answer, nonetheless I’m left wanting to learn even more about her, so I’m looking forward to reading her biography by Hermione Lee.

Recommended For:

Anyone interested in the life and work of Virginia Woolf, as well as those interested in the literary and cultural history of the early 20th century.

Due to its length and level of detail, this book may not be suitable for casual readers who are looking for a quick and easy read.

Title: Virginia Woolf – A Biography
Author: Quentin Bell
Year First Published: 1971
Content Warnings: Sexual assault, Suicidal thoughts, Suicide

From Goodreads:

As the nephew of Virginia Woolf, Quentin Bell enjoyed an initimacy with his subject granted to few biographers.

Originally published in two volumes in 1972, his acclaimed biography describes Virginia Woolf’s family and childhood; her earliest writings; the formation of the Bloomsbury Group; her marriage to Leonard Woolf; the mental breakdown of the years 1912-15; the origins and growth of the Hogarth Press; her friendships with T. S. Eliot, Katherine Mansfield and Vita Sackvill-West; her struggles to write The Waves and The Years; and the political and personal distresses of her last decade.

Compelling, moving and entertaining, Quentin Bell’s biography was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize. It is a fitting tribute to a remarkable and complex woman, one of the greatest writers of the century.