Virginia Woolf

A Portrait

Viviane Forrester. Translated by Jody Gladding.

Columbia University Press

Virginia Woolf

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Pub Date: January 2018

ISBN: 9780231153577

256 Pages

Format: Paperback

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Pub Date: May 2015

ISBN: 9780231153560

256 Pages

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Pub Date: May 2015

ISBN: 9780231535120

256 Pages

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Virginia Woolf

A Portrait

Viviane Forrester. Translated by Jody Gladding.

Columbia University Press

Winner of the prestigious Prix Goncourt award for biography, this remarkable portrait sheds new light on Virginia Woolf's relationships with her family and friends and how they shaped her work. Virginia Woolf: A Portrait blends recently unearthed documents, key primary sources, and personal interviews with Woolf's relatives and other acquaintances to render in unmatched detail the author's complicated relationship with her husband, Leonard; her father, Leslie Stephen; and her half-sister, Vanessa Bell. Forrester connects these figures to Woolf's mental breakdown while introducing the concept of "Virginia seule," or Virginia alone: an uncommon paragon of female strength and conviction. Forrester's biography inhabits her characters and vivifies their perspective, weaving a colorful, intense drama that forces readers to rethink their understanding of Woolf, her writing, and her world.
Virginia Woolf was the object of considerable mystery. Viviane Forrester not only tells us about this mystery but clarifies it. At the beginning, the biographer announces that she will shatter equivocal and false portraits. She does precisely that. The result marks a decisive break in the knowledge we thought we had of this English writer. Forrester crosses the threshold of truth. Without reproving those who wrote before her, knowing what was said and how, Forrester provides a staggering analysis of the youth, marriage, work, and world of Woolf. She tracks, close up, the internal defense mechanisms and means of protection that veil the truth. In a style as poetic as the novelist/poetess deserves, Forrester throws light on the life and the death, Woolf's two tragedies, and reveals the price of her scintillating work. Alice Ferney, Le Figaro
Over the years, Viviane Forrester has read and annotated all the journals of Woolf, the five volumes of her correspondence, including, among other things, the letters from her father, Leslie Stephen, and those from her sister, Vanessa Bell, whom Virginia idolized and envied her entire life. Such a considerable quantity of fragments of a vast, complex mosaic, assembled here by the biographer, provides a new vision of Woolf. We discover her close up, fleeing, uncatchable, by turn fragile, ferocious, resplendent, or perverse.... In a lively and limpid style, Forrester attacks first the myths that have calcified around Woolf. First among them, that of her 'madness.' Under the sharp pen of Forrester, therefore, Virginia is not mad, nor is she a martyr. Lila Azam Zanganeh, LE MONDE
An engrossing, intimate, and deeply empathetic portrayal of a brilliant and enigmatic woman. Kirkus Reviews
Nimbly moving from one fragmentary impression to another, Forrester challenges the idea (proposed by Woolf's nephew, Quentin Bell, in his biography of her) that Woolf was afflicted with mental illness and suicidal impulses when she was a teenager. Instead, Forrester offers the portrait of a woman who strove to strip away any illusions and capture the rhythms of reality in her writings. Publishers Weekly
Intriguing.... Illuminating.... Readers interested in Virginia Woolf, the Bloomsbury circle, and early twentieth-century modernist writers will require this biography. Library Journal
[A] brilliant, provocative biography. Jocelyn McClurg, USA Today
[Virginia Woolf: A Portrait] offers unexpected insights and useful challenges to settled ideas about Woolf, her friendships, her marriage, and her imagination. Anne Fernald, Open Letters Monthly
A provocative portrait, richly woven with Woolf's distinctive voice and Forrester's faithful echo. Maureen McCarthy, Star Tribune
Forrester should be commended for attempting to produce a portrait based almost entirely on primary sources, one that tries to get back to the essence of Woolf in her own words. Drew Patrick Shannon, MFS: Modern Fiction Studies

About the Author

Viviane Forrester (1925-2013) was a writer, essayist, novelist, and literary critic. She worked for Le Monde, Le Nouvel Observateur, and Quinzaine littéraire and was a member of the jury of the Prix Femina. She translated Virginia Woolf's essay "Three Guineas" and is the author of The Economic Horror, Van Gogh ou l'Enterrement dans les blés, and Une etrange dictature.

Jody Gladding is a poet who has translated some thirty works from French.