the extraordinary canonical status of Virginia Woolf

129e63b6-4d0e-11e7-a7b8-5e01acd01516Rachel Bowlby at the Times Literary Supplement:

Now that she has attained this extraordinary status, there is no reason to think that the volume of books on her – her life, her works, her connections with just about anything – is likely to diminish. Of this recent batch, Ira Nadel’s Virginia Woolf, a mini-biography, is the oddest. It begins with the bright idea of telling the Woolf story by way of the houses she lived in, but in practice that angle is not so visible. What we get instead is an often incoherent rehash of well-known elements, interspersed with partial descriptions of some of her works. Bad writing is a constant source of confusion. At the start of one chapter: “Monk’s House, purchased for £700 by the Woolfs in 1919 and owned until 1969, was constantly improved by the Woolfs as monies permitted”. As well as the uncanny suggestion of posthumous property management (one of them having died in 1941), the repeated “by the Woolfs” makes the sentence even stranger. Throughout the book there are paragraphs harbouring phrases or sentences that seem to have been cut and pasted in without subsequent checking, so that you have to keep going back to try to work out what might have been meant. Did no one read the thing through?

A second Virginia Woolf, edited by James Acheson, is announced on its cover as “A collection of all new critical essays by contem­porary scholars”, almost as if the writing might have been run through an online plagiarism checker to be sure, with the scholars meanwhile being put through a quick and secure validation process. In fact, though there isn’t a subtitle to say so, the book’s essays are focused on Mrs Dalloway and To the Lighthouse, the two novels most often assigned for study. So the collection essentially looks like an up-to-date textbook, one of those periodic upgradings of the Woolfian wheels to fit the current critical vehicles. But it is a fine book.

more here.