A Seattle Times article examines the fascination Virginia Woolf still inspires.
According to the Bookslut blog, it’s Woolf’s “life people are fascinated with, not her books.” Bookslut continues:
Lately it’s been [in] vogue for critics to diminish her talent, to say she doesn’t deserve the attention she gets. It is actually difficult to find someone who has read any of her novels (I’ve read Orlando, but haven’t been able to get through anything else). It’s her diaries that most people have read.
I too have noticed the trend toward devaluing Woolf’s writing. But I, for one, haven’t read Woolf’s diaries. It’s her novels I know.
I agree that many, if not most, contemporary readers are drawn to Woolf because of her life and suicide (particularly since the publication of Cunningham’s novel and the release of the film adaptation).
But To The Lighthouse was required reading for the Twentieth Century British Literature course I took in college. And while the novel, like Woolf’s prose generally, was not facile (it required careful reading), in the end I thought it was as impressive as some of Joyce’s best work.
I read Mrs. Dalloway more recently, at the recommendation of my last writing professor. I’d forgotten that reading Woolf takes time. But it was an outstanding accomplishment. So outstanding, in fact, that it inspired me to revisit To The Lighthouse on my recent trip to Florida.
I guess A Room of One’s Own has fallen out of favor, but I keep a copy in my office at home, next to my dictionary and my thesaurus. Maybe it’s a cliche. Sue me.
Anyway, sure, Woolf’s life was tragic, and that tragedy is something that helps draw new readers to her work.
But her talent has been respected by formidable writers, writers as diverse as Eudora Welty (who wrote an introduction to To The Lighthouse and who, according to at least one scholar, “assimilates and transforms in each of her major novels the concerns she inherited from Woolf”) and Jorge Luis Borges (who translated Orlando and A Room of One’s Own).
So I’m not ready to jump on the bandwagon of Woolf naysayers…