- Reviewed by
In her 1951 study of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Muriel Spark observed that "The celebration of centenary occasions has become popular; possibly because a hundred is a tidy and workable number and this age loves anything workable with a finish to its surface." Some three decades after Spark's observation, our age is still in love with the "tidy and workable number" and the centenary celebration of Virginia Woolf's birth in 1882 has produced its own share of commemorations—some more workable than others. [End Page 349]
Virginia Woolf: A Feminist Slant, edited by Jane Marcus, offers a variety of interesting essays somewhat overpowered by the overly congratulatory tone of the editor's Introduction. At the end of that Introduction Marcus writes of "our several circuitous approaches to Virginia Woolf's life and work, our feminist critical slant." The feminist slant is certainly there, but I cannot find the circuitous elements in the collection. Marcus forces an image on the collection of thirteen essays, an image that does not work because at their best the essays are clear and direct presentations of feminist critical positions. And this collection is at its best in Alice Fox's "Virginia Liked Elizabeth," a wonderfully concise yet rich exploration of Woolf's attitudes toward Elizabeth Tudor; in Beverly Ann Schlack's "Fathers in General: The Patriarchy in Virginia Woolf's Fiction"; in Louise De Salvo's "1981: Virginia Woolf at Fifteen"; and in Brenda Silver's Three Guineas Before and After: Further Answers to Correspondents," a nicely written analysis of Woolf's notebooks for Three Guineas and a report of correspondence, positive and negative, received by Woolf after that volume's publication.
Those essays are important feminist contributions to Woolf criticism. I just wish that some of the writers I have cited, as well as other contributors to the volume, threw their nets wider and brought in more nonfeminist criticism in both their texts and notes. Too often, I was struck by what for want of a better word I have to term critical inbreeding in the volume. Nonetheless this is an impressive centenary commemoration.
Less impressive is Virginia Woolf: Centennial Essays, edited by Elaine K. Ginsberg and Laura Moss Gottlieb. The title itself is a bit too awesome for this collection of sixteen essays—papers presented at the Woolf centenary celebration at West Virginia University in 1982. The price, as well, seems a bit steep for conference proceedings even though the conference must have had its dramatic moments considering Joanne Trautmann's opposition to and warning against "the current reductionism in Woolf scholarship."
I do not think that the reductionist term is a fair one to describe Jane Marcus' "Virginia Woolf and Her Violin: Mothering, Madness and Music." But Marcus certainly reduces the complex issue of Woolf's mother/mentors with a cloying metaphor of Woolf as violin-cello. Much more satisfactory in its attention to those complex relationships is Martine Stemerick's "Virginia Woolf and Julia Stephen: The Distaff Side of History." In her feminist/Marxist essay, Stemerick focuses in particular on Stella Duckworth's influence on Woolf. Interestingly enough, although Marcus and Stemerick cover much of the same material, only Stemerick footnotes Stephen Trombley's "All That Summer She Was Mad," a 1981 book that covers similar ground, particularly Woolf's strange relationship with Dr. George Savage.
Having mentioned footnotes, I want to praise Evelyn Haller's wideranging notes for "The Anti-Madonna in the Work and Thought of Virginia Woolf"; the notes provide a rich background for Woolf's little known (certainly by me) interest in Egyptology. Haller's text, also, is an effective analysis of Egyptian allusions in...