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Hellenism and Loss in the Work of Virginia Woolf. Theodore Koulouris. Farnham, VT: Ashgate, 2011. Pp. x + 242. $60.00 (cloth, eBook).
Virginia Woolf and the Migrations of Language. Emily Dalgarno. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012. Pp. xi + 215. $99.00 (cloth); $79.00 (eBook).
Visuality and Spatiality in Virginia Woolf’s Fiction. Savina Stevanato. Oxford: Peter Lang, 2012. Pp. xiii + 293. $66.95 (paper); $66.95 (eBook).

All three of these books on Virginia Woolf are preoccupied, one way or another, with loss, which is something more widely preoccupying modernist studies at the moment (if it ever went away),1 and something on which Woolf herself was certainly a seasoned expert. “Thank you for your letter. I don’t think there is any good in going through these things—and it is all pure loss,” wrote Virginia Stephen from her father’s deathbed in February 1904 to Janet Case, her tutor in Classical Greek, who also became her close friend and mentor: “But that one realises afterwards. You see I’m not in a pious frame of mind! / But we have all been so happy together and there never was anybody so loveable.”2 Woolf’s relationship with the highly able, and openly feminist, scholar “Miss Case” was such that she was able to admit to cheerful impiety at this moment of impending bereavement. Indeed, in her next missive, she confesses her hand to be “paralytic with virtuous letters”3 to those numerous correspondents for whom the conventional pieties that the imminent loss of Leslie Stephen, the great Victorian patriarch of letters, however atheistic himself, would seem to demand of them in their condolences to his equally atheistic daughter. But this fledgling author (she had published a mere handful of book reviews by this point), aged twenty-two, could write privately then, with some quiet and personal authority, on the aftermath of “pure loss”: at thirteen, she had suffered [End Page 389] the loss of her mother, compounded at fifteen by that of her stepsister Stella, newly wed and in bloom. Much later, at fifty-eight and by then a major literary force, Virginia Woolf reflected on how that second death had felt to her “unprotected, unformed, unshielded” adolescent self: “as if one had been violently cheated of some promise; more than that, brutally told not to be such a fool as to hope for things … the blow, the second blow of death struck on me; tremulous, filmy eyed as I was, with my wings still creased, sitting there on the edge of my broken chrysalis.”4

Leslie Stephen’s egregious and tyrannical mourning during his second widowhood took such a toll on his surviving children that it is little wonder his eventual passing represented in some respects a respite from mourning itself. Had he lived into his nineties, “[h]is life would have entirely ended mine,” Woolf speculated in November 1928: “What would have happened? No writing, no books—inconceivable.”5 It was a liberation in other ways too: “Everything was going to be new; everything was going to be different. Everything was on trial.”6 There were further “sledge-hammer” blows7 to follow those early family bereavements, not least the death of Woolf’s brother, Thoby Stephen, who died in 1906 of typhoid contracted on an ill-fated holiday with his siblings in Greece. But returning in the summer of 1940 to inspect that younger self on the chrysalis edge, and in a startling (and modernist) coup de grâce, Woolf cuts from this image of the earlier, bereaved, pupating self to darker news of more immediate, and widespread, and cataclysmic mortal portent: “Yesterday (18 August 1940) five German raiders passed so close over Monks House that they brushed the tree at the gate. But being alive today, and having a waste hour on my hands—for I am writing fiction; and cannot write after twelve—I will go on with this loose story.”8 Such affirmation of the act of writing by writing, as undertaken by an unarmed civilian—in the midst of war and as counter to war—may be understood to resonate in much of...


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