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ELT 48 : 1 2005 Woolf & Ten Women Vanessa Curtis. Virginia Woolf's Women. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2002. 224 pp. $27.95 ONE MIGHT WONDER after a daunting spate of biographies including , most prominently, Quentin Bell's Virginia Woolf: A Biography (1972) and Hermione Lee's Virginia Woolf (1997), what more remains to be written about Virginia Woolf's life and relationships with family and friends. Vanessa Curtis recognizes this but argues in her sixth chapter, "Vita," that "it is still possible for the contemporary biographer to extract , here and there, a nugget of new information or a sliver of truth perhaps previously left unexplored." The question, then, is whether or not such nuggets and slivers warrant an entire book devoted to Woolf s female relatives and friends. Curtis proceeds chronologically to select ten women who presumably most influenced Woolf's life and writing from the early triad of Maria (Woolf s maternal grandmother), Julia (mother) and Stella (elder stepsister ), all of whom were dead by 1897, to composer Ethel Smyth who, though twenty-four years older than Woolf, lived two years beyond the latter's death in 1941. According to Curtis, "Each of these women was able to extract different strands of Woolf 's personality from the complex, multifarious web that was Virginia's mind." Chapters one and two are devoted to a discussion of Woolf s female relatives with the first chapter honing in especially on Julia Stephen and Stella and the impact of their deaths on the teenage Virginia. Curtis attributes Woolf's lifelong eating disorder and her ambivalence about heterosexual love to these early deaths, but she does not marshal new evidence—psychoanalytic or feminist—to support her claims. Most interesting because an example of one of the discovered "slivers" is her allusion to Stella's unpublished diary of 1893 which records the family's daily life in London and St. Ives. Chapter two, "Vanessa," largely retreads ground previously visited by Frances Spalding's biography of Vanessa Bell and Diane Gillespie's The Sisters' Arts: The Writing and Painting of Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell. Here Curtis is not particularly illuminating, especially in her brief analyses equating Vanessa with specific characters in Woolf's first two books, A Voyage Out and Night and Day, and later in To the Lighthouse. Such reductively biographical readings of the novels pervade Curtis's discussion throughout the book. 122 BOOK REVIEWS Chapter three, "Violet," chronicles the friendship of the young Virginia Stephen and the older (by seventeen years) Violet Dickinson and suggests that Virginia turned to Violet for solace during Woolf's father Leslie Stephen's final years and particularly during the well-documented summer of madness after his death in 1904 when Virginia was taken to Violet's home to recuperate. Curtis sees in Virginia's tribute to Violet, Friendship's Garland, feminist kernels that would later emerge in A Room of One's Own, The Years and Three Guineas, but that the early tribute "lead[s] naturally to comparisons" with these later works is unconvincing . Chapter four, "Ottoline and Katherine," uses the tenuous connection of Garsington, Ottoline Morrell's country house, where Lytton Strachey first met Katherine Mansfield, to combine Woolf's two otherwise distinctly different female friends into one chapter. Particularly in her discussion of lesbian threads in Mansfield's and Woolf s writing, Curtis tries to adduce mutual influence in spite of noticeably different writing styles. Just as Lytton Strachey provides the impetus for the connection of Ottoline and Katherine, he undergirds chapter five, "Carrington ," in which Curtis presents a sad portrait of the young painter and occasional rival for Lytton's affection. Curtis suggests that Carrington's suicide had an unusually strong impact on Woolf and strengthened the latter's desire—at least temporarily—to remain living. Chapters six and seven delineate the last two major friendships in Woolf s life, the first with Vita Sackville-West and the final one with Ethel Smyth. Curtis reproduces a statement by Vita's son Nigel Nicolson from his recent biography of Woolf to dispute earlier claims that Vita harbored maternal feelings toward Virginia, but she concludes that Vita helped—both physically and emotionally—to bolster Woolf's...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 122-124
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
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