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For the avid reader of English literature, this is a perfect introduction to Woolf's thoughts on a select band of writers - Bronte, Eliot, Evelyn, James Montaigne, Conrad, Hardy, Burney and Browning - and her profound view of the importance of reading and literature. They first appeared anonymously as reviews in the Times Literary Supplement, which Woolf contributed to for over 30 years as one of its star reviewers. More essays than reviews of individual works, more overviews of writers' lives and works, they take you as much into the discriminating and highly receptive mind of Woolf as they do into their subjects. In each essay she follows the line of her thought with great charm, style, and rigour, counterpoising ideas and pushing them as far as they'll reasonably go; one feels one's on a mini-intellectual journey into the heart of the author, into his or her work and reputation. She lays out something of her own approach to life - perhaps most spiritually in her essay on Montaigne, when she delves into the soul - and the result is always invigorating.
It's a gift book for any serious reader. It assumes that you are well read in the authors she deals with (and how many of us are? Are our tastes, a hundred years after she was writing, much the same?). Ali Smith, in her Preface, said "... I found myself wanting to go and read or re-read everything she'd read and written about here." It's a familiar feeling - the whole point of a great critic - but hardly practicable: I felt the same, but alas time is short. The essay-reviews should be enjoyed as dazzling texts in their own right, and perhaps as an enticement to read The Common Reader Books 1 and 2 or even the six volumes of collected essays - a banquet to this hors d'oevre.
Ali Smith's brief preface is helpful and Francesca Wade's Introduction gives an overview of the book, linking the essays to some of Woolf's other better known works and key points in her life. Altogether, a lovely book.
Mrs Woolf. Marmite, adoring fans or enraged haters. What has often surprised me is the number of enraged haters that were women. I do find the novels hard going, but I did enjoy the Diaries. These are essays and articles where she ruminates on her reading and why she enjoyed what she read. Even if she didn't like it much. Mrs Woolf could be charming, funny, and entertaining. She could also be snobbish, patronising, anti Semitic. Take it or leave it.
Virginia Woolf es una de mis autoras favoritas, pero nunca había leído sus críticas literarias en el TLS. Con una introducción de Ali Smith y otra de Francesca Wade empieza este libro de críticas sensibles e inteligentes. Se suceden Charlotte Bronte, Joseph Conrad, Henry James, hasta llegar a Montaigne. Coincido absolutamente con Woolf, nunca podría haber escrito ni una palabra con su maestría. Maravilloso que se hayan reeditado estas críticas y poder reencontrarse con Virginia