The average rating for Virginia Woolf's Nose: Essays on Biography based on 2 reviews is 5 stars.
|Review # 1 was written on 2010-06-11 00:00:00|
Companion of the British Empire for Services to Literature and author of highly respected biographies of Edith Wharton and Virginia Woolf, Lee examines the art and artifice of fixing a person's life, turning it into a narrative and inevitably emphasising some points, omitting others so that only a 'likeness' can possibly emerge. The idea that a biography can be neutral, factual and true is an illusion. The question is only how much of a distortion the various 'versionings' are. She writes of the struggle for Shelley's heart which stands as a symbol for the struggle of family and friends of the subject to gain control over the way the world remembers. Being herself no small expert on Virginia Woolf she makes an unhurried, unstrident examination and criticism of how Woolf was portrayed both by Cunningham in the book and by Nicole Kidman in the film The Hours. She points out how different versions of Jane Austen have wandered the world, how it would be equally legitimate to interpret the lack of letters or other writings when she moved to Bath as a sign either of depression or of Miss Austen having such a busy social life that she had no time to write. And finally, of course she looks at 'how to end it all', how the death of the biographer's subject is always interpreted as a validation of the life and work, fixing the myth, it can almost never be contingent, random and disorderly. I found this utterly riveting, vivid and at times drily funny. Anyone who has an interest in stories about people will find it both informative and entertaining.
|Review # 2 was written on 2010-06-15 00:00:00|
Hermione Lee is a critic and biographer who's published books on Philip Roth and Elizabeth Bowen as well as biographies of Willa Cather and Virginia Woolf, the latter perhaps the definitive work on the subject's life. Here she turns her attention to the craft of biography. In considering the huge amount of information available from a variety of sources, she's concerned with how a biographer chooses what to include, what to leave out. Whose perspective to value, whose to avoid. Her essay on Shelley, especially, focuses on this issue. In writing about Woolf, she looks at how her novel Mrs Dalloway, the Michael Cunningham novel The Hours, and the film made from it serve individually to represent or distort the writer's life. Her essay on Austen addresses the discrepancy between the critical perspective of her life in the "golden age of the English gentry" and the harsh truth of Austen's lifestyle and social milieu. In the final essay Lee writes about how biographies treat the death of their literary subjects and the tendency of many to portray the death to be in the same style as the work. Lee doesn't use it much, but the operative word here is perspective. She realizes that the choices each biographer makes about the material and how that material is presented allows for such varying portraits of their subjects, sometimes amounting to invention and reinvention. An experienced practitioner in biography, Lee has interesting things to say. I admire her biography of Woolf, and some of her observations here ring convincingly.
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