Wednesday, November 30, 2011

On Fiction - A Review

Our thanks to Hesperus Press for sending us a review copy of this book:

On Fiction
Virginia Woolf
Hesperus Press (On series)
Publication Date: October 2011
ISBN 13: 9781843916185
ISBN 10: 1843916185

Here, then, very briefly and with inevitable simplification, an attempt is made to show the mind at work upon a shelf full of novels and to watch it as it chooses and rejects, making itself a dwelling-place in accordance with its own appetites. Of these appetites, perhaps, the simplest is the desire to believe wholly and entirely in something which is fictitious.’
Her readings sensitive, her prose style elegant, authoritative and at times thoroughly opinionated, who better equipped than Virginia Woolf to ruminate on the art of fiction? In this selection of lesser-known essays on reading and storytelling, Woolf turns her critical gaze on treasured favourites including ‘the four great women novelists – Jane Austen, Emily Brontë, Charlotte Brontë and George Eliot’, and unearths some less familiar talents. Her discussion of differing approaches to reading is characteristically forward-thinking, and pinpoints the joys of this favourite pastime, in all its guises.
Whether one agrees with her or not, it is always an interesting pleasure to read Virginia Woolf's thoughts on anything but particularly her eloquent arguments on fiction and literature.

This short anthology recently published by Hesperus Press combines four of her essays(1)on the subject where she discusses many aspects of literature, creative writing, etc. and in which she mentions the Brontës from time to time. In The Narrow Bridge of Art she praises Charlotte Brontë's description at the end of Villette while in Phases of Fiction she includes Emily Brontë and her Wuthering Heights in the group of 'the poets' claiming that
Wuthering Heights again is steeped in poetry. But here there is a difference, for one can hardly say that the profound poetry of the scene where Catherine pulls the feathers from the pillow has anything to do with our knowledge of hers or adds to our understanding or our feeling about her future. Rather it deepens and controls the wild, stormy atmosphere of the whole book. By a master stroke of vision, rarer in prose than in poetry, people and scenery and atmosphere are all in keeping. And, what is still rarer amd more impressive, through that atmosphere we seem to catch sight of larger men and women, of other symbols and significances.
But undoubtedly, the more relevant of the essays at least as far as the Brontës are concerned is the last, Women and Fiction, published in 1929 only a few months before the seminal A Room of One's Own, when her mind was already advancing the themes that would make up the lager essay. It makes for a great introductory text and is a great read which, just like A Room of One's Own, is still relevant today.

A great way of approaching Virginia Woolf the essayist by (a remote) way of the Brontës.

Notes:
(1) Hours in a library  (1916); The Narrow Bridge of Art (1927); Phases of Fiction (1929) and Women and Fiction (1929)

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