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"My God, how does one write a biography?" Virginia Woolf once asked. Hermione Lee begins her biography, Virginia Woolf, with the same question. Over the years, many biographers have approached Woolf from various directions: she was mad; she was abused; she was weak; she was a survivor. Quentin Bell, Woolf's nephew, wrote his biography of Woolf from a relative's perspective; now Hermione Lee presents yet another interpretation of the great writer's life. Certainly, she had her work cut out. Virginia Woolf was famous among her contemporaries for exaggeration and invention, making even her private diaries suspect, yet often within the pages of her fiction exist solid strands of autobiography. "The life-writer must explore and understand the gap between the outer self...and the secret self," Lee writes. In compiling her account of Woolf's life, she attempted to encompass both selves by researching letters, diaries, and personal papers, as well as Woolf's published works and previous biographies. Amazingly, she has organised this mass of information to present a clear and forceful picture of a woman who was brave, brilliant, and all too aware of the contradictions that raged within her. Virginia Woolf is a well written, well considered portrait befitting its maddeningly elusive subject.
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