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Virginia Woolf: And the Women Who Shaped Her World

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An insightful, witty look at Virginia Woolf through the lens of the extraordinary women closest to her. How did Adeline Virginia Stephen become the great writer Virginia Woolf? Acclaimed biographer Gillian Gill tells the stories of the women whose legacies—of strength, style, and creativity—shaped Woolf’s path to the radical writing that inspires so many today. Gill casts An insightful, witty look at Virginia Woolf through the lens of the extraordinary women closest to her. How did Adeline Virginia Stephen become the great writer Virginia Woolf? Acclaimed biographer Gillian Gill tells the stories of the women whose legacies—of strength, style, and creativity—shaped Woolf’s path to the radical writing that inspires so many today.    Gill casts back to Woolf’s French-Anglo-Indian maternal great-grandmother Thérèse de L’Etang, an outsider to English culture whose beauty passed powerfully down the female line; and to Woolf’s aunt Anne Thackeray Ritchie, who gave Woolf her first vision of a successful female writer.  Yet it was the women in her own family circle who had the most complex and lasting effect on Woolf.  Her mother, Julia, and sisters Stella, Laura, and Vanessa were all, like Woolf herself, but in markedly different ways, warped by the male-dominated household they lived in.  Finally, Gill shifts the lens onto the famous Bloomsbury group.  This, Gill convinces, is where Woolf called upon the legacy of the women who shaped her to transform a group of men--united in their love for one another and their disregard for women--into a society in which Woolf ultimately found her freedom and her voice.    


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An insightful, witty look at Virginia Woolf through the lens of the extraordinary women closest to her. How did Adeline Virginia Stephen become the great writer Virginia Woolf? Acclaimed biographer Gillian Gill tells the stories of the women whose legacies—of strength, style, and creativity—shaped Woolf’s path to the radical writing that inspires so many today. Gill casts An insightful, witty look at Virginia Woolf through the lens of the extraordinary women closest to her. How did Adeline Virginia Stephen become the great writer Virginia Woolf? Acclaimed biographer Gillian Gill tells the stories of the women whose legacies—of strength, style, and creativity—shaped Woolf’s path to the radical writing that inspires so many today.    Gill casts back to Woolf’s French-Anglo-Indian maternal great-grandmother Thérèse de L’Etang, an outsider to English culture whose beauty passed powerfully down the female line; and to Woolf’s aunt Anne Thackeray Ritchie, who gave Woolf her first vision of a successful female writer.  Yet it was the women in her own family circle who had the most complex and lasting effect on Woolf.  Her mother, Julia, and sisters Stella, Laura, and Vanessa were all, like Woolf herself, but in markedly different ways, warped by the male-dominated household they lived in.  Finally, Gill shifts the lens onto the famous Bloomsbury group.  This, Gill convinces, is where Woolf called upon the legacy of the women who shaped her to transform a group of men--united in their love for one another and their disregard for women--into a society in which Woolf ultimately found her freedom and her voice.    

45 review for Virginia Woolf: And the Women Who Shaped Her World

  1. 4 out of 5

    Joseph Spuckler

    Virginia Woolf: And the Women Who Shaped Her World by Gillian Gill is a biography of Virginia Woolf and her forebearers. Gill, who holds a Ph.D. in modern French literature from Cambridge University, has taught at Northeastern, Wellesley, Yale, and Harvard. She is the author of We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals; Nightingales: The Extraordinary Upbringing and Curious Life of Miss Florence Nightingale; Agatha Christie: The Woman and Her Mysteries; and Mary Baker Eddy. There are Virginia Woolf: And the Women Who Shaped Her World by Gillian Gill is a biography of Virginia Woolf and her forebearers. Gill, who holds a Ph.D. in modern French literature from Cambridge University, has taught at Northeastern, Wellesley, Yale, and Harvard. She is the author of We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals; Nightingales: The Extraordinary Upbringing and Curious Life of Miss Florence Nightingale; Agatha Christie: The Woman and Her Mysteries; and Mary Baker Eddy. There are plenty of biographies of Virginia (née Stephen)Woolf as well as her collected letters and diaries. Her life still does hold a few mysteries, one very large aspect of her life, is covered in detail by Gill but not universally agreed on by Woolf scholars. Gill's work, however, is almost a prequel of Woolf. She goes back several generations to explore her French and Indian family background. In digging deeper into Woolf's past, Gill explores the topic of mental illness in the Stephens lineage which affected many of Virginia's generation. Her Sister Vanessa was susceptible to breakdowns, another sister was institutionalized, and both her brothers showed signs of Cyclothymia. Although most of us would consider the middle of the 20th century as modern times, it is surprising how little was known about mental illness and its treatment. Another aspect that is covered in this book is sexuality especially among those of the Bloomsbury Group and the upper levels of society. Homosexuality was more common than one would expect and there were more than a few show marriages meant to hide the crime of homosexuality. Although well known in the upper circles, it remained a secret from the public. Private matters were deemed to remain private. Gill ties in another term that was prevalent in England at the time and expands on it: homosocially. Segregation by sex was very common and began in early schooling and lasted through the university experience. The use of Jacob's Room is used to explain some of the concepts when Jacob decides to go swimming (skinny dipping) and to sun-dry afterward -- nudity among men was commonplace and although did not mean homosexuality, it may have encouraged it in some. Virginia Woolf: And the Women Who Shaped Her World is a well researched and very well documented work of the Stephens and Jackson (maternal) families. It examines the society that Virginia Woolf was raised in and lived as well as her personal conflicts. The Victorian society that shaped her early years. Her lack of formal education, but reading from a large family library. Her promiscuous friends and her abstinence.  It is also one of the few biographies where Woolf's mental illness is not sensationalized and her relationship with Vita Sackville-West is not made a center point of her life.  Virginia Woolf's life in many ways has strong ties to her ancestry and to the historical setting in which she lived. Gill does an outstanding job of providing a more complete picture of one of England's greatest 20th-century writers.  

  2. 4 out of 5

    Linden

    Gillian Gill presents an extensively researched life of Virginia Woolf, including her ancestors and early influences in addition to the Bloomsbury Group. There was a fair amount of unpleasantness discussed; the Bloomsbury members were a rather licentious lot. Virginia and Leonard Woolf weren’t sleeping around, but apparently everyone else was. Virginia, Vanessa, and their mentally disabled half-sister were said to have been sexually abused by a creepy older half-brother, and a man who admired Gillian Gill presents an extensively researched life of Virginia Woolf, including her ancestors and early influences in addition to the Bloomsbury Group. There was a fair amount of unpleasantness discussed; the Bloomsbury members were a rather licentious lot. Virginia and Leonard Woolf weren’t sleeping around, but apparently everyone else was. Virginia, Vanessa, and their mentally disabled half-sister were said to have been sexually abused by a creepy older half-brother, and a man who admired Vanessa’s baby daughter decided he’d marry her when she grew up. He did, and unsurprisingly was a terrible husband. Recommended for anyone who has read and enjoyed Woolf’s writing.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Elisa

    An uneasy mixture of gossip and fact-finding, insufficiently scholarly to stand as a contribution to Woolf Studies but more detailed than the common reader is likely to want or need. While it is useful to have all this info on the various women in Woolf's life collected in one place, there is not much new here, especially in terms of Woolf's late relationships with Vanessa, Vita, and Ethyl Smythe. Book is best on Pattledom and the women who influenced the young Virginia Stephen, but I felt there An uneasy mixture of gossip and fact-finding, insufficiently scholarly to stand as a contribution to Woolf Studies but more detailed than the common reader is likely to want or need. While it is useful to have all this info on the various women in Woolf's life collected in one place, there is not much new here, especially in terms of Woolf's late relationships with Vanessa, Vita, and Ethyl Smythe. Book is best on Pattledom and the women who influenced the young Virginia Stephen, but I felt there was a chapter missing on Violet Dickinson. Chief problem was the sureness with which the author asserted deductions and conclusions about complex, ambiguous matters, like the idea that Woolf disliked and distrusted Clive Bell or that Vita was in anyway responsible for the surge of genius that produced To the Lighthouse. This appearance of certainty is accompanied by small carelessness that undercut such judgements. For instance, the statement that Vita was "furious" at how Woolf portrayed her in Orlando is not supported, and the somewhat contradictory additional comment that Vita knew the book was one "supreme love letter," puts the words of Vita's son Nigel into Vita's mouth without attribution. Trekki Parson's was NOT Leonard's "second wife"; she remained married to Ian Parsons until the end of her life. Some biographies of Woolf (such as Hermione Lee's masterwork and Alexandra Harris's more recent and shorter overview) strike one as having done justice to the available evidence and taken the most reasonable stance. This one seems in turn both opinionated and careless.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kay

    Virginia Woolf is one of those names people know even if they wonder why they should be afraid of her. I admit that I haven't read any of Virginia Woolf's works yet, but this book now makes me want to do this. This book, primarily about the women who shaped her world as titled, also includes a lot about the men who were just as influential. For example, she wouldn't have that catchy last name of Woolf if she had not married Leonard Woolf who I find equally as interesting. I was delighted to Virginia Woolf is one of those names people know even if they wonder why they should be afraid of her. I admit that I haven't read any of Virginia Woolf's works yet, but this book now makes me want to do this. This book, primarily about the women who shaped her world as titled, also includes a lot about the men who were just as influential. For example, she wouldn't have that catchy last name of Woolf if she had not married Leonard Woolf who I find equally as interesting. I was delighted to learn more about the 19th century photographer, Julia Cameron, whose work I admire without knowing her connection to Virginia Woolf. For me, this book is a fascinating look at Victorian and Edwardian England among an affluent segment of society who still felt, as affluent people do today, that they are struggling while still actively pursuing social climbing. The women portrayed in this book are shown as an amazing group of women, doing the best they could often under challenging circumstances. I found this book very engaging and found myself choosing to read this over other activities. This book shows a lot of the societal restrictions for women, and actually everybody in Victorian times, as well as the deplorable state of health care of the era. This book made me a lot more sympathetic to Virginia Woolf's essentially life-long suffering from serious bouts of mental illness. It made how her life ended more understandable. As I read this in Dec. 2019, The Hours is currently on Amazon Prime. I started watching it as soon as I finished the book for reading this makes The Hours so much more meaningful and brings Virginia Woolf and her family to life for me. (I watched The Hours many years ago when it came out but it just seemed a sad movie - now I understand it so much more.)

  5. 4 out of 5

    Sharyn Berg

    This book left me feeling like I knew everyone in Virginia Woolf’s extended family and all their drama and issues. Apparently the Victorian age was not quite as Victorian as we like to think in this day and time. From what I read here, it appears that everybody was having sex with everybody else regardless of male or female, married or single, old or young! Some of it was very open, some of it was clandestine, and some of it was known but never spoken of. Virginia came from a troubled time and a This book left me feeling like I knew everyone in Virginia Woolf’s extended family and all their drama and issues. Apparently the Victorian age was not quite as Victorian as we like to think in this day and time. From what I read here, it appears that everybody was having sex with everybody else regardless of male or female, married or single, old or young! Some of it was very open, some of it was clandestine, and some of it was known but never spoken of. Virginia came from a troubled time and a troubled family and used her writing to try to work through it all. Most of the characters in her books were people that she knew, sometimes disguised, and sometimes not at all. I suppose her writing was cathartic for her,though apparently not healing enough, as per her tragic, untimely death. Thank you to NetGalley for this advanced read copy, I enjoyed the book and learned a lot.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Miguel

  7. 5 out of 5

    Olivia

  8. 4 out of 5

    Bri

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mary

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette Michalets

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jane

  12. 4 out of 5

    Riyaaadh_j

  13. 5 out of 5

    Paige Kliewer-McClellan

  14. 5 out of 5

    Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

  15. 4 out of 5

    Karen

  16. 4 out of 5

    Joseph Spuckler

    Virginia Woolf: And the Women Who Shaped Her World by Gillian Gill is a biography of Virginia Woolf and her forebearers. Gill, who holds a Ph.D. in modern French literature from Cambridge University, has taught at Northeastern, Wellesley, Yale, and Harvard. She is the author of We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals; Nightingales: The Extraordinary Upbringing and Curious Life of Miss Florence Nightingale; Agatha Christie: The Woman and Her Mysteries; and Mary Baker Eddy. There are Virginia Woolf: And the Women Who Shaped Her World by Gillian Gill is a biography of Virginia Woolf and her forebearers. Gill, who holds a Ph.D. in modern French literature from Cambridge University, has taught at Northeastern, Wellesley, Yale, and Harvard. She is the author of We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals; Nightingales: The Extraordinary Upbringing and Curious Life of Miss Florence Nightingale; Agatha Christie: The Woman and Her Mysteries; and Mary Baker Eddy. There are plenty of biographies of Virginia (née Stephen)Woolf as well as her collected letters and diaries. Her life still does hold a few mysteries, one very large aspect of her life, is covered in detail by Gill but not universally agreed on by Woolf scholars. Gill's work, however, is almost a prequel of Woolf. She goes back several generations to explore her French and Indian family background. In digging deeper into Woolf's past, Gill explores the topic of mental illness in the Stephens lineage which affected many of Virginia's generation. Her Sister Vanessa was susceptible to breakdowns, another sister was institutionalized, and both her brothers showed signs of Cyclothymia. Although most of us would consider the middle of the 20th century as modern times, it is surprising how little was known about mental illness and its treatment. Another aspect that is covered in this book is sexuality especially among those of the Bloomsbury Group and the upper levels of society. Homosexuality was more common than one would expect and there were more than a few show marriages meant to hide the crime of homosexuality. Although well known in the upper circles, it remained a secret from the public. Private matters were deemed to remain private. Gill ties in another term that was prevalent in England at the time and expands on it: homosocially. Segregation by sex was very common and began in early schooling and lasted through the university experience. The use of Jacob's Room is used to explain some of the concepts when Jacob decides to go swimming (skinny dipping) and to sun-dry afterward -- nudity among men was commonplace and although did not mean homosexuality, it may have encouraged it in some. Virginia Woolf: And the Women Who Shaped Her World is a well researched and very well documented work of the Stephens and Jackson (maternal) families. It examines the society that Virginia Woolf was raised in and lived as well as her personal conflicts. The Victorian society that shaped her early years. Her lack of formal education, but reading from a large family library. Her promiscuous friends and her abstinence.  It is also one of the few biographies where Woolf's mental illness is not sensationalized and her relationship with Vita Sackville-West is not made a center point of her life.  Virginia Woolf's life in many ways has strong ties to her ancestry and to the historical setting in which she lived. Gill does an outstanding job of providing a more complete picture of one of England's greatest 20th-century writers.  

  17. 5 out of 5

    Linden

    Gillian Gill presents an extensively researched life of Virginia Woolf, including her ancestors and early influences in addition to the Bloomsbury Group. There was a fair amount of unpleasantness discussed; the Bloomsbury members were a rather licentious lot. Virginia and Leonard Woolf weren’t sleeping around, but apparently everyone else was. Virginia, Vanessa, and their mentally disabled half-sister were said to have been sexually abused by a creepy older half-brother, and a man who admired Gillian Gill presents an extensively researched life of Virginia Woolf, including her ancestors and early influences in addition to the Bloomsbury Group. There was a fair amount of unpleasantness discussed; the Bloomsbury members were a rather licentious lot. Virginia and Leonard Woolf weren’t sleeping around, but apparently everyone else was. Virginia, Vanessa, and their mentally disabled half-sister were said to have been sexually abused by a creepy older half-brother, and a man who admired Vanessa’s baby daughter decided he’d marry her when she grew up. He did, and unsurprisingly was a terrible husband. Recommended for anyone who has read and enjoyed Woolf’s writing.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Elisa

    An uneasy mixture of gossip and fact-finding, insufficiently scholarly to stand as a contribution to Woolf Studies but more detailed than the common reader is likely to want or need. While it is useful to have all this info on the various women in Woolf's life collected in one place, there is not much new here, especially in terms of Woolf's late relationships with Vanessa, Vita, and Ethyl Smythe. Book is best on Pattledom and the women who influenced the young Virginia Stephen, but I felt there An uneasy mixture of gossip and fact-finding, insufficiently scholarly to stand as a contribution to Woolf Studies but more detailed than the common reader is likely to want or need. While it is useful to have all this info on the various women in Woolf's life collected in one place, there is not much new here, especially in terms of Woolf's late relationships with Vanessa, Vita, and Ethyl Smythe. Book is best on Pattledom and the women who influenced the young Virginia Stephen, but I felt there was a chapter missing on Violet Dickinson. Chief problem was the sureness with which the author asserted deductions and conclusions about complex, ambiguous matters, like the idea that Woolf disliked and distrusted Clive Bell or that Vita was in anyway responsible for the surge of genius that produced To the Lighthouse. This appearance of certainty is accompanied by small carelessness that undercut such judgements. For instance, the statement that Vita was "furious" at how Woolf portrayed her in Orlando is not supported, and the somewhat contradictory additional comment that Vita knew the book was one "supreme love letter," puts the words of Vita's son Nigel into Vita's mouth without attribution. Trekki Parson's was NOT Leonard's "second wife"; she remained married to Ian Parsons until the end of her life. Some biographies of Woolf (such as Hermione Lee's masterwork and Alexandra Harris's more recent and shorter overview) strike one as having done justice to the available evidence and taken the most reasonable stance. This one seems in turn both opinionated and careless.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kay

    Virginia Woolf is one of those names people know even if they wonder why they should be afraid of her. I admit that I haven't read any of Virginia Woolf's works yet, but this book now makes me want to do this. This book, primarily about the women who shaped her world as titled, also includes a lot about the men who were just as influential. For example, she wouldn't have that catchy last name of Woolf if she had not married Leonard Woolf who I find equally as interesting. I was delighted to Virginia Woolf is one of those names people know even if they wonder why they should be afraid of her. I admit that I haven't read any of Virginia Woolf's works yet, but this book now makes me want to do this. This book, primarily about the women who shaped her world as titled, also includes a lot about the men who were just as influential. For example, she wouldn't have that catchy last name of Woolf if she had not married Leonard Woolf who I find equally as interesting. I was delighted to learn more about the 19th century photographer, Julia Cameron, whose work I admire without knowing her connection to Virginia Woolf. For me, this book is a fascinating look at Victorian and Edwardian England among an affluent segment of society who still felt, as affluent people do today, that they are struggling while still actively pursuing social climbing. The women portrayed in this book are shown as an amazing group of women, doing the best they could often under challenging circumstances. I found this book very engaging and found myself choosing to read this over other activities. This book shows a lot of the societal restrictions for women, and actually everybody in Victorian times, as well as the deplorable state of health care of the era. This book made me a lot more sympathetic to Virginia Woolf's essentially life-long suffering from serious bouts of mental illness. It made how her life ended more understandable. As I read this in Dec. 2019, The Hours is currently on Amazon Prime. I started watching it as soon as I finished the book for reading this makes The Hours so much more meaningful and brings Virginia Woolf and her family to life for me. (I watched The Hours many years ago when it came out but it just seemed a sad movie - now I understand it so much more.)

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sharyn Berg

    This book left me feeling like I knew everyone in Virginia Woolf’s extended family and all their drama and issues. Apparently the Victorian age was not quite as Victorian as we like to think in this day and time. From what I read here, it appears that everybody was having sex with everybody else regardless of male or female, married or single, old or young! Some of it was very open, some of it was clandestine, and some of it was known but never spoken of. Virginia came from a troubled time and a This book left me feeling like I knew everyone in Virginia Woolf’s extended family and all their drama and issues. Apparently the Victorian age was not quite as Victorian as we like to think in this day and time. From what I read here, it appears that everybody was having sex with everybody else regardless of male or female, married or single, old or young! Some of it was very open, some of it was clandestine, and some of it was known but never spoken of. Virginia came from a troubled time and a troubled family and used her writing to try to work through it all. Most of the characters in her books were people that she knew, sometimes disguised, and sometimes not at all. I suppose her writing was cathartic for her,though apparently not healing enough, as per her tragic, untimely death. Thank you to NetGalley for this advanced read copy, I enjoyed the book and learned a lot.

  21. 5 out of 5

    McPhaul M.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

  23. 5 out of 5

    Michaela

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kate

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen

  26. 5 out of 5

    Rayya

  27. 5 out of 5

    Flaubertian

  28. 5 out of 5

    Penny

  29. 5 out of 5

    Teresa

  30. 4 out of 5

    Diana

  31. 4 out of 5

    Kimberly

  32. 4 out of 5

    Megan

  33. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen Bianchi

  34. 4 out of 5

    Bri

  35. 5 out of 5

    Alina

  36. 5 out of 5

    Alice Vent

  37. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

  38. 5 out of 5

    Nikki

  39. 4 out of 5

    Raquel

  40. 5 out of 5

    Leigh

  41. 5 out of 5

    Judith

  42. 4 out of 5

    Kathryn Pokarier

  43. 4 out of 5

    elizabeth

  44. 5 out of 5

    Melon109

  45. 4 out of 5

    Cook County Library

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