VIRGINIA WOOLF: Becoming a Writer

Katherine Dalsimer, Author . Yale Univ. $24.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-300-09208-0

As the daughter of archetypal Victorian parents and Freud's first English publisher, Woolf has often been a posthumous analysand; but among her chroniclers, Dalsimer, a clinical psychologist and faculty member of two Ivy League universities, may have the best credentials for putting her on the couch. "This is not a biography," Dalsimer warns; it is, instead, an exploration of "the ways that writing served Virginia Woolf" throughout her difficult life, and particularly in her "adolescence and young womanhood." Approaching Woolf through her juvenilia, diaries, letters, criticism and novels, Dalsimer (Female Adolescence: Psychoanalytic Reflections on Literature) traces both her artistic apprenticeship and her psychological narrative, placing Woolf's introspective observations alongside her early work—from Jacob's Room to A Room of One's Own—and amid plenty of analytical commentary. While Woolf claimed that in her autobiographical To the Lighthouse she had "done what psychoanalysts do for their patients," Dalsimer draws out the book's psychology and Woolf's relationship to her deceased parents, and shows the matter to be much more complicated. Dalsimer also demonstrates, through Woolf's later letters and essays, that her affectionate, influential and overbearing father and her self-sacrificing, distant and tragic mother were instrumental in forming her creative character. Woolf's mental illness (which ultimately led to suicide) also receives understated, careful consideration. Dalsimer's clinical objectivity may be more notable than her line-by-line literary criticism, but she elegantly explains how Woolf's imagination, often subsumed in tragedy, could still find pleasure in life's daily rhythms, and how writing "consoled and sustained her—as much as it was possible for her to be consoled or sustained." (Mar. 26)

Forecast:The close textual reading targets this for serious students of Woolf and for those interested in the links between literature and psychology.

Reviewed on: 03/18/2002
Release date: 02/01/2002
Genre: Nonfiction
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