cover image Conceived with Malice

Conceived with Malice

Louise DeSalvo. Dutton Books, $24.95 (448pp) ISBN 978-0-525-93899-6

DeSalvo (Virginia Woolf: The Impact of Childhood Sexual Abuse on Her Life and Work) examines here the psychological forces that inform creativity in this lively literary study. Focusing on three 20th-century novels and one play, she presents biographical research to demonstrate how each author exacted revenge through writing fiction. Barnes's play, The Actiphon, according to the author, was a thinly disguised history of the sexual assaults she had endured from her father and brothers. Henry Miller wrote Crazy Cock to strike back at a wife who obsessed him, and the negative portrait of Hermione in Lawrence's Women in Love, DeSalvo argues, was based on former lover Lady Ottoline Morrell. DeSalvo also suggests provocatively that Leonard Woolf's characterization of his wife, Virginia, in The Wise Virgins, as frigid was inaccurate; rather, it was Leonard who was repelled by Virginia's sexual needs. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Nov.)