cover image VIRGINIA WOOLF'S NOSE: Essays on Biography

VIRGINIA WOOLF'S NOSE: Essays on Biography

Hermione Lee, . . Princeton Univ., $19.95 (141pp) ISBN 978-0-691-12032-4

The author of an important biography of Virginia Woolf and one of Willa Cather, Lee is well versed in the challenges the genre poses. Where should biographers start, and how do they know where to stop? Where do the facts of someone's life end and its fictions begin? Biographies, Lee writes, are made up of "contested objects—relics, testimonies, versions, correspondences, the unverifiable." In four pithy, accessible and philosophical essays, Lee scrutinizes some notable case studies while emphasizing biography's inherent instability. She dredges up "eyewitness" accounts of the burial of Romantic poet Shelley's drowned corpse, comparing and contrasting them to reveal mythmaking embellishments. She analyzes some of the choices made by biographers of Samuel Pepys, whose densely detailed diaries cover only a finite period of his life, outside of which biographers must hypothesize. And she strikes a rich vein of cultural criticism when she examines the complex "creative translation" of Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway into the novel The Hours by Michael Cunningham and the 2003 film of the same name. Lamenting aspects of how the film represents Woolf, and in particular her suicide, Lee summarizes and explores the film's reception among Woolf scholars and lay readers alike. Lee's immensely enjoyable study will energize debate among thoughtful readers and should become essential reading for aficionados of literary biography. Agent, Pat Kavanagh. (Apr.)