This penetrating biography of Woolf might not be as encyclopaedic as that composed by Hermione Lee. Nor is it as beautifully written as that produced by Lyndall Gordon. And it does not have the advantage of being put together by someone who was acquainted with Woolf like Winifred Holtby had been. However, it is still an intriguing work despite these problematic comparisons.
Nonetheless, the book has been criticised for several specific reasons. It has been accused of highlighting the feminism of Woolf excessively. Further, it has been knocked for its psychological approach. And it has been attacked for building scandalous theories from fragments of evidence.
While the biography should be acquitted for stressing feminism over modernism, and defended for its psychological focus, it is awkward to be comfortable with the degree of detail with regard to actual and potential incest. However, this is still such a small part of the massive whole that the work cannot be condemned.
The narrative of the life of Woolf makes for thrilling reading. It is always interesting to be thinking about people who thought deeply about thinking. And to be reminded of the toil and pain behind their pioneering achievements is to be connected with the mud of life. The sharp wisdom of Woolf shines through the text:
“if your father & mother die you have lost something that the longest life can never bring again.”