Mentions of Virginia Woolf in all kinds of book reviews, interviews and essays are so frequent I tend to nod knowingly (maybe a little smugly) and move on. Perhaps we take them for granted because we already know she’s a literary touchstone, perhaps one of the most frequently mentioned.
But when I saw side by side references in last week’s New York Times Book Review and then another two in this week’s issue, I thought it was worth calling attention to them by virtue of their very frequency. My point being, it’s not going to lessen—Virginia Woolf will always be a reliable standard for critics and reviewers, essayists and novelists.
Here’s what I found in the Aug. 23 issue:
In a review of the new T.S. Eliot bio, Young Eliot by Robert Crawford, David Yezzi calls on Woolf’s description of Eliot and her observation that “There are some stories which have to be retold by each generation.”
On the facing page, David Shields reviews Palimpsest: A History of the Written Word by Matthew Battles. According to Shields, there isn’t enough material for the book, “and perforce it becomes a dumping ground, with long, potted exegeses of works by Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf and Ha Jin….”
The cover review is of the fourth novel in the Neopolitan saga by Elena Ferrante, The Story of the Lost Child. Reviewer Rachel Cusk, whose 2006 novel Arlington Park pays homage to Mrs Dalloway, notes that Lila, the secondary protagonist, “is the unwritten, unexpressed female potentiality, a more obstinate version of Virginia Woolf’s concept of Shakespeare’s sister.”
Ann Beattie is the featured subject of the “By the Book” feature. Asked about her favorite fictional hero, she cites “…Mrs. Ramsay, although she’d protest being called a ‘heroine’ for all good reason.”
Wait a minute–here’s one more. I skimmed through the just-arrived Aug. 31 issue of The New Yorker over lunch. An op-ed piece about Hillary Clinton’s travails includes two references to “rooms of one’s own,” one by HC herself from her memoir, which the columnist reiterates in his closing sentence.
And so it goes. (That’s Linda Ellerbee, not Woolf.)