Virginia Woolf: The Impact of Childhood Sexual Abuse on Her Life and Work

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9780345366399: Virginia Woolf: The Impact of Childhood Sexual Abuse on Her Life and Work

In this amazing odyssey of two black women from the 1930s to the present, all the storytelling gifts of a brilliant Pulitzer Prize -- winning writer are abundantly displayed.

When we first meet Baby, she's one of six black children abandoned by their parents during the Depression. They are roadwalkers -- homeless wanderers across the rural South, leading a dangerous, almost enchanted life. One by one they are saved, lost, or simply disappear, until only Baby and a brother are left, living off the land -- a primitive gypsy existence hauntingly described. Finally Baby is captured -- almost like a wild animal -- by the white farm manager of an old plantation where the children have been hiding. He sends her to an orphanage in New Orleans, where she guards the rich mythic content of her wandering against the invasive kindness of the nuns by covering the walls with strange, brilliant drawings of flowers and animals.

We next see Baby decades later, through the eyes of her daughter, Nanda, who at thirty-six looks back at her own childhood. Baby and Nanda move into the middle class through Baby's eccentrically successful career -- first as a seamstress, then as a designer of dresses for rich white women. Raised a princess in the protective circle of Baby's magic, Nanda in her teens is suddenly catapulted into the white world when she is sent off to integrate a white Catholic girls' school in the East. Seeing herself as her mother saw herself -- alone in an alien place, Nanda finds an entirely different means of survival.

A rich and wonderfully fresh -- often astonishing -- evocation of the black experience in the South, seen through the lives of two fascinating women.

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From the Back Cover:

"The importance of DeSalvo's book lies in its central placement of incestuous abuse as a biographical key and as key to Woolf's many portraits of childhood and adolescence in her fiction.... DeSalvo probes the nature of Victorian patriarchal family dynamics in the stifling of female dissidence and examines the disaster for young women of Victorian family mores and attitudes toward education.... Most important, she hears and believes Virginia Woolf's testimony to her childhood abuse."

-- The Washington Post Book World

"Brave, honest, beautifully attentive, and loyal... DeSalvo knows Woolf's work, especially her early work and juvenilia, practically by heart.... She pays very close attention to the early diaries, newsletters, and sketches in which Woolf reveals the extent of her abuse the way it hurt her, and the way she decided to fight back.... Thorough and convincing."

-- The Boston Globe

"Exciting...Well-documented and revealing... DeSalvo views Woolf as an incest survivor from a classically dysfunctional family .... The Virginia Wolf who emerges from this account is an amazingly brave woman, even more subversive anti far-seeing than has been apparent, one who wrote and talked as openly as she could about her incest experience, with little support, at a time when the subject was forbidden."

-- San Francisco Chronicle

"Woolf scholar Louise DeSalvo's major new revisionist study...shatters the establishment view on numerous aspects of the brilliant British writer's life -- from her 'madness' to her purportedly idyllic childhood to the reasons why she committed suicide.... Part biography, part literary criticism, [DeSalvo's book] gives fascinating examples of symptoms Woolf experienced that have been shared by contemporary incest survivors."

-- The Hartford Courant

About the Author:

Shirley Ann Grau was horn in Louisiana and spent part of her childhood in Alabama. She is the author of five novels -- The Hard Blue Sky, The House on Coliseum Street, The Keepers of the House (awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1965), The Condor Passes, and Evidence of Love -- and three collections of stories, The Black Prince, The Wind Shifting West, and Nine Women. She divides her time between Metairie, a suburb of New Orleans, and Martha's Vineyard.

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