Virginia Woolf's Nose: Essays on Biography

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9780691120324: Virginia Woolf's Nose: Essays on Biography


What choices must a biographer make when stitching the pieces of a life into one coherent whole? How do we best create an accurate likeness of a private life from the few articles that linger after death? How do we choose what gets left out? This intriguing and witty collection of essays by an internationally acclaimed biographer looks at how biography deals with myths and legends, what goes missing and what can't be proved in the story of a life. Virginia Woolf's Nose presents a variety of case-studies, in which literary biographers are faced with gaps and absences, unprovable stories and ambiguities surrounding their subjects. By looking at stories about Percy Bysshe Shelley's shriveled, burnt heart found pressed between the pages of a book, Jane Austen's fainting spell, Samuel Pepys's lobsters, and the varied versions of Virginia Woolf's life and death, preeminent biographer Hermione Lee considers how biographers deal with and often utilize these missing body parts, myths, and contested data to "fill in the gaps" of a life story.


In "Shelley's Heart and Pepys's Lobsters," an essay dealing with missing parts and biographical legends, Hermione Lee discusses one of the most complicated and emotionally charged examples of the contested use of biographical sources. "Jane Austen Faints" takes five competing versions of the same dramatic moment in the writer's life to ask how biography deals with the private lives of famous women. "Virginia Woolf's Nose" looks at the way this legendary author's life has been translated through successive transformations, from biography to fiction to film, and suggests there can be no such thing as a definitive version of a life. Finally, "How to End It All" analyzes the changing treatment of deathbed scenes in biography to show how biographical conventions have shifted, and asks why the narrators and readers of life-stories feel the need to give special meaning and emphasis to endings.


Virginia Woolf's Nose sheds new light on the way biographers bring their subjects to life as physical beings, and offers captivating new insights into the drama of "life-writing".



Virginia Woolf's Nose is a witty, eloquent, and funny text by a renowned biographer whose sensitivity to the art of telling a story about a human life is unparalleled--and in creating it, Lee articulates and redefines the parameters of her craft.


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"This book shows why Hermione Lee is a star among British biographers. Generous, witty, provocative, and blissfully free of academic jargon, it takes us into the heart of the current debate about the nature and value of life writing. Lee's meticulous readings constantly give rise to the largest, most challenging questions about the genre. Playful but always wonderfully erudite, this is a superb collection that will prove immensely influential."--Richard Holmes, author of Shelley: The Pursuit


"Hermione Lee, a biographer justly noted for her scrupulous erudition, tact, and grace of expression, is expert at sifting the telling, resonant detail from the litter of evidence that might overwhelm less observant and meticulous minds. These concise and witty essays enrich our understanding of what, either by necessity or choice, may go into and what may be left out of the writing of any life. Yet even when warning us of how much is missing or guessed at in any biography, Lee doesn't let much worth knowing get by her."--Maria DiBattista, Princeton University


"Lee has the rare ability to combine scrupulously careful scholarship with writing that is clear, imaginative, witty, and simply a delight to read. In these wide-ranging essays on various aspects of "life-writing," she takes readers behind the scenes of the biographical process, reflecting on the inevitable gaps and absences of evidence, on the human need for stories, on the film of The Hours, on death--as the end of a life and the end of a Life--with singular brilliance and insight."--Jean Strouse, Director, Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library


About the Author:

Hermione Lee is a Fellow of New College, Oxford, and the first woman Goldsmith's Professor of English Literature at Oxford University. She is a critic and biographer who has published books on "Elizabeth Bowen", "Philip Roth", "Willa Cather", and "Virginia Woolf". She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a Fellow of the British Academy, and, from 2004 to 2005, a Mel and Lois Tukman Fellow at the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. In 2003 she was awarded the CBE for services to literature.

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