Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Bella Woolf in the Gambia

I’m reviewing--have just reviewed--Victoria Glendinning’s biography of Leonard for the Virginia Woolf Miscellany.

There is a lot to like in the book. Leonard is a really interesting person and she lays out all the bits of him for you to think about. She never really lets the narrative run, however, so it’s often a little distracting or even frustrating. We can go for 50 pages without hearing about the Woolf’s cook and then suddenly “Louie” appears without any further explanation. I have to rack my brain to remember that she’s Woolf’s cook. What about other readers?

Here’s a bit, though, that I adored that needs no further introduction. Woolf’s charismatic older sister Bella was married to an officer in the British Empire and posted to the Gambia. She wrote to Leonard of her problems with the local Girl Guides:
I have to be very strict, very strict. Of course I can’t object to them wearing their uniforms at night to solicit men, because to them it’s a most glamourous dress. But I’ve had to put my foot down and tell them they must not give birth to their babies on the parade ground.


genevieve said...

It's a corker, that story. And one gets a sense that there were a lot more that may have had to be left out - how about his sister constantly correcting his versions of personal history, early on - that must have taken a bit of tracking down.
Going to hear Glendinning at our writers' festival next week, and yes, that's a good point you raise about the chattiness of the book, which I rather like, and do wonder if she's taken it from the inflections of Woolf's autobio myself. Also perhaps she wants to convey a sense of his very high levels of activity, which does give a rather dizzying sense of perpetual motion after a while.
I was deeply moved by this life all the same, I think it's a fabulous account for a generalist audience. But I'd love to read your specialist review too, of course :)

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