Virginia Woolf : Books & Portraits

VIRGINIA WOOLF’S importance as a novelist has to a large extent eclipsed her significance as a literary critic and reviewer. In fact, it is quite likely that many admirers of her fictional and feminist work are scarcely aware of her significant role as a critic. Her first published works, however, were reviews or essays, and she continued to write criticism up until her death in 1941.

She was a perfectionist who always wrote with her whole mind and critical faculties deeply engaged.Her critical sureness in dealing with the great figures of English literature derived in large part from her own family heritage. Nowhere is her literary debt to her father more apparent than in her critical writing.

From her earliest childhood she had access not only to Sir Leslie Stephen’s extensive library, but also to his taste and judgment. Had she not emerged predominantly as a novelist, she might well have occupied a position in twentieth-century criticism comparable to that which he occupied in the late Victorian era.

Her earliest reviews seem most reflective of her father’s influence, but this may well be true because periodicals sent her initially the sort of books that they felt Sir Leslie Stephen’s daughter would be best equipped to criticise.

Finally, it is important in reading Virginia Woolf’s essays to keep her preeminent role as a writer of fiction in mind. The critic who writes only criticism approaches his subject from a somewhat different angle. If Virginia Woolf’s criticism of prose is generally judged to be superior to her criticism of poetry, the fact that she was a practitioner has a good deal to do with that judgment.

She saw the difficulties that confronted a novelist in conveying what she would probably call his vision of reality, and she also appreciated the successful accomplishment of that task, no matter how greatly his “reality” might differ from hers. Similarly, from a careful perusal of Virginia Woolf’s essays, we derive a better sense of what her aims and objectives as a writer of fiction were; and we may turn from these essays back to her other books with a renewed sense of her achievement as a novelist.



  • In the Orchard
  • A Woman’s College from Outside
  • On a Faithful Friend
  • English Prose
  • Impressions at Bayreuth
  • Modes and Manners of the Nineteenth Century
  • Men and Women
  • Coleridge as Critic
  • Patmore’s Criticism
  • Papers on Pepys
  • Sheridan
  • Thomas Hood
  • Praeterita
  • Mr Kipling’s Notebook
  • Emerson’s Journals Thoreau
  • Herman Melville
  • Rupert Brooke
  • The Intellectual Imagination
  • These Are The Plans
  • Mr Sassoon’s Poems
  • A Russian Schoolboy
  • A Glance at Turgenev
  • A Giant With Very Small Thumbs
  • Dostoevsky The Father
  • More Dostoevsky
  • Dostoevsky in Cranford
  • The Russian Background
  • A Scribbling Dame
  • Maria Edgeworth and Her Circle
  • Jane Austen and the Geese
  • Mrs Gaskell
  • The Compromise
  • Wilcoxiana
  • The Genius of Boswell
  • Shelley and Elizabeth Hitchener
  • Literary Geography
  • Flumina Amem Silvasque
  • Haworth, November 1904


  • The Girlhood of Queen Elizabeth
  • The Diary of a Lady in Waiting
  • Queen Adelaide
  • Elizabeth Lady Holland
  • Lady Hester Stanhope
  • The Memoirs of Sarah Bernhardt
  • Lady Strachey
  • John Delane
  • Body and Brain

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BOOKS AND PORTRAITS : Some further selections from the literary and biographical writings of VIRGINIA WOOLF (PDF)