Revolutionizing Biography: "Orlando", "Roger Fry", and the Tradition
IN HER CELEBRATED ESSAY "Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown," Virginia Woolf writes, "I believe that all novels . .. deal with character, and that it is to express character--not to preach doctrines, sing songs, or celebrate the glories of the British Empire, that the form of the novel . . has been evolved. To express character, I have said; but you will at once reflect that the very widest interpretation can be put upon those words" (CE 1: 324). Several paragraphs later she adds, "There is nothing that people differ about more than the reality of characters" (CE 1: 325). Understanding the "reality of characters" and expressing this reality in words are two problems that troubled and fascinated Woolf throughout her life. In her novels, essays and biographical writing, as well as in her letters and diaries, we find evidence of the frustration she felt in trying to capture and combine the "granite and rainbow," the solid facts and the intangible personality, of both real people and fictitious character.
South Atlantic Review, Vol. 55, No. 2 (May, 1990), pp. 71-83.