Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) is one of the great literary geniuses of the twentieth century. Her innovative fiction and essays are revered by readers around the globe. She was a central member of the Bloomsbury group and a ground-breaking feminist, publishing book-length essays that continue to change the lives of women today. Her novels include To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway, The Waves, and Orlando: A Biography. When she was not writing, Virginia Woolf operated Hogarth Press with her husband Leonard Woolf. She typeset the original Hogarth Press publication of On Being Ill. Throughout much of her life, Woolf faced the challenges of illness, yet she continued to create revolutionary works of literature. Julia Stephen (1846-1895), Virginia Woolf's mother, grew up in England among the painters and poets, novelists and philosophers who frequented the homes of her uncle Henry Thoby Prinsep and her aunt Julia Margaret Cameron, the acclaimed photographer. Her first husband, Herbert Duckworth, died in 1870. She married Woolf's father, Leslie Stephen, in 1878. Julia Stephen worked as a vocational nurse throughout her adult life, and published Notes from Sick Rooms in 1883.
By turns lyrical, self-mocking, and outlandish, Woolf's meditation
on the perils and privileges of the sickbed lampoons the loneliness
that makes one glad of a kick from a housemaid and extolls the
merits of bad literature for the unwell.... When Woolf imagines
beauty in a frozen-over garden, even after the death of the sun...
it seems less a triumph of nature than of art.--The New Yorker
In 2002, Paris Press, the Ashfield, Mass., nonprofit publisher, rescued a little-known work by Virginia Woolf, On Being Ill. To mark the first decade in print of the Paris Press edition, the press is reissuing On Being Ill in November in paperback for the first time in an expanded edition (to be reviewed in PW's Oct. 15 issue). But the new paperback goes beyond reproducing the 2002 edition. It includes another long out-of-print essay, Notes from Sick Rooms by Woolf's mother, Julia Stephen, which was originally published in 1883 by Smith, Elder & Co. (Charlotte Brontë's publisher). For Paris Press director Jan Freeman, the addition of the new material--which also includes an introduction to Notes from Sick Rooms by Woolf scholar Mark Hussey and an afterword by physician Rita Charon--has transformed the book into a 'conversation in text' between Woolf and her mother (who died when Woolf was 13), patient and nurse. 'There are wonderful parallels between the two texts, ' said Freeman. 'You learn about Woolf by reading Notes from Sick Rooms, and you learn about Woolf's mother's life. There's a familiarity in [Woolf's mother's] voice. Woolf didn't become a writer exclusively from the influence of her father.'--Publishers Weekly
The distance that yawns between the sick and the healthy--the 'army of the upright'--is the terrain mapped by Virginia Woolf in a marvelously elegant essay, On Being Ill.... On Being Ill speaks to the inseparable nature of psyche and soma, the tormented mind and body as one.--Los Angeles Times
By turns lyrical, self-mocking, and outlandish, Woolf's meditation on the perils and privileges of the sickbed lampoons the loneliness that makes one glad of a kick from a housemaid and extolls the merits of bad literature for the unwell.... When Woolf imagines beauty in a frozen-over garden, even after the death of the sun... it seems less a triumph of nature than of art.--The New Yorker
Perusing this delicate yet powerful little book, we can't help but admire the shapeliness, the eloquence, the stylishness, and the incisiveness of the essay it contains. Nor can we fail to notice the witty paradoxes that animate and lend additional sparkle to this bright display of originality and intelligence.... Only in the final paragraphs of On Being Ill is the reader at last able to see what Woolf has been working toward: an affecting, resonant recapitulation and illustration of the inadequacy and superfluity of language in our efforts to describe human suffering. Which is, perhaps needless to say, also the most paradoxical aspect of the essay--the verbal pyrotechnics, the scintillating clarity and richness of the phrases and sentences in which Woolf tells us about the poverty and limitations of language.--Francine Prose, Bookforum