Three Academic Book Reviews

Today’s post links into my original blog, which is solely devoted to book reviews and bookish things.  I have reviewed three academic books which I have read over the last few weeks; my thoughts are relatively brief, but I hope that they give a good overview and might encourage you to pick them up.  I talk here about May Sinclair: Moving Towards the Modern which was edited by Andrew J. Kunka and Michele K. Troy, Joan Bennett’s Virginia Woolf: Her Art as a Novelist, and Peter Dally’s recently reissued The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: Manic Depression and the Life of Virginia Woolf.

May Sinclair: Moving Towards the Modern – ed. Andrew J. Kunka and Michele K. Troy *****

I uncovered May Sinclair: Moving Towards the Modern via an interlibrary loan, and am so pleased that I did.  It looked wonderful and far-reaching from the blurb which I found online; in reality, it was even better than I was expecting it to be.  This is the first piece of Sinclair criticism which I have read, and I have a feeling that I began with the best I could have.  Moving Towards the Modern includes a plethora of fascinating essays, which discuss different facets of Sinclair’s work.  It is a wonderful collection, which adds real depth to elements of Sinclair’s fiction that I’ve not thought about before.

The highlights for me were Diana Wallace’s essay on ‘Love, Art, and Classicism in The Divine Fire‘, George M. Johnson’s musings on the Great War in Sinclair’s fiction, Laurel Forster’s categorisation of Sinclair as an Imagist author, Jane Silvey’s impassioned work regarding Sinclair’s admiration for the Brontes, her involvement in the Suffrage movement as depicted by Philippa Martindale, Diane F. Gillespie’s essay about “Physiological Emergencies” and “Suffragitis”, Cheryl A. Wilson’s thoughts about Victorian values versus the New Woman, and Andrew J. Kunka’s critique of cowardice, gender and shellshock in two of Sinclair’s novels.

Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf: Her Art as a Novelist – Joan Bennett

A slim volume, first published in 1945, Joan Bennett’s Virginia Woolf: Her Art as a Novelist is both informative and compelling.  Her prose is lovely; intelligent, but never repetitive.  She handles ideas with a deft touch, making her biography eminently readable.  Despite its length, a rich appraisal is given of each of Woolf’s novels, split into differing sections which deal with aspects such as ‘Characters and Human Beings’ and ‘Morals and Values’.  I would not hesitate to recommend it to those who are particularly interested as to the way in which Woolf’s narrative style developed over the course of her writing career, and the traditional elements of writing which still suffused her later efforts.


The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: Manic Depression and the Life of Virginia Woolf by Peter Dally

Everyone who knows me or my reading habits is aware that I will eagerly devour all of the Virginia Woolf biographies which I can get my hands on.  I downloaded this from Netgalley; whilst I was unsure when I began it as to whether it would be a useful text for my thesis, it sounded interesting, and I wanted to read it regardless.  In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, Dally writes largely about her battle with manic depression.

He does make some rather broad claims; for instance, that Laura, Virginia’s half sister, was autistic.  I have seen no other evidence to suggest this; yes, she was sent to an institution, where she spent much of her life, but her condition has not been named in any other biography which I have read to date.

The Marriage of Haven and Hell is unlike any other Woolf biography in that its writing tends to be quite simplistic.  It strikes me as probably a good book to source if you want a general introduction to Woolf and/or her mental state; whilst Dally states in his introduction that her manic depression is his focus, there are quite a few generalised chapters too. The Marriage of Haven and Hell is rather an easy book to read, and it is thorough, despite not being the largest biography of the great woman in the world.


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