Virginia Woolf and the Biographical Form: In Search of a Truthful Presentation of a Life Open Access

Bamberger, Cayla (Spring 2019)

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Critics have repeatedly written Orlando off as Virginia Woolf’s least substantial novel, a “lark” and a “joke,” or a “love letter” to her (at the time, an open-secret) girlfriend, Vita Sackville-West, who inspired the protagonist. Orlando is both a satire and a love letter, yes, but it is also an essential stepping stone in Woolf’s career and her broader interest in capturing life on paper. Structured as a fictional biography, Orlando combines the two forms to come closer to “life” than any traditional biography (too absorbed in external “facts” and conventions) or Realist novel (too concerned with being representational and not committed to any real person) ever could.

Table of Contents

Introduction… 2

Victorian Biographies, or “Life Writing” That Fails to Capture Life… 8

The Subject: Great Lives of Great Men… 11

The Structure: Standard Trajectories of Time… 17

The Sound: Authoritative Voice and Evidence-Based Arguments… 20

The Tug Between Fact and Fiction… 25

Verifiable Truth and Its Limits… 26

The “Ill-Fitting Vestments” for Unconventional Subjects… 31

Embracing Fiction: The Bildungsroman… 39

Why?... 45

To Break Is To Create: Modernism’s Self-Critical Practice… 47

“The Way to Stronger, More Expressive Art”… 52

Expressions of Time… 53

Of Gender… 57

Of Personality… 64

Works Cited… 68

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