Saturday, June 20, 2009

Virginia Woolf's Nose: Essays on Biography

So I picked this one up the other day...reflecting on why I keep reading biographies and also ties into my current examination of Virginia Woolf. Hermione Lee has written several prestigious full length biographies and she also wrote Biography: A Very Short Introduction --so she is clearly an expert on the subject. Her essay about Virginia Woolf reflects a complex understanding of the medium.
She starts off with the claim that biography is fiction. Her opening sentence plainly states,"Biography is a process of making up or making over". Secondly, she notes that facts are facts and do indeed exist and can be uncovered and documented. To illustrate her point she recalls an experience where a minor event in her life was once recounted (incorrectly) in another person's biography. Realizing that this tiny experience of having a moment in her life misrepresented is just a microcosm of what those who are 'biographised' experience on a much larger scale, she notes that biography is often felt as a betrayal by the living subject --and/or for those whose lives intersect with someone who has been biographised. She then quotes Ted Hughes as having once said "I hope each one of us owns the facts of his or her own life".
She writes:
"No wonder that such strong emotions of blame and anger can circulate around biography, or that it is likely to be seen, in the worst cases, as a form of betrayal. For those with an investment in a life-story (whether as relatives, descendants, friends lovers, colleagues, admirers, scholars or devoted readers) a kind of despair can be felt if what's judged to be an inauthentic version of the life gains currency and prevails."

She goes on to explore Virginia Woolf's life-story by reflecting on The Hours, in both movie and book form.
I was really fascinated by The Hours when I saw it, which was troubling because I didn't think it was that great of a movie. Still, I have watched it several times and think of it often. There are some kind of bad parts in it-- I actually think the whole movie is kind of a mess--yet still, despite the bad acting and melodrama, it captivates me as a profound meditation on suicide, life and mortality. I have read Mrs. Dalloway twice and yet it is The Hours that is stuck in my head. This is kind of a drag, honestly, and I feel a nagging urge to keep re-reading it until it is rectified.
Reading Lee's essay, I am reminded that The Hours was based on a novel by Michael Cunningham that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1999. I never read it. I'm thinking I should, but will probably just read Mrs. Dalloway again. First I will finish this essay by Hermione Lee and probably search out more of her writing on Woolf.

No comments: