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This review is taken from PN Review 66, Volume 15 Number 4, March - April 1989.

THE PLAY OF SPIRIT The Essays of Virginia Woolf, Vol.2, 1912-18, ed. Andrew McNeillie (The Hogarth Press)
Virginia Woolf, Life and London: A Biography of Place, Jean Moorcraft Wilson (Cecil Woolf)
The Complete Shorter Fiction, edited by Susan Dick (Triad/Grafton) £4.95 pb.

Virginia Woolf, contrary to the view of some, who see her as a dilettante figure, or as a butterfly skimming over the surface of life and art, took her job as essayist and reviewer extremely seriously. This seriousness was in large part the legacy of Leslie Stephen, whose influence over his daughter was profound. It is one of the strengths of Jean Moorcraft Wilson's 'biographical mosaic' dealing with Woolf's life in London that it brings out the complexity of Woolf's relationship with her parents, and often emphasizes her admiration for her father, an admiration which is often obscured by Woolf's more obvious adoration of her mother. Woolf identified strongly with her father's critical position, that is, with his role as a critic/ arbiter of taste, and with the critical distance which he maintained from society. She recalled the difference between his world and that of her socialite half-brothers:


Rising, he would go to the shelves, put the book back and very kindly ask me what I had made of it? Perhaps I was reading Johnson. For some time we would talk and then, feeling soothed, stimulated, full of love for this unworldly, very distinguished, lonely man, I would go down to the drawing room again and hear George's patter. There was no connection.


Typical in this of his mid-Victorian generation, Leslie Stephen, having been through the crisis of the loss of his religious faith, found in literature and in literary study ...


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