On being ill /

Main Author: Woolf, Virginia, 1882-1941.
Format: Book
Language: English
Published: Ashfield, Mass. : Paris Press, 2002.
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Review by Booklist Review

Woolf's essays, most famously A Room of One's Own, have been as liberating and nourishing as a freshening wind or drought-ending rain, and so the resurrection of this forgotten work on illness is a boon indeed. Written between two of Woolf's greatest novels, Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse, this is Woolf at her spangled best. Seemingly a cascade of gossamer thoughts, her prose is in fact as tightly knit, strongly patterned, impervious, and purposeful as a fisherman's sweater. Woolf wonders why illness, which is as much a part of life as love and greed, is not a common theme in literature, then reveals its import in lyrical yet ironic descriptions of illness' slow-motion parallel world, where the afflicted have time to watch the sky or carefully observe a rose. Illness is an altered state, says Woolf, who suffered from myriad chronic conditions, one that grants significant revelations. Insightfully and eloquently introduced by renowned Woolf biographer Hermione Lee, this scintillating and important addition to the Woolf canon is graced by Vanessa Bell's cover for the 1930 Hogarth Press edition. Donna Seaman

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

"In illness words seem to possess a mystic quality," writes Woolf, and she proves her observation correct in this essay (originally published in 1930), which leaps from observations of clouds to heaven to Shakespeare in stream-of-consciousness prose that, by design, borders on delirium. Her immersion in this mental state rings all the clearer for its contrast, in this edition, with "Notes from Sick Rooms," an essay written by Woolf's mother, Julia Stephen in 1883. While Woolf believes illness in literature should be no less stirring than war or love, her mother offers gentle instruction on things like pillows, baths, and the omnipresent scourge of crumbs, in what amounts to a nurse's how-to guide. Hermione Lee's introduction provides much appreciated context for Woolf's essay, though at 34 pages to Woolf's 28, it seems unnecessarily long-winded. Separating the two original texts is Mark Hussey's introduction to Stephen's essay, which notes that Stephens died when Woolf was 13, one potential explanation for the profound isolation Woolf experiences in illness. The book closes with a more personal note from internist Rita Charon, founder and director of Columbia University's Program of Narrative Medicine. In the conjunction of the two essays, Charon finds "the necessary equilibrium between knowledge and feeling." The book may have a surplus of commentary, but Woolf and Stephen will certainly change the way readers think of illness. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved