BENGALURU: At the outset, we must admit, we got lucky as we belong to a time when all problems can be solved. However, I did reach a time when the quagmire seemed a little too undoable, and when Virginia Woolf: A Writer's Life came to save me. Lyndall Gordon started research on Virginia Woolf in 1976, got it published in 1986 and came back to it two more times, once in 1991 and then in 2001. Lyndall Gordon's first note to us states: "Redefining this biography in 1991 has confirmed my sense at its outset that there is no end to understanding a life."
I borrowed the book from the British Library, Bengaluru and tried to see what Virginia Woolf saw. It is through her letters, diaries, notebooks, stories, essays and drafts of some of the novels; letters of her father and husband as well as her literary cohorts T S Eliot, Katherine Mansfield and Victoria Sackville-West that we get to experience the depth and get closer to the root of the problems at the heart of the quagmire. You must pardon my waxing eloquence in this matter. The book offers us a chance to go in there. And because we live in an age of voyeurism, I cannot feel shame to want to pry, to question, to want to know. The only reason I confess to you, dear reader, is because I consider my crime to be a petty one.
Lyndall Gordon has penned biographies of literary greats like T S Eliot, Charlotte Bronte and Henry James. I wish the word rock-star would suffice. Then I guess it should for now. She took me through the highs and the lows of Virginia Woolf's life with much care and precision. In her note on the Third Edition in 2001, she writes : "Virginia Woolf's aim for biography infiltrates this book as a whole, but I hope in a way that leaves the reader free to take it or leave it." She sees Virginia Woolf's life in three phases, the same number of phases that this book has seen. The first is the childhood phase – important in the writer's life as many of the characters from her books are drawn from this time. The second is from a time Virginia was training for the third phase. Which the biographer tells us is a long one of action and achievement.
And if you believe, like me, that it is not a story if it has no pictures or conversation, then this is a delightful journey to undertake. However, may I request you not to extract any promises from me? I want to return the book to the library, I swear.