The Complete Shorter Fiction of Virginia Woolf edited by Susan Dick

The Complete Shorter Fiction of Virginia Woolf by Virginia Woolf

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am circling around the work of Virginia Woolf, dipping in my toe every now and and then and trying to figure out what this author is for me and what her work can be. I struggled a lot with some of her longer texts and still do, and so I wondered for a while whether we were ever going to wholly click.

But then I found this, this collection of shorter fiction – some that barely even make a page – and it is a wonderful and fierce treat. For me, this is where her strength lies. There’s something so utterly appealing about the way she can capture mood and place and space within a few lines, something so rather wonderful about how she can spin a piece completely on its head with a final sentence, and I loved every inch of this collection. And the final lines! Woolf knows how to end a piece!

The Complete Shorter Fiction Of Virginia Woolf is gathered into years; we have the ‘early stories’ before moving to 1917-1921, 1922-1925, and then 1926-1941. A certain preoccupation can be felt in these sectons with similarities of theme or colour or style, and the hints towards her wider work can be palpably felt at points. Yet even without this sort of contextual, scholarly edge, these are wildly wonderful stories. Some work better than others, some have more plot whilst others barely even hold the notion of ‘plot’ (whatever that may mean) in their grasp, and some storm off the page with heart and sentiment and fire.

Favourites included Memoirs of a Novelist, a fierce and somewhat heartbreaking story about a female biographer of the late ‘Miss Willett’; A Haunted House, which sees a ghostly couple walk through the shadows of their fomer life in searching of something; A Society, a brilliant (god it stopped me in my tracks) breakdown of the idea that men are smarter than women (it’s so, so brilliant); and the outstanding Lappin and Lapinova, a relationship based around the fantasy (roleplay?) that both partners are rabbits (amazing, amazing, amazing).

I talk a lot about elasticity when it comes to a text, the notion of stretching the page and the book itself to become something unknown, something different, something new – of pushing at form and shape and texture to find that edge of a book that can be completely made yours. Woolf’s short stories are an education in how to make that happen. God, they’re good. So good.

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5 thoughts on “The Complete Shorter Fiction of Virginia Woolf edited by Susan Dick

  1. This sounds an ideal collection. I’ve gone for a shorter Woolf this month too, A Room of One’s Own, which I’m enjoying. It’s made more enjoyable from having seen her rooms — writing room as well as bedroom — in East Sussex and knowing that some of what she hoped for came to pass.

  2. I have the same problem with Woolf’s longer fiction. My way round has been to immerse myself in her letters, journals and essays. I wasn’t aware of this collection but will now certainly seek it out. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

      1. I alternated, a month in the letters and then that same month in the journals. The difference between what Woolf says in public and the comments she makes in private can be illuminating and sometimes very funny.

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