Paperbacks: Mrs Woolf & The Servants, by Alison Light

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The Independent Culture

This revelatory volume on the "enduring, intimate and intense" relationship between Virginia Woolf and her cook Nellie Boxall is a fascinating and unusual addition to the vast library of Bloomsbury studies.

Described by Woolf as "a mongrel" with "a timid, spiteful, servant mind", Nellie was nevertheless essential. After doing the washing-up once, Woolf exploded: "How servants preserve either sanity or sobriety... God knows." Light's research into life below stairs is hugely impressive and the book, which finally fulfils Woolf's notion to "make a story... of Nelly" is enthralling and significant.

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