Virginia Woolf: Selected Essays, ed David Bradshaw

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The Independent Culture

If ever anyone taught that the head sometimes needs to be led by the heart, it was Virginia Woolf, as these brilliant and subtle essays demonstrate. In "The Decay of Essay-Writing", she argues that the true essay arises from the ego. In "Modern Fiction", she seems to qualify this by suggesting that egoism must be informed by the kind of spirituality we see in Russian fiction. You could take issue with her implied definition of spirituality here – a sensibility governed by impressions of the self and of the world – but its integrity is unanswerable.

One of the most attractive features of Woolf's thought has always been her unflustered feminism. In "Women and Fiction" she suggest that women's fiction could take its ease, and even improve on the 19th-century writers – that the struggle was over. In "Professions for Women" she utters a warning that women should not become complacent about their status. In all of these subtle, sometimes obscure essays, her compassion, wit and acuity glow through. She changes tack incessantly, but that's what intelligent people do.