Writing of the life of Percy Bysshe Shelley in 1927, Virginia Woolf observed that “there are some stories which have to be retold by each generation, not that we have anything new to add to them, but because of some queer quality in them which makes them not only Shelley’s story but our own.” This has proved true for the lives of any number of great men and women over the past few centuries: it has been true for no one, perhaps, as much as for Virginia Woolf herself.

In the opening of her comprehensive new biography of Woolf, British scholar Hermione Lee lists a few first sentences of other Woolf biographies: “‘Virginia Woolf was a Miss Stephen’ ‘Virginia Woolf was a sexually abused child: she was an incest survivor’ ‘Was Virginia Woolf “insane”?’ ‘Was Virginia Woolf mad?’”[1] Etcetera, etcetera. “What...

 
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