James Wood on Virginia Woolf and the Anxiety of Influence

James Wood, writing about Virginia Woolf in his essay “Virginia Woolf’s Mysticism” (collected in The Broken Estate)–

Woolf, I think, became a great critic, not simply a “great reviewer.” The Collected Essays, which are still being edited, is the most substantial body of criticism in English this century. They belong in the tradition of Johnson, Coleridge, Arnold, and Henry James. This is the tradition of poet-critics, until the modern era, when novelists like Woolf and James join it. That is, her essays and reviews are a writer’s criticism, written in the language of art, which is the language of metaphor. The writer-critic, or poet-critic, has a competitive proximity to the writers she discusses. The competition is registered verbally. The writer-critic is always showing a little plumage to the writer under discussion. If the writer-critic appears to generalize, it is because literature is what she does, and one is always generalizing about oneself.

Wood’s description of Woolf is really Wood’s description of Wood.


  1. EC · July 27, 2010

    Oh, good one! Wish I’d done it. Check out Wood’s essay on Edmund Wilson, too, where Wilson is implicitly criticized for being not enough like . . . you guessed it.



  2. Biblioklept · July 27, 2010

    Thanks for the link, EC — typical Wood.


  3. Longlunch · July 27, 2010

    More Wood: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7crS2nF0SNg

    Now THIS is typical Wood.


  4. Big Ed Dunkel · July 27, 2010

    In future, please refrain from drawing such simple observations. Thank you.


    • Biblioklept · July 27, 2010

      big ed, in the future, refrain from using silly phrases like “in the future,” issuing commands on my blog, and writing inane comments that lack clear referents. what are the “simple observations” you don’t want “drawn”? thank you.


  5. Big Ed Dunkel · July 27, 2010

    If you plan on including any similar “Woolf’s really Wood’s description of Wood” brainstorms, have the courtesy to include a Garfield cartoon to make it worthwhile.


    • Biblioklept · July 27, 2010

      sure thing. in fact, why don’t you just go ahead and write all the copy for the next post as well. (p.s. on the road sucks).


  6. Pingback: Jessica Rosevear » Blog Archive » Coolest Graffiti Ever

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