Review: ‘Selected Short Stories’ by Virginia Woolf

This is the first time I’ve read Virginia Woolf since I was a student last time around, and I feel like those few years in between really made a difference in how much of the text I was understanding. I did love To the lighthouse, but I really think that these short stories would have helped me get into the style more easily. These stories cover quite a range – some are incredibly abstract while others have a clearly defined plot and characters.

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Short stories are one of my favourite things for when I know I’m going to be busy – usually in slim volumes which are easy to carry around with me, and easy to read in gaps between other things as well as those dedicated times when I’ve got a cuppa and a biscuit.

My favourite from this collection was absolutely A Society – I found it so funny and poignant and interesting, I actually read it twice. Actually I was really interested by how directly Woolf approaches the subject matter of gender difference and inequality – while tongue-in-cheek and with a sense of humour, it is head on. What I found myself wondering was whether anyone would write something so direct today, without the work existing in a cloud of criticism… not that the original story was devoid of it, written originally in response to Arnold Bennett’s Our Woman: Chapters on the Sex-Discord on women’s intellectual inferiority. While the subject is direct, there is of course plenty just under the surface. This is one of the stories in this collection I’m confident I’ll come back to.

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When I read To the lighthouse as a nineteen year old, I was impressed by the work, but failed to be personally moved or affected. Why that is, I don’t know – there is far too much which affects our response to a book, which has always been part of my trouble in making myself read things. As often as I might come out pleased to have pushed myself, I also develop an instinctive irritation with a text because I never had the opportunity to develop a personal connection to it before having to form an academic, deconstructive one. This time around I was still reading based on a given list, but for some reason at this age the stories and the way Woolf phrases things, the things foregrounded, affected me much more personally than before, and makes me keen to read one of Woolf’s novels.

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