Virginia Woolf’s Nose

A week a go, or so, I read Hermione Lee’s essay “Virginia Woolf’s Nose”, from her book Body Parts. In this essay Lee gives us a clever examination of Mrs Dalloway, and also a comparative analysis of Mrs Dalloway, Michael Cunningham’s novel The Hours and Stephen Daldry’s film adaption of Cunningham’s book.

Lee is reading Cunningham and Daldry in a respectful way, but is also pointing out difficulties in the way they both have interpreted Woolf’s original text. After reading Lee I felt the need for re-reading Woolf and watching the movie once more, there are so many details I’ve forgotten!

For many years now I have had this idea for a study/a book/a collection of essays on everyday life, its working title is: House & Home, a study of the uniqueness of ordinary lives. It will be about how art can make us see the strangeness in the ordinary, greatness in small worlds, the enigma of being me, a single person, in a world filled with singularities etc. … Even if I have wanted to write about this for ten years, I know the time isn’t right yet. So all I still do is collecting clever thoughts – Lee’s book is filled with them.

No wonder, maybe, that I love statements like this:

Fiction is a form of life writing.


The ordinary woman sets a challenge to all novelists.

The idea being that the domestic trivia is as important to humanity as the world of heroes and saints, but yet to be fully accepted as material for art.

And I’m also very fond of questions like these:

What is the value of a life of ordinary pleasures?

Do reading and writing make life bearable?

There are lots more to be found in Lee’s essay. You really should give it a go!

8 Comments Add yours

  1. * says:

    i really enjoyed her biography of virginia woolf, i think it’s probably the best biography around on woolf…. carol shield’s “unless” is excellent on the house and ordinary woman problem…

    1. Sigrun says:

      Thank you so much for your comment!
      I’m really surprised – shocked actually (in a totally positive way!) – that you mention “Unless”, it is a fantastic book, and it is on my list of those texts I want to write about.
      I was so amazed after having read “Unless” that I had to write Shields a note, just to tell her how much I liked her book – unfortunately she was already very ill. (I got a very nice reply from her daughter though).

      Also agree with you on Lee’s biography. I read it some years ago, at the time I was very preoccupied with Woolf’s “The Waves” (also on my list…)

  2. * says:

    yes, it is great, unless, isn’t it. absolutely spot on in so many ways. it’s very nice of her daughter to write back to you.

  3. Caroline says:

    I ordered Lee’s book when I saw you mention it, I was so intrigued. It has arrived today and I’m quite excited and look forward to reading it. It didn’t know “Unless” and will have to look that up to.
    I’m very interested in biography and memoir writing.

    1. Sigrun says:

      I like Lee a lot, she is very competent and clever in her writing, there is nothing scandalous in her books, but lots and lots of things to learn and understand about the people she is writing about.

      Shields writes about relations; between lovers, between mothers and children and between friends. She is not a demonstrative feminist (if that even is a concept), but she lets a kind of a feminine life experience run through her texts – a kind of implicit feminism, maybe?

  4. Dorothy W. says:

    I loved that essay, and I’ll have to read her biography of Woolf one day. I’m looking forward to it.

  5. Esa says:

    The Hours, had been on my radar for a while. I saw it at the library and gleaned from the blurbs that Mrs Dalloway was integral to the story. Not having read any Woolf, I thought it a good opportunity to combine the two, and doing so enhanced my experience, for both books. And then when I watched the film, I was impressed with the directors ability to remain faithful to both writers.

    1. Sigrun says:

      Strongly recommend the rest of Woolf + Hermione Lee!

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