Review

The Measure of Life: Virginia Woolf's Last Years

by Herbert Marder

THE
MEASURE OF LIFE: Virginia Woolf's Last Years is a scholarly look at
the last decade of Woolf's life, which ended with a successful
suicide in 1941. The greatest woman writer of the 20th century was
plagued by insecurities and depressions that made regular living
often unbearable and writing extremely difficult. Thanks to her
remarkably forthright journals, in which she documented every
single emotion she experienced as a writer and as a woman, Herbert
Marder has been able to piece together a detailed look at Woolf's
last years that speaks of both her accomplishments and personal
failures with equal respect and intensity.
Everything about Woolf, from her testy relationships with her
domestic staff, to her marriage, to her often platonic affairs, to
her sister and her nieces and nephews, was cloaked in a black cloud
--- there were very few moments when she felt confident and good
about both her personal choices and her professional ones. Every
book success was a surprise, every emotional upheaval thought to be
the end of her. Marder, in his scholastic, matter-of-fact tone,
gives us just the facts, nothing more. The facts, however, place
Woolf's strange and longing diary musings in a context that helps
to counterbalance the world inside her head. During these last
years, she had some of her greatest publishing successes; the
Hogarth Press, which she founded with her husband Leonard, was
doing well; and her family was healthy and happy. But, regardless
of her outer world's peace and prosperity, Woolf was attacked by
continuous bouts of depression and fear, which eventually got the
better of her.
Reading THE MEASURE OF LIFE, I often felt as if I were reading
a thriller --- her words were bitter and sad, but the ongoing
situations around her often gave me hope that what I knew was
coming at the end may not come. Ridiculous, right? But there is
something about her personal diaries that makes you respect her art
all the more and wish that she had lived longer, created more and
better works, before the depression got the best of her. Marder has
taken a well-worn topic and made it interesting again. THE MEASURE
OF LIFE is indeed the measure of one very fascinating life, of one
very fascinating woman.
---
Reviewed by Jana Siciliano

Reviewed by on January 22, 2011

The Measure of Life: Virginia Woolf's Last Years
by Herbert Marder

  • Publication Date: June 22, 2000
  • Genres: Biography, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • ISBN-10: 0801437296
  • ISBN-13: 9780801437298