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The Intersecting Realities and Fictions of Virginia Woolf and Colette

Helen Southworth

“explores the reasons why it is Colette, rather than Woolf, who has been embraced by feminist critics, such as Angela Carter and Elaine Showalter, while, across the Channel, Simone de Beauvoir and Nathalie Sarraute have appropriated Woolf . . . . a useful supplement to denser critical or biographical appreciations.” —Times Literary Supplement

“This is an important book, one that charts the influences and connections between women writers of the early modernist period in ways that outline literary, intellectual, sexual, and political components of feminist modernists. The research into the work of Virginia Woolf and Colette is detailed and scrupulous, providing background information in letters, diaries, and other forms of private writing that supports the personal influences that shape the argument of the book.” —Shari Benstock, University of Miami

What might the author of Mrs. Dalloway and A Room of One’s Own have in common with the author of the Claudine series and The Pure and the Impure? Resisting long-held interpretations that Colette and Virginia Woolf had little in common, Southworth shows here the links between the two famous writers, both real and imagined. Often cast in their diametrically opposed roles of elitist bluestocking and risqué music hall performer, critics have overlooked the many ways in which the lives and works of Woolf and Colette intersect. This study provides a broad-ranging introduction to the biographical, stylistic, and thematic ties that link the lives and works of Britain's and France's first ladies of letters of the early twentieth century. Situating the two writers within an international network of artists and literati, including Jacques-Émile Blanche, Radclyffe Hall and Una Troubridge, Winnie de Polignac, Gis´┐Żle Freund, Sylvia Beach and Adrienne Monnier, Vita Sackville-West and Violet Trefusis, this study complicates conceptions of the differences—national, sexual, cultural, and intellectual—which have kept these two women apart by placing these same differences at its center.

Southworth develops work already undertaken on Woolf's contacts with France and adds to the body of comparative work on Woolf and her contemporaries. This study also highlights as yet unexplored connections between Colette and her British and American peers. Southworth’s book makes a significant contribution to gay and lesbian studies and the study of modernist culture. It also demonstrates the potential of social network theory for literary studies.

Helen Southworth is visiting assistant professor of literature, Robert D. Clark Honors College, University of Oregon.

Oct 2004
Literary studies, women's studies, biography
288 pp. 6 x 9 15 illus.

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