FOREWORD BY ALI SMITH
WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY FRANCESCA WADE
Who better to serve as a guide to great books and their authors than Virginia Woolf?
In the early years of its existence, the Times Literary Supplement published some of the finest writers in English: T. S. Eliot, Henry James and E. M. Forster among them. But one of the paper's defining voices was Virginia Woolf, who produced a string of superb essays between the two World Wars.
The weirdness of Elizabethan plays, the pleasure of revisiting favourite novels, the supreme examples of Charlotte Bront , George Eliot and Henry James, Thomas Hardy and Joseph Conrad: all are here, in anonymously published pieces, in which may be glimpsed the thinking behind Woolf's works of fiction and the enquiring, feminist spirit of A Room of One's Own.
Here is Woolf the critical essayist, offering, at one moment, a playful hypothesis and, at another, a judgement laid down with the authority of a twentieth-century Dr Johnson. Here is Woolf working out precisely what's great about Hardy, and how Elizabeth Barrett Browning made books a "substitute for living" because she was "forbidden to scamper on the grass". Above all, here is Virginia Woolf the reader, whose enthusiasm for great literature remains palpable and inspirational today.