Mary M. Colum, “Woman as Artist.” The New York Herald Tribune. May 8, 1927. Sec. 7, pp.1 and 6.

Woman As Artist

By Virginia Woolf.
New York: Harcourt, Brace and  Company. $2.50


DESPITE her modernity, Virginia
Woolf is the best living example
of that sort of mind which had
its innings in letters in the eighteenth
century—a mind partly critical, partly 
philosophical, highly imaginative, incapable 
of the vaster emotions but so
subtle in its emotionalized intellectuality, 
so polished, that it makes most 
other contemporary writers appear to
be parvenus of the intellect, stumbling
self-consciously under their knowledge
and their clevernesses. “Women can’t
write, women can’t paint,” says a character 
in her newest book, and the 
crabbed and cranky expression arrests
one as one proceeds slowly through this
leisurely, melancholy, whimsical book—
this book by a woman who in a few 
years has become one of the foremost
living English novelists—who, indeed,
of all contemporary English novelists,
has the most high-bred, the most accomplished 
mind. Her intellect is as 
natural to her as the color of her hair
or the shape of her hands—it gives a 
sinewy nervousness to her style, a 
glamour to her learning, and a queer
reality to her ideas. We feel that, although 
her heart may be deceived sometimes, 
her intellect never is. She is not
a modern in the sense that Joyce is a 
modern—a lightning-flash in the sky,
obvious and visible to all—she is modern 
in the sense that she is a natural 
development from everything that has
gone before; everything that is in her
can be traced to some germ that has already 
appeared in English literature or
English thought. She is not, then,
startlingly new; she wants to do nothing 
very daring with literature; she
would be justly horrified if it were suggested 
that she was trying to cross it
with another art, or with science, as 
Joyce may be said to be doing. However, 
on the side of her modernity she
has one thing that is common to the 
three most modern of contemporary
novelists—Joyce, Proust, and the later
George Moore; her books belong to the
literature of memory.

She has written half a dozen novels
and a couple of books of criticism, all
of unique distinction. Her novels, on
the whole, are more important than her
purely critical books, though her criticism 
is extraordinarily fine and profound, 
if somewhat narrow in its range.
She is too British to quite understand
the Russians, or perhaps too regularized 
in her emotions. But who in our
time has interpreted Jane Austen so
well? Who, in so few words, has shown 
us so clearly the barbarism of H.G.
Wells, whose very generosity of sympathy 
seems to add to his grossness? Who
has brought so clearly to our attention 
that, though the characters of Arnold
Bennett live abundantly and unexpectedly, 
we never know exactly how they
live or what they live for? Who, among
our modern writers, has stood more
firmly for the interior life, more convincingly 
for scholarship without pedantry, 
for culture without genteelness?
Who has stood out more broad-mindedly, 
more proudly for the civilization 
that has been handed down to us as

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against the shocking crudenesses and
the more shocking genteelnesses that
are invading us, and invading us particularly 
in America? As she herself
says of Addison—she is on “the side of
sense, taste and civilization.” No book
of contemporary critical essays really
surpasses her
“Common Reader”
in just these qualities
—sense, taste
and civilization.
She has unvarying
vigor and soundness 
even when she
is bewildered, as 
she sometimes is, 
about contemporary 
“Ulysses” and the
“Portrait of the
Artist” will never 
cease to be a puzzle
to her, even though 
she admits that, as
compared with Mr.
Wells’s materialism, 
they stand for
spirituality. And
her little pamphlet,
“Mr. Bennett and
Mrs. Brown,” 
which appeared in
this paper, is really 
only incidentally
enlightening, for

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the reason that to the sort of modern 
literature which has its springs outside
of the class to which she belongs she is a
bewildered outsider. The world that
she understands is university-bred and
probably English university-bred at

But how original
are her essays on
Jane Austen and
Joseph Addison, 
how profound her
understanding of
them and how
easily do we perceive 
that she herself 
is a development 
from them!
In her essay “The
Russian Point of
View” how completely 
does she
express the puzzlement 
of a descendant 
of Addison and
Jane Austen as to 
these Russians who
can say with such
simple conviction 
to any fellow man
“Brother,” who so
so easily understand 
with the heart, and


Continued on p. 6