Her literary criticism is of a kind that hardly exists any more. As a novelist and biographer herself, she resolves this contradiction by suggesting that biography is a young genre, that it should explore new methods, and that it acts as a modest handmaid to the work of truly imaginative and great artists.Her reflections on the condition of young English poets in 1931 are cast in the form of a letter to ‘John’: (this is John Lehmann, who worked for Leonard and Virginia Woolf at the Hogarth Press).
Three reviews of Henry James – two memoirs and the letters – almost take on the famous style of her author-subject – the long sentences, baroque syntax, and complex metaphors that his fans so admire and his detractors bewail.
She dwells mainly on his relationship with England and his not-uncritical admiration for its traditions, through which she expresses her own reverence for James as a figure representing a bygone age. Forster’s novels she is lofty and magisterial, but she evaluates the works using bafflingly abstract metaphors: – it ‘mark[s] his prime’, yet when she gets round to looking at it in detail exclaims ‘we may wonder in what mood of the moment we can have been prompted to call it a failure … In ‘The Art of Biography’ she points out that fiction and biography cannot be easily combined because they have different goals – one towards factuality, the other towards invention.
Woolf uses the appeal of ethos when describing the pity felt towards the moth.
The moth is pathetic, being enthralled in happiness with only being able to do so little, yet she connects the creature to something more significant.
But she observes it as a philosopher who uses the image to reflect on the most fundamental force of nature – the struggle between life and death.
She also draws out the complexities in apparently simple things – such as the words we use to speak and write.
And if death is so powerful then life can’t be pathetic, it’s a miracle to live for only a small portion of time if death really is stronger.
The appeals an author uses can only funnel the audience a certain way and can lead them to different conclusions whether the readers like to look for moral lessons, read between the lines or follow what is written word for word.
Details aside from the moth emphasize the energy it contains.
While the moth is dancing, Woolf describes the liveliness of the rooks, the horses, and the fields.