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Virginia Woolf and Heritage$
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Jane deGay, Tom Breckin, and Anne Reus

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781942954422

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.5949/liverpool/9781942954422.001.0001

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Heritage, Legacy, and the Life-Writing of Woolf and Rhys

Heritage, Legacy, and the Life-Writing of Woolf and Rhys

(p.202) Heritage, Legacy, and the Life-Writing of Woolf and Rhys
Virginia Woolf and Heritage

Kristin Czarnecki

Liverpool University Press

My paper considers how Virginia Woolf and Jean Rhys conceived of their heritage in their memoirs along with the effect of their life-writing upon their literary legacies. Focusing on Woolf’s “A Sketch of the Past” and Rhys’s Smile Please: An Unfinished Autobiography, I consider the catalysts for their autobiographical impulses and how they shaped their lives on the page. What aspects of their heritage do Woolf and Rhys include, rework, veil, or perhaps suppress? Can their life-writing and concepts of heritage be classified in any particular way? Given the imbalance between the number of biographies and critical books and articles on Woolf as compared to Rhys, I then consider whether “Sketch” and Smile Please might be said to play a role in each woman’s legacy. To what degree does their life-writing determine their status within the academy? Does it influence the courses we teach and the articles we write—as well as those that get published? Does a certain kind of life-writing provide greater fodder than another for biography and literary criticism? In exploring such questions, I turn to autobiography theory: Smith, Watson, Benstock, Marcus, and Friedman, for example, along with work on Woolf, Rhys, and memoir by Dahl, Dalgarno, Johnson, Sellei, and Zwerdling. I also discuss David Plante’s most ungracious memoir of working with Rhys on her autobiography. In sum, I believe “A Sketch of the Past” and Smile Please can serve as fruitful gateways into both the heritage and legacy of Virginia Woolf and Jean Rhys.

Keywords:   Woolf, Rhys, autobiography, memoir, heritage, legacy, life-writing

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