Virginia Woolf Revisited

There’s just one decent bookstore left in my town. I make a point of going there at least twice a month and buying a few new books – they deal in used books as well – because I don’t want this gem of a bookstore to disappear into the maw of Books-a-Million or Barnes & Noble.

After mulling over the new hardcovers and recent paperbacks near the entrance, on one visit I meandered over to the section featuring books about writing. And this is where I tell you how great this bookstore is. The owners know books, and their passion for the written word permeates the very air of their small shop. I can’t count the numbers of times I’ve walked up to the writing section, and some new book – new to me, anyway –  sits there, reminding me of an anxious pound dog hoping for a new home. I’ll pick up this slim book, for they’re never plump with pages, and think, “I can read you at one sitting.” Then I’ll add it to the short pile I’ve accumulated.

At the checkout counter, I’ll admire the silver and gold dangly earrings arranged so enticingly on the display tree as I wait for the cashier to ring up my purchases. There’re dozens of cat books, too, stacked off to the left on the counter, as silent and watchful as the animals that inspired their authors. After saying “No, I don’t need a bag, thanks,” I walk out into the sunshine, my mood lighter, my spirit energized.

That’s the bookstore where I found Michael E. Degen’s Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own: A Contribution to the Essay Genre (2014). The booksellers displayed it prominently on a tiny stand in front of the essay section. At first glance, I thought perhaps I’d picked up the wrong book. Degen is a Jesuit priest, and it’d be easy to assume that his argument would be anti-feminist. Yet that is not the case at all.

Dr. Degen goes through Woolf’s text, point by point, using rhetorical methodology to inquire into both the content and the form of her essay.

“It is important, then, to engage this formal discussion of A Room of One’s Own, demonstrating that Woolf here contributes to the literary tradition not mere feminist polemic, but sophisticated experimentation and expansion of the essay form.” (p. 15)

Heady stuff indeed. Much to ponder.


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