Computers & Texts No. 14
Table of Contents
April 1997

Review: Major Authors on CD-ROM: Virginia Woolf

Julia Briggs
English, Media & Cultural Studies
De Montfort University


The CD I propose to take to my desert island this summer does not play music but words: it is Primary Source Media's collection of the works of Virginia Woolf, in their series of Major Authors on CD-Rom (Dr Johnson is the next author due to appear in the series). It includes almost all of her published writings and a generous helping of unpublished manuscript and typescript material, as well as Mark Hussey's mini-encyclopaedia, Virginia Woolf: A-Z (published in book form by Facts on File, 1995), which gives up-to-date answers to most of the questions you might want to ask. The disk makes available on screen the contents of an extensive Woolf library, in some cases including both English and American texts of particular novels (although not consistently first editions), as well as the complete short stories and both the first and second editions of Jeanne Schulkind's Moments of Being (Woolf's unfinished autobiographies, now out of print), as well as the texts of the six volumes of letters, plus further letters that have come to light subsequently. Also included are the five volumes of her diary, both in print and in holograph, and the further volume of her early journal, The Passionate Apprentice, plus the four-volume collection of her essays made by Leonard Woolf, and individual volumes of essays published from the 40s to the 60s by the Hogarth Press. It even includes a recording of her surviving broadcast, 'Craftsmanship', in which she meditates (in an implausibly upper-class drawl very different from Eileen Atkins's brisk tones) upon the associations of words, and the magical suggestiveness of such commonplace phrases as 'Passing Russell Square' (announced in the underground), or 'Do not lean out of the window'.


The single serious omission, presumably for copyright reasons, is that of Andrew McNeillie's projected 6-volume edition of the Essays, four volumes of which are now available in hardback. These reprint many early reviews and essays that are otherwise unobtainable, as well as the earliest versions of very familiar texts such as 'Modern Fiction'. Without the first three volumes of the new Essays, any sense of Woolf's early development will be limited, if not seriously incomplete. Her 1916 essay, 'Heard on the Downs' compares the sound of the great guns pounding across the Channel to 'the beating of gigantic carpets by gigantic women', an image which anticipates the labours of Mrs Bast and Mrs McNab in cleansing and restoring the house in the 'Time Passes' section of To the Lighthouse, almost ten years later.

Early Versions

With the significant exception of the early Essays, this disk reflects the current concern with the origins and versions of Woolf's work, although individual texts of the novels are published without their textual apparatus, even where this exists and is useful (for example, in the case of the recent Hogarth editions of The Voyage Out and Mrs Dalloway, the only truly 'definitive' volumes in Hogarth's 'Definitive Edition') . The disk includes the first draft of A Room of One's Own, recently rediscovered in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, and now published as Women and Fiction, and the early version of The Years, in which episodes of fiction alternate with essays analysing social attitudes, published under the title The Pargeters. It also reproduces the galley proofs of The Years which were considerably longer than the final text: Woolf cut 'two enormous chunks' from the published novel, when it looked as if it was going to be too long.


Searches can be made through an index, or by date or by individual words or collocations of words (an 'author' search - useful given the number of reviews Woolf wrote, and books she refers to in her novels - seems to have been planned but not completed). Woolf's carefully maintained reading notebooks can be called up, though only in holograph, so they are not very easy to read on screen, but typescripts and galley proofs reproduce well, as do the misogynist newspaper cuttings that Woolf collected for her 'Cock a Doodle Dum' scrapbook, which provided most of the footnotes to her last and least popular feminist polemic, Three Guineas (1937). The printed texts are 'footnoted' and cross-referenced, and thematic as well as word searches can be conducted across the printed material. Apart from being just what I want on my desert island (I shall be harnessing electric eels for the current), this disk is a wonderful resource for anyone working on Virginia Woolf, whether at graduate or undergraduate level, and would be genuinely useful for college and university libraries where modernism and Woolf's fiction is taught.

[Table of Contents] [Letter to the Editor]

Computers & Texts 14 (1997), 20. Not to be republished in any form without the author's permission.

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