‘Poetics … will fit me for a reviewer!’ Aristotle and Woolf’s Journalism

Jim Stewart

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

    2 Citations (Scopus)


    By the time Woolf was twenty-one, in 1903, she had been for some years a confirmed lover of Greek. She had received Greek tuition from George Warr and from Clara Pater, and now her lessons with Janet Case were drawing to a close, having gone on for about a year-and-a-half (PA 135, 181). By the close of the year following, 1904, she was reviewing for a religious periodical, The Guardian (PA 214). The major intervening event in her life was the death of her father Sir Leslie Stephen in February 1904, which, she was to admit in 1928, liberated her for literature (D3 208). To be liberated was one thing, but to be enabled was something else. Excited and interested as she undoubtedly was by the prospect of becoming a book reviewer, she probably reflected on her abilities and limitations. From 1904, she ‘published anonymously a vast quantity … of journalism, journalism very largely of great brilliance, written from a deeply impassioned point of view’ (E3 xi). Granted, she could be briskly businesslike about reviewing. Part of the ‘great pleasure’ of that reviewing was, in January 1905, her ‘first instalment of wages … for Guardian articles’, and the prospect of ‘more work, & cheques ultimately’; but she also cared about the quality and theory of her journalism, which would come to include essay writing, and as she would say in March 1905, she was wary of the ‘Grub St. point of view’, namely of just churning out literary hack work (PA 219, 256). In February 1905, Woolf was translating Thucydides, a no doubt worthy activity. Thucydides was not going to set a young imagination on fire, but he could prompt in another direction. Hence he ‘stimulated [her] perverse brain to write original melodrama’, a telling counter impulse to his famously dry reportage (PA 231–4). Neither would Virgil’s Georgics feed Woolf’s imagination. Although she admired him, he lacked ‘the vitality of my dear old Greeks’ (PA 238). She was casting around among classical sources, looking for guidance, for antecedents of some kind. Earlier that month, she had been asked to review for a weekly periodical, The Outlook, and had accepted ‘with joy’. Simultaneously, The Times Literary Supplement had asked her to review for them, ‘[s]o I said yes – & thus my work gets established’ (PA 234). Later in the month, she found the ancient writer who could enhance her confidence as a tyro reviewer. That writer was Aristotle, and the text was his Poetics.

    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationVirginia Woolf in Context
    EditorsBryony Randall , Jane Goldman
    Place of PublicationCambridge
    PublisherCambridge University Press
    Number of pages10
    ISBN (Electronic)9780511777103
    ISBN (Print)9781107003613
    Publication statusPublished - 2012

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • General Arts and Humanities


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