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Success Stories

by Virginia Woolf

This stylish little book, brand new from Snowbooks, will make an attractive addition to anyone's bookshelves. Virginia Woolf wrote The London Scene in 1931-2, as a series of articles in, of all places, Good Housekeeping. I don't know about you, but I can't imagine any women's magazine of the twenty-first century being interested in anything so well-written and original. It's a sad thought.

Fortunately for us, Snowbooks has decided to reprint Woolf's series of essays in a single volume, with appropriate illustrations. No reason for this choice is given in the afterword, which consists of a brief account of the history of the work, including a description of the research the author carried out.

The result is rich and imaginative prose. Woolf travels up the Thames to explore the docklands in all their grandiose squalor:

"Barges heaped with old buckets, razor blades, fish tails, newspapers and ashes ... are discharging their cargoes upon the most desolate land in the world."

Had she travelled by the same route today, she might not even have recognised her native city. From the docks she moves on to Oxford Street:

"The first spring day brings out barrows frilled with tulips, violets, daffodils in brilliant layers."

It is as though a past London, now completely forgotten, is coming alive again before our eyes. This feeling is somehow reinforced by the next chapter, in which our attention is drawn to the houses of famous writers and the way their atmosphere brings us closer to great literary figures such as Dickens and Carlyle.

Woolf continues with a hymn to the churches of London and a visit to the Houses of Parliament before concluding with her "Portrait of a Londoner" -- Mrs Crowe, a Cockney widow. All in all, it is a tour de force, the more remarkable for its brevity.

Who is going to buy this book? My fear is that few readers will appreciate its beauty enough to pay 11.99 for the slim hardback, even as a gift. I hope I am mistaken. There are surely enough people around who still have an interest in the major figures of early twentieth-century English literature to want to wallow in the atmosphere of their times, and I recommend it to all of them.


ISBN 0 9545759 2 X
Snowbooks, 2004
95pp, illustrated hardback
Retail price 11.99

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Review by Deborah Fisher 

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