Miss Stephen’s Apprenticeship
“With uncommon grace and wit, Rosalind Brackenbury investigates Virginia Woolf’s journey from Victorian daughter to great writer. It takes a writer to truly see another writer’s awakening, and Brackenbury’s gifts as a novelist and poet inform this telling of ‘what happens inside the head and body of a writer’—that irreducible alchemy. A necessary book.”—Nancy Schoenberger, author, Dangerous Muse: The Life of Lady Caroline Blackwood
“The book is as timely as it is compelling since it illuminates the perennial question: Can one learn to become a genius? While Brackenbury is too honest to answer this (unanswerable) inquiry definitively, her attempts are supple, fecund, engrossing. That her voice is a charming mix of casual intelligence, erudition, and striking lyricism makes her musings all the more captivating. With clarity, brevity, insight, and wit, the text describes the challenges and rewards of the writing life as well as offers bracing advice for writers, ranging from ‘read avidly’ to ‘pay attention’ to ‘set a routine’ to ‘push to emotional extremes.’”—Eric G. Wilson, author, My Business Is to Create
During the years leading up to her marriage with Leonard Woolf in 1912, the year in which she finished The Voyage Out and sent it to be published by her cousin at Duckworth’s, the future Virginia Woolf was teaching herself how to be a writer. While her brothers were sent first to private schools, then to Cambridge to be educated, Virginia Stephen and her sister Vanessa were informally educated at home. With this background, how did she know she was a writer? What were her struggles? How did she teach herself? What made Miss Stephen into the author Virginia Woolf?
Miss Stephen’s Apprenticeship explores these questions, delving into Virginia Woolf’s letters and diaries, seeking to understand how she covered the distance from the wistful “I only wish I could write,” to the almost casual statement, “the novels are finished.” These days, the trajectory of a writer very often starts with studying for an MFA. In Woolf’s case, however, it’s instructive to ask: How did a great writer, who had no formal education, invent for herself the framework she needed for a writing life? How did she know what she had to learn? How did she make her own way?
Novelist Rosalind Brackenbury explores these questions and others, and in the process reveals what Virginia Woolf can give to young writers today.