Adeline: A Novel of Virginia Woolf by Norah Vincent

On April 18, 1941, twenty-two days after Virginia Woolf went for a walk near her weekend house in Sussex and never returned, her body was reclaimed from the River Ouse. Norah Vincent’s Adeline reimagines the events that brought Woolf to the riverbank, offering us a denouement worthy of its protagonist.

With poetic precision and psychological acuity, Vincent channels Virginia and Leonard Woolf, T. S. and Vivienne Eliot, Lytton Strachey and Dora Carrington, laying bare their genius and their blind spots, their achievements and their failings, from the inside out. And haunting every page is Adeline, the name given to Virginia Stephen at birth, which becomes the source of Virginia’s greatest consolation, and her greatest torment.

Intellectually and emotionally disarming, Adeline a vibrant portrait of Woolf and her social circle, the storied Bloomsbury group, and a window into the darkness that both inspired and doomed them all. 

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (April 7, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0544470206
  • ISBN-13: 978-0544470200

Virginia in her mother's dress published in Vanity Fair in 1924

 And so it would be in her rendering. The shadow play of memory and time, etched, as it was in life, in the dream language of light. The past is here now, she asserts, and I, this manifestation, am in the past. 

Yes, the past, she repeats, and Adeline, who is the girl that she once was, the bright Victorian girl shut behind dark paneled doors with her thirteen, fifteen, eighteen years of life and a Greek lexicon. She is the girl stopped in time who could not speak or feel at the side of her dead mother's bed. She keeps the cold, clear information of those days, unclouded by revision or the lies of age. She is there still, communicating, conjured by this strange Virginia, who is the woman she did not become.

Broken up into five acts, mythical Adeline, the protagonist, takes us through the years of Virignia Woolf's life beginning in the year 1925 including events leading to her suicide in 1941. The protagonist delves us into the troubled psyche of Virignia Woolf plagued with self-doubt as she writes her novels The Waves, The Years, The Voyage Out, to name just a few. Water plays the lead role, both symbolically and metaphorically, washing over both Adeline and Virginia as her life progresses through a series of life altering family events. We meet Virginia in a bathtub at the opening of the novel, her childhood memories in Cornwall at Talland House focus upon a lighthouse lead explanation into Virginia Woolf's novel, To the Lighthouse.  

Leonard Woolf plays a key part as husband, friend, and creative partner to Mrs. Woolf. We meet them both early on and Norah Vincent brings them both lovingly and beautifully to life. I learned that he was a Cambridge Apostle as was Alfred, Lord Tennyson before him. I didn't know that about Leonard and I just love discovering new aspects of people's lives. We will meet 'Nessa' as Adeline calls her, how important their sisterly bond and relationship became to Virginia; almost as if she were an anchor keeping her afloat. Some other family members appear as the years progress. 

I truly loved the references to Julia (Prinsep) Stephen throughout the novel as well as the meeting of Virginia's father, Leslie who takes a pretty big role in the novel. True to form in personality and tone in relationship, author, Norah Vincent has done her research and kept the important familial characteristics in tact. 

The writing is stellar. Metaphorically driven but written with compassion and ardor, you will begin to empathize with Virginia Woolf in her struggles both creatively, domestically, familialy and within the publishing circle. The Bloombury Group are here as well in full chaotic glory!  They bring their nuances and indiscretions with them! 

If it is a bit of chaotic fun you seek, dear reader, wait until you read the chapters covering Vita Sackville-West and her sexual relationship with Viriginia Woolf!  As Adeline shines light on Virginia's thoughts, well, some surprises abound, and some laughter as well.  

Sadly, we know how the novel ends but Norah Vincent tackles it with passionate reverence sharing with the readers perhaps, her perspective on those twenty-four hours in 1941 when Mrs. Woolf left this earth.  

I truly enjoyed Adeline: A Novel of Virginia Woolf by Norah Vincent for attempting to respectfully give a different perspective on the end of the life of a true literary great.