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"Life Itself" Pre-Reading Assignment #2


Background on “Life Itself”


“Life Itself,” reprinted in The Captain’s Death Bed and Other Essays, was written in 1927 and published that year in The New Republic.  A revision appeared in 1932 in The Common Reader: Second Series under the title “James Woodforde,” half of an essay called “Two Parsons.”  It is one of Virginia Woolf’s “lives of the obscure”—a miniature biography, based on one James Woodforde’s sixty-eight small volumes of diary, written almost daily over forty-three years.  The date of his birth, the year of his death, the peaks of his life—the very basic materials of all biography—none of these are to be found here [in this essay].  In fact, there is only one date given:  April 27, 1780, on which afternoon the Parson’s niece, Nancy, “expressed a wish to read Aristotle’s philosophy…”  In this strange new kind of biography, Virginia Woolf keeps us in the valleys of the Parson’s life, immersed in the small daily preoccupations and affections of unhurried living.  With one minor detail after another, the mist starts to lift, and a personality begins to emerge.  The good Parson begins to breathe and move before us as a mild-tempered man any one of us might once have known.


Read the italicized paragraph above, and then STOP!  You have more pre-reading work to do!


1.      The background information states that the essay “Life Itself” is “a miniature biography.”  What does that tell you and suggest to you about this essay?




2.      Within the essay, you will find Virginia Woolf using quotes.  Based on what the background information told you, where did she get these quotes from?




3.      This essay is said to be about one of Virginia Woolf’s “lives of the obscure.”  What do you think that means about the subject of this essay?