Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Virginia Woolf on the Responsibilities of Readers

Virginia Woolf on the Responsibilities of Readers:

[I]f to read a book as it should be read calls for the rarest qualities of imagination, insight, and judgment, you may perhaps conclude that literature is a very complex art and that it is unlikely that we shall be able, even after a lifetime of reading, to make any valuable contribution to its criticism. We must remain readers; we shall not put on the further glory that belongs to those rare beings who are also critics. But still we have our responsibilities as readers and even our importance. The standards we raise and the judgments we pass steal into the air and become part of the atmosphere which writers breathe as they work. An influence is created which tells upon them even if it never finds its way into print. And that influence, if it were well instructed, vigorous and individual and sincere, might be of great value now when criticism is necessarily in abeyance; when books pass in review like the procession of animals in a shooting gallery, and the critic has only one second in which to load and aim and shoot and may well be pardoned if he mistakes rabbits for tigers, eagles for barndoor fowls, or misses altogether and wastes his shot upon some peaceful cow grazing in a further field. If behind the erratic gunfire of the press the author felt that there was another kind of criticism, the opinion of people reading for the love of reading, slowly and unprofessionally, and judging with great sympathy and yet with great severity, might this not improve the quality of his work? And if by our means books were to become stronger, richer, and more varied, that would be an end worth reaching.

From Virginia Woolf, “How Should One Read a Book?” (1926).

2 comments:

Dorothy W. said...

Wow. Virginia Woolf never ceases to astound me.

Kate S. said...

She truly is amazing. I've read a lot of her work, essays as well as fiction, but had somehow missed this one until now. My dad alerted me to its existence after he began reading my blog. That "other kind of criticism" of which she speaks, "the opinion of people reading for the love of reading, slowly and unprofessionally, and judging with great sympathy and yet with great severity," seems to me to encapsulate what many of us aspire to in our book blogging endeavours.