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Leaska, M.A. (1988). Virginia Woolf and the “Lust of Creation”: A Psychoanalytic Exploration. Shirley Panken. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1987, 336 pp.. Psychoanal. Rev., 75(2):339-342.

(1988). Psychoanalytic Review, 75(2):339-342


Virginia Woolf and the “Lust of Creation”: A Psychoanalytic Exploration. Shirley Panken. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1987, 336 pp.

Review by:
Mitchell A. Leaska

Virginia Woolf was extraordinarily prolific as a writer. She left behind at her death at the age of 59, a long shelf of novels, stories, biographies, essays, reviews, memoirs, thousands of letters and numerous volumes of diaries and journals. Virginia Woolf was a complex of psychological nuance, analytic penetration, and Apollonian intellect. The prose that flowed from her pen was as exquisite and tough and durable as she, the woman, was unpredictable, reticent, and vulnerable.

Those who have studied her life without taking into consideration her work, or the work without looking at the literary production, have discovered the enormous obstacles they have had to confront. The few who have attempted to bring the writer and the written together in a single volume have had to deal with even thornier, seemingly insurmountable problems. Yet Shirley Panken has achieved that union with indisputable success in this closely reasoned and persuasively argued study.

What strikes one immediately is the impartiality and thoroughness with which the material has been handled. All the recent significant criticism, both literary and psychological, has been assessed judiciously and presented with unremitting clarity and directness. The biographical setting too, with all its principal characters clamoring for attention, has similarly been treated with perspicacity and unfailing good judgment. And all of these diverse strands Panken has somehow managed to disentangle and then weave back together into a remarkably coherent and convincing whole.

Panken's study addresses four constellations that continued throughout Woolf's life and work. The first and most central focuses on her “incompleted grieving process” concerning her mother, Julia Stephen, stemming from Woolf's sense of “traumatic deprivation” in infancy, reinforced by Julia's death when Woolf was 13. Woolf's insatiable need for maternal protection throughout her life was generally frustrated so that ultimately mother-figures represented abandonment.

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