Cover image for Melymbrosia
Woolf, Virginia, 1882-1941.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
San Francisco : Cleis Press, 2002.
Physical Description:
xxvii, 350 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library X Adult Fiction Central Library
Julia Boyer Reinstein Library X Adult Fiction Classics

On Order



Virginia Woolf completed her first novel, Melymbrosia , in 1912 when she was thirty years old. The story concerned the emotional and sexual awakening of a young English woman traveling abroad, and bristled with social commentary on issues as varied as homosexuality, the suffrage movement, and colonialism. She was warned by colleagues, however, that publishing an outspoken indictment of Britain could prove disastrous to her fledgling career as a novelist. Moreover, the critical offensive from men would be especially harsh towards a woman author. Woolf thus revised the novel extensively, omitting much of the political candor until, in 1915, the quieter book was published under the title The Voyage Out.

The Cleis Press publication of Melymbrosia offers a rare look into the formative mind of the modernist master who revolutionized twentieth century literature. Here, one sees the young Virginia Woolf learning her craft. Like James Joyce's Stephen Hero, the original treatment of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, or Ralph Ellison's posthumously published Juneteenth , Melymbrosia is a "lost classic" that owes its existence to the research of a devoted scholar. In this instance, editor and Woolf authority Louise DeSalvo (Virginia Woolf: The Impact of Sexual Abuse on Her Life and Work) spent seven years reviewing more than 1,000 manuscript pages from Woolf's private papers. DeSalvo had no clear markers for proceeding to the finished draft, save for Woolf's remarks on the novel's progress, plot, and structure in her diaries. But also, the editor resourcefully relied upon clues among the papers themselves, including color of ink and paper color, where pencil or pen left off and began anew, and even the color of ribbon Woolf used to bundle manuscript pages. In short, the puzzle of Melymbrosia was eventually solved through the ingenuity and persistence of meticulous research.

Author Notes

Virginia Woolf was born in London, England on January 25, 1882. She was the daughter of the prominent literary critic Leslie Stephen. Her early education was obtained at home through her parents and governesses. After death of her father in 1904, her family moved to Bloomsbury, where they formed the nucleus of the Bloomsbury Group, a circle of philosophers, writers, and artists.

During her lifetime, she wrote both fiction and non-fiction works. Her novels included Jacob's Room, Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, Orlando, and Between the Acts. Her non-fiction books included The Common Reader, A Room of One's Own, Three Guineas, The Captain's Death Bed and Other Essays, and The Death of the Moth and Other Essays. Having had periods of depression throughout her life and fearing a final mental breakdown from which she might not recover, Woolf drowned herself on March 28, 1941 at the age of 59. Her husband published part of her farewell letter to deny that she had taken her life because she could not face the terrible times of war.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Library Journal Review

Woolf scholar DeSalvo (Hunter Coll.) worked seven years reassembling and editing this unpublished novel from early drafts among Woolf's papers and first published a scholarly edition of the book in 1982. This trade edition contains a new introduction by DeSalvo and eliminates much of the scholarly apparatus that accompanied the first version. The book traces the emotional and sexual awakening of a young British woman traveling abroad, and large portions of it appeared in Woolf's first published novel, The Voyage Out. In her introduction, DeSalvo argues that the book's themes reflect Woolf's own struggles with mental health following the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her half-brother Gerald Duckworth. This book has been criticized by Woolf's great-nephew Julian Bell, and the publication in trade format has generated protest from those who don't believe Woolf would have wanted this novel in print. Still, what is here is the earliest work of one of the great writers of the 20th century. Readers will get a glimpse of the young artist working to find the voice and style that would later produce masterpieces like Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse. In this regard, readers of Woolf will want to read this early effort, which is more conventional than her later works. For literary collections. Ron Ratliff, Kansas State Univ. Lib., Manhattan (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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