‘The Lady in the Looking-glass: some Reflections’

  • Jennifer Gribble


The lady in the looking-glass and the web she weaves in a room of her own are recurring images of creativity in the essays, stories and novels of Virginia Woolf. In ‘A Sketch of the Past’ she locates her preoccupation with mirror-gazing in childhood guilt about her own body and her developing potentialities. In adolescence, the guilt is vivified by the dream of a fearful ‘other face’ appearing in the glass behind her own reflection. For the adult writer, this dream signifies the artist’s creative shock of recognition:

a token of some real thing behind appearances; and I make it real by putting it into words. It is only by putting it into words that I make it whole; this wholeness means that it has lost its power to hurt me; it gives me, perhaps because by doing so I take away the pain, a great delight to put the severed parts together.


Underground Railway Courtly Love Romantic Figure Life Writing Extended Essay 
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  1. 1.
    Virginia Woolf, Moments of Being: Unpublished Autobiographical Writings, ed. Jeanne Schulkind (London, 1976) pp. 69–72.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Ibid., p. 222.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    James Naremore, The World Without a Self: Virginia Woolf and the Novel (New Haven, Conn., 1973) rightly notes (p. 74), in quoting from ‘Modern Fiction’, that Woolf’s novels are not always clear about the distinction between ‘embrace’ and ‘create’.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    28 Nov 1928, A Writer’s Diary, ed. Leonard Woolf (London, 1954) p. 139.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    26 Nov 1926, ibid.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Cf. A. D. Moody, Virginia Woolf (London, 1963) p. 20: ‘she is shown to be of not much interest in herself; she has to offer only a sharp awareness of the surface of her world and its people. This makes her something of an animated mirror, having a life made up of the world she reflects. But to be and do that is precisely her function for the novel: she is a living image of the surface of society Virginia Woolf was concerned with.’Google Scholar

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© Jennifer Gribble 1983

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  • Jennifer Gribble

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