On Being Ill with Notes from Sick Rooms
In this poignant and humorous essay, Virginia Woolf observes that though illness is a part of every human being’s experience, it has rarely been the focus of literature — unlike the traditionally acceptable subjects of war, love, and betrayal. We cannot quote Shakespeare to describe a headache. We must, Woolf says, invent language to describe pain. Illness enhances our perceptions and, she observes, it reduces self-consciousness; it is "the great confessional." Woolf discusses the taboos associated with illness and she explores how it changes our relationship to the world around us.
Originally published by Paris Press in 2002 as On Being Ill, this new paperback edition doubles the length of the original book and includes a new Introduction to Notes from Sick Rooms by Mark Hussey, the founding editor of Woolf Studies Annual, and a new Afterword by Rita Charon, a physician and the founder and director of the Program of Narrative Medicine at Columbia University. A new Publisher’s Note is included, and Paris Press has kept Hermione Lee’s brilliant original Introduction to On Being Ill in place and intact.
"By turns lyrical, self-mocking, and outlandish, Woolf's meditation on the perils and privileges of the sickbed lampoons the loneliness that makes one glad of a kick from a housemaid and extolls the merits of bad literature for the unwell.... When Woolf imagines beauty in a frozen-over garden, even after the death of the sun... it seems less a triumph of nature than of art." — The New Yorker
"Perusing this delicate yet powerful little book, we can't help but admire the shapeliness, the eloquence, the stylishness, and the incisiveness of the essay it contains. Nor can we fail to notice the witty paradoxes that animate and lend additional sparkle to this bright display of originality and intelligence.... Only in the final paragraphs of On Being Ill is the reader at last able to see what Woolf has been working toward: an affecting, resonant recapitulation and illustration of the inadequacy and superfluity of language in our efforts to describe human suffering. Which is, perhaps needless to say, also the most paradoxical aspect of the essay — the verbal pyrotechnics, the scintillating clarity and richness of the phrases and sentences in which Woolf tells us about the poverty and limitations of language." — Francine Prose, Bookforum
"The distance that yawns between the sick and the healthy — the "army of the upright" — is the terrain mapped by Virginia Woolf in a marvelously elegant essay, "On Being Ill."... "On Being Ill" speaks to the inseparable nature of psyche and soma, the tormented mind and body as one." — Benita Eisler, Los Angeles Times
"In 2002, Paris Press, the Ashfield, Mass., nonprofit publisher, rescued a little-known work by Virginia Woolf, On Being Ill…. To mark the first decade in print of the Paris Press edition, the press is reissuing On Being Ill in November in paperback for the first time in an expanded edition (to be reviewed in PW’s Oct. 15 issue).…
"But the new paperback goes beyond reproducing the 2002 edition. It includes another long out-of-print essay, Notes from Sick Rooms by Woolf’s mother, Julia Stephen, which was originally published in 1883 by Smith, Elder & Co. (Charlotte Brontë’s publisher). For Paris Press director Jan Freeman, the addition of the new material—which also includes an introduction to Notes from Sick Rooms by Woolf scholar Mark Hussey and an afterword by physician Rita Charon—has transformed the book into a 'conversation in text' between Woolf and her mother (who died when Woolf was 13), patient and nurse. 'There are wonderful parallels between the two texts,' said Freeman. 'You learn about Woolf by reading Notes from Sick Rooms, and you learn about Woolf’s mother’s life. There’s a familiarity in [Woolf’s mother’s] voice. Woolf didn’t become a writer exclusively from the influence of her father.'…" — Judith Rosen, Publishers Weekly