Virginia Woolf’s Good Housekeeping Essays

By Christine Reynier

In the mid-twentieth century, Virginia Woolf published ‘Six Articles on London Life’ in Good Housekeeping magazine, a popular magazine where fashion, cookery and house decoration is largely featured. This first book-length study of what Woolf calls ‘little articles’ proposes to reassess the commissioned essays and read them in a chronological sequence in their original context as well as in the larger context of Woolf’s work. Drawing primarily on literary theory, intermedial studies, periodical studies and philosophy, this volume argues the essays which provided an original guided tour of London are creative and innovative works, combining several art forms while developing a photographic method. Further investigation examines the construct of Woolf’s essays as intermedial and as partaking both of theory and praxis; intermediality is closely connected here with her defense of a democratic ideal, itself grounded in a dialogue with her forebears. Far from being second-rate, the Good Housekeeping essays bring together aesthetic and political concerns and come out as playing a pivotal role: they redefine the essay as intermedial, signal Woolf’s turn to a more openly committed form of writing, and fit perfectly within Woolf’s essayistic and fictional oeuvre which they in turn illuminate.




Woolf’s essays and their critical appraisal.

Woolf’s essays in Good Housekeeping magazine. Composition, publication, reception

The purpose of the book


Part I: The Good Housekeeping Essays as Intermedial essays

Chapter One

The humble art of description in the ‘Six Articles on London life’


The documentary impulse

Practicing the art of description in ‘The Docks of London’ and ‘Oxford Street Tide’

Renewing the art of description in Good Housekeeping magazine

Developing the ‘critical attitude’



Chapter Two

The Art of photography in the Good Housekeeping essays

‘The Docks of London’ as an apparatus for the other essays

The photographic method in ‘Great Men’s Houses’

The photographic method in ‘Abbeys and Cathedrals’


Chapter Three

The art of architecture in the Good Housekeeping essays

Redefining architecture as democracy in ‘This is the House of Commons’ and ‘Portrait of a Londoner’

Intermediality and Woolf’s ethics of doubt

Constructing the essay as an intermedial form


Part II: ‘The Common Pool’

Chapter Four

Woolf’s ghosts in the Good Housekeeping essays

Woolf’s plea for democracy: a dialogue with her forebears

The intermedial dialogue with John Ruskin

‘Adaptive reuse’ and the political debates of the 1930s


Chapter Five

Virginia Woolf and Heritage

Woolf’s survival theory

Poverty as usus: the ‘common pool’

An ethical posture?

Poverty as an economic and aesthetic concept

Woolf and Benjamin


Part III Reassessing the Good Housekeeping essays

Chapter 6

The Good Housekeeping essays as cultural and creative essays

The Good Housekeeping essays as part and parcel of Woolf’s essays

The theoretical thrust of Woolf’s essays

Woolf’s ‘humble’ theory


Chapter Seven

The Good Housekeeping essays at the crossroads

The photographic turn

Implementing the theory of usus

Constructing history as trace

The political turn



The Good Housekeeping essays and The Arcades Project

Straddling the divide between high and low culture