Twenty years ago Virginia Woolf's oeuvre expanded significantly. Of course between her death and 1992, many essays had been published posthumously, as had letters, diaries, and autobiographical writings. But 1992 saw the arrival of ten new novels by Woolf, maybe twenty. In addition to the plain, unannotated editions that many of us had first read, whether published by the Hogarth Press, Penguin, Grafton, or Harcourt Brace, there appeared affordable annotated editions from Oxford University Press, in their World's Classics imprint, and from Penguin, as Twentieth-Century Classics. (Excellent annotations have also appeared in the Shakespeare Head and the Hogarth Definitive editions, but, as editions intended for the scholarly library market, these did not have the same impact as their paperback counterparts). In addition to Mrs Dalloway (1925), by Virginia Woolf, we discovered two new novels, Mrs Dalloway with annotations by Elaine Showalter, and Mrs Dalloway with annotations by Claire Tomalin; in 2000 followed a fourth new Woolf novel, Mrs Dalloway with annotations by David Bradshaw.
I suspect I was not alone in having mixed feelings when I began to teach and to write using the new texts. While the dominant feeling was one of delight and excitement at having such a resource to use and to share with students, there was also a sentimental regret at the practical nuisance of having to lay aside familiar copies, unannotated by any scholarly editor, but full of one's own underlinings and marginal comments. There was also embarrassment at realising that one had not asked the kinds of questions that the annotators had asked, that one had not read Woolf's novels as carefully and as thoroughly as they deserved. But more importantly, there was a worrying suspicion that annotation was not pure gain; that there was a more complicated economy at work in which, by gaining a sharper sense of Woolf's historical referents, particularly in relation to the topography of London, one lost, or at least found it harder to focus on, Woolf's artistry, her formal patterning.