Her sense of reader and writer in their physical selves – their age, their illness or health, their social and geographical context, their individual memory and experience, and especially their emotional development – yields valuable dividends. This is never more true than when she is considering the effect of gender. So there’s George Eliot, “the grave lady in her low chair”, punished by overwhelmingly male critics for not being charming – “a quality … held to be supremely desirable in women”. (Eliot’s failing, for Woolf, lay in her heroines, who contained more of the intellectual life force of their creator than she believed their provincial settings could allow.) Or Charlotte Brontë, whose novels are a “superb gesture of defiance”. Or Aurora Leigh, crippled by the limitations imposed on its feminine creator. Calling Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem “a masterpiece in embryo” is no idle choice of words.