Table of Contents
Early life and education
Virginia Woolf was born into a literary family. Her father, Leslie Stephen (1832-1904), was a man of letters (and first editor of the Dictionary of National Biography). The sudden death of her mother in 1895, when Virginia was 13, and that of her half sister Stella two years later, led to the first of Virginia’s several nervous breakdowns. The death of her father in 1904 provoked her most alarming collapse and she was briefly institutionalised.
Virginia was allowed uncensored access to her father’s extensive library, and from an early age determined to be a writer. Her education was sketchy and she never went to school. Vanessa trained to become a painter. Their two brothers were sent to preparatory and public schools, and then to Cambridge, where they befriended Leonard Woolf (later Virginia’s husband), Clive Bell, Saxon Sydney-Turner, Lytton Strachey and Maynard Keynes, the nucleus of the Bloomsbury group.
The Bloomsbury Group
After the death of their father and Virginia’s second nervous breakdown, Virginia, Vanessa, and Adrian sold 22 Hyde Park Gate and bought a house at 46 Gordon Square in Bloomsbury.
Virginia Stephen married writer Leonard Woolf in 1912, referring to him during their engagement as a “penniless Jew.” The two founded the Hogarth Press in 1917, which subsequently published Virginia’s novels along with works by T.S. Eliot, Laurens van der Post, and others. The ethos of the Bloomsbury group discouraged sexual exclusivity, and in 1922, Virginia met the writer and gardener Vita Sackville-West, with whom she pursued a sexual relationship. In 1928, Woolf presented Sackville-West with Orlando, a fantastical biography in which the eponymous hero’s life spans three centuries and both genders. After their affair ended, the two women remained friends until Woolf’s death in 1941. On 28 March 1941, Woolf committed suicide after falling into deep depression. She put on her overcoat, filled its pockets with stones, then walked into the River Ouse near her home and drowned herself.
Woolf is considered one of the greatest innovators in the English language. In her works she experimented with stream-of-consciousness and the underlying psychological as well as emotional motives of characters. Woolf’s reputation declined sharply after World War II, but her eminence was re-established with the surge of Feminism criticism in the 1970s.
Her publications range from novels, short stories, essays and biographies: The Voyage Out (1915); Night and Day (1919); Jacob’s Room (1922); Mrs Dalloway (1925); To the Lighthouse (1927); Orlando (1928); The Waves (1931); The Years (1937); Between the Acts (1941); Monday or Tuesday (1921); A Haunted House and Other Short Stories (1944); Mrs. Dalloway’s Party (1973); Orlando: A Biography (1928); Flush: A Biography (1933); Roger Fry: A Biography (1940).
A Room of One’s Own
The essay examines whether women were capable of producing work of the quality of William Shakespeare, amongst other topics. In one section, Woolf invented a fictional character Judith “Shakespeare’s Sister”, to illustrate that a woman with Shakespeare’s gifts would have been denied the same opportunities to develop them because of the doors that were closed to women. Woolf also examines the careers of several female authors, including Aphra Behn, Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters and George Eliot. The author subtly refers to several of the most prominent intellectuals of the time, and her hybrid name for the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge—Oxbridge—has become a well-known term in English satire, although she was not the first to use it.
- Virginia Woolf by Nigel Nicolson. New York, Penguin Group. 2000
- Virginia Woolf: A Biography by Quentin Bell. New York, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972; Revised editions 1990, 1999
- “Vanessa and Virginia” by Susan Sellers (Two Ravens, 2008; Harcourt 2009) [Fictional biography of Woolf and her sister Vanessa Bell]
- The Unknown Virginia Woolf by Roger Poole. Cambridge UP, 1978.
- The Invisible Presence: Virginia Woolf and the Mother-Daughter Relationship by Ellen Bayuk Rosenman. Louisiana State University Press, 1986.
- Virginia Woolf and the politics of style, by Pamela J. Transue. SUNY Press, 1986. ISBN 0887062865.
- The Victorian heritage of Virginia Woolf: the external world in her novels, by Janis M. Paul. Pilgrim Books, 1987. ISBN 0937664731.