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Virginia Woolf

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Virginia Woolf
Photograph of Virginia Woolf in 1902; photograph by George Charles Beresford
Virginia Woolf in 1902; photograph by George Charles Beresford
Born Adeline Virginia Stephen
(1882-01-25)25 January 1882
Kensington, London
Died 28 March 1941(1941-03-28) (aged 59)
Lewes, Sussex, England
Occupation Novelist, essayist, publisher, critic
Nationality British
Alma mater King's College London[1]
Notable works Mrs Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, The Waves
Spouse Leonard Woolf (m. 1912–1941)


Adeline Virginia Woolf (/wʊlf/;[2] née Stephen; 25 January 1882 – 28 March 1941) was an English writer, who is considered one of the foremost modernist authors of the 20th century and a pioneer in the use of stream of consciousness as a narrative device.

She was born in an affluent household in Kensington, London, attended the Ladies' Department of King's College and was acquainted with the early reformers of women's higher education. Having been home-schooled for the most part of her childhood, mostly in English classics and Victorian literature, Woolf began writing professionally in 1900. During the interwar period, Woolf was a significant figure in London literary society and a central figure in the influential Bloomsbury Group of intellectuals. She published her first novel titled The Voyage Out in 1915, through the Hogarth Press, a publishing house that she established with her husband, Leonard Woolf. Her best-known works include the novels Mrs Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927) and Orlando (1928), and the book-length essay A Room of One's Own (1929), with its dictum, "A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction."

Woolf became one of the central subjects of the 1970s movement of feminist criticism, and her works have since garnered much attention and widespread commentary for "inspiring feminism", an aspect of her writing that was unheralded earlier. Her works are widely read all over the world and have been translated into more than fifty languages. She suffered from severe bouts of mental illness throughout her life and took her own life by drowning in 1941 at the age of 59.


Family of origin

Childhood homes
Photo of Talland House, St. Ives during periood when the Stephen family leased it
Talland House, St. Ives, c. 1882–1895

Virginia Woolf was born Adeline Virginia Stephen on January 25, 1882 at 22 Hyde Park Gate in Kensington, London[4] to Julia (née Jackson) (1846–1895) and Leslie Stephen (1832–1904).[4] Julia Jackson was born in 1846 in Calcutta, Bengal, British India to Dr John and Maria (Mia) Pattle Jackson, from two Anglo-Indian families.[5] Dr Jackson FRCS was the third son of George Jackson and Mary Howard of Bengal, a physician who spent 25 years with the Bengal Medical Service and East India Company and a professor at the fledgling Calcutta Medical College. While Dr Jackson was an almost invisible presence, the Pattle family were famous beauties, and moved in the upper circles of Bengali society.[6] The seven Pattle sisters all married into important families.[7] Julia Margaret Cameron was a celebrated photographer while Virginia married Earl Somers, and their daughter, Julia Jackson's cousin, was Lady Henry Somerset, the temperance leader. Julia moved to England with her mother at the age of two and spent much of her early life with another of her mother's sister, Sarah. Sarah and her husband Henry Thoby Prinsep, conducted an artistic and literary salon at Little Holland House where she came into contact with a number of Pre-Raphaelite painters such as Edward Burne-Jones, who she modelled for.[8] Julia was the youngest of three sisters and Adeline Virginia Stephen was named after her mother's oldest sister Adeline Maria (1837–1881)[9] and her mother's aunt Virginia (see Pattle family tree and Table of ancestors). The Jacksons were a well educated, literary and artistic proconsular middle-class family.[10][11] In 1867, Julia Jackson married Herbert Duckworth, a barrister,[12] but within three years was left a widow with three infant children.[13] She was devastated and entered a prolonged period of mourning, abandoning her faith and turning to nursing and philanthropy. Julia and Herbert Duckworth had three children;[14]

Leslie Stephen was born in 1832 in Kensington to Sir James and Lady Jane Catherine Stephen (née Venn). While his family were distinguished and intellectual, they were less colourful and aristocratic than Julia Jackson's. A graduate and fellow of Cambridge University he renounced his faith and position to move to London where he became a notable man of letters.[16] In the same year as Julia Jackson's marriage, he wed Harriet Marian (Minny) Thackeray (1840–1875), youngest daughter of William Makepeace Thackeray, who bore him a daughter, Laura (1870–1945),[c][18] but died in childbirth in 1875. Laura turned out to be developmentally handicapped. and was eventually institutionalised.[19][20]

The widowed Julia Duckworth knew Leslie Stephen through her friendship with Minny's older sister Anne (Anny) Isabella Ritchie and had developed an interest in his agnostic writings. She was present the night Minny died[21] and added Lesley Stephen to her list of people needing care, and helped him move next door to her on Hyde Park Gate so Laura could have some companionship with her own children.[22][23][3] Both were preoccupied with mourning and although they developed a close friendship and intense correspondence, agreed it would go no further.[d][24][25] Lesley Stephen proposed to her in 1877, an offer she declined, but when Anny married later that year she accepted him and they were married on March 26, 1878. He and Laura then moved next door into Julia's house, where they lived till his death in 1904. Julia was 32 and Leslie was 46.[20][26]

Their first child, Vanessa, was born on May 30, 1879. Julia, having presented her husband with a child, and now having five children to care for, had decided to limit her family to this.[27] However, despite the fact that the couple took "precautions",[27] the "imperfect art of contraception in the nineteenth century"[28] resulted in the birth of three more children over the next four years.[e][29][10][30]

22 Hyde Park Gate (1882–1904)

Virginia was born into a literate and well-connected household of five children, with two half brothers and a half sister (the Duckworths), another half sister, laura, and an older sister, Vanessa. The handicapped Laura Stephen lived with the family until she was institutionalised in 1891.[31] Julia and Leslie had four children together: Vanessa Stephen (later known as Vanessa Bell) (1879), Thoby Stephen (1880), Virginia (1882), and Adrian Stephen (1883).

Sir Leslie Stephen's eminence as an editor, critic, and biographer, and his connection to William Thackeray, meant that his children were raised in an environment filled with the influences of Victorian literary society. Henry James, George Henry Lewes, and Virginia's honorary godfather, James Russell Lowell, were among the visitors to the house. Julia Stephen was equally well connected. Her aunt was a pioneering early photographer Julia Margaret Cameron who was also a visitor to the Stephen household. Supplementing these influences was the large library at the Stephens' house, from which Virginia and Vanessa were taught the classics and English literature. As was common at that time, their brothers Adrian and Julian (Thoby) were formally educated and attended the University of Cambridge, a disparity that Virginia noted and condemned in her writing. The sisters did, however, benefit indirectly from their brothers' University contacts, as they brought their new intellectual friends home to the Stephens' drawing room.[32] Although Virginia would not attend university, she was tutored in Greek by two women, Clara Pater and Janet Case), whose instruction would influence her later work, especially her 1925 essay On Not Knowing Greek.[33]

According to ABBAS's memoirs, her most vivid childhood memories were not of London but of St Ives, Cornwall, where the family spent every summer until 1895. The Stephens' summer home, Talland House, looked out over Porthminster Bay, and is still standing, though somewhat altered. Memories of these family holidays and impressions of the landscape, especially the Godrevy Lighthouse, informed the fiction Woolf wrote in later years, most notably To the Lighthouse. She describes why she felt so connected to Talland House in a diary entry dated 22 March 1921. "Why am I so incredibly and incurably romantic about Cornwall? One’s past, I suppose; I see children running in the garden … The sound of the sea at night … almost forty years of life, all built on that, permeated by that: so much I could never explain."[34]

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. After her mother and Stella, her surrogate mother, she lost her cherished brother Thoby, when he was in his mid-20s.[35] The death of her father in 1904 precipitated a further breakdown.[36]


 Julia Stephen at Talland House supervising Thoby, Vanessa, Virginia and Adrian doing their lessons, summer 1894
Virginia (3rd from left) with her mother and the Stephen children at their lessons, Talland House c. 1894
Photograph of 13 Kensingoton Square where Virginia attended classes of the ladies' department, King's College
13 Kensington Square, former home of the Ladies' Department

In the late nineteenth century, education was sharply divided along gender lines. Boys were sent to school, and in upper middle class families such as the Stephens, this involved private boys schools, often boarding schools, and university.[37][38][39] Girls, if they were afforded the luxury of education, received it from their parents, governesses and tutors.[40] Virginia was educated by her parents who shared the duty. There was a small classroom off the back of the drawing room, with its many windows, which they found perfect for quiet writing and painting. Julia taught the children Latin, French and History, while Leslie taught them mathematics. They also received piano lessons.[41]

Later, between the ages of 15 and 19 she was able to pursue higher education. She took courses of study, some at degree level, in beginning and advanced Ancient Greek, intermediate Latin and German, together with continental and English history at the Ladies' Department of King's College London at nearby 13 Kensington Square between 1897 and 1901.[f] She studied Greek under the eminent scholar George Charles Winter Warr, professor of Classical Literature at King's. In addition she had private tutoring in German, Greek and Latin. One of her tutors was Clara Pater (1899–1900), who taught at King's.[1][42][43] Her time at King's brought her into contact with some of the early reformers of women's higher education such as the principal of the Ladies' Department, Lilian Faithfull (one of the so-called Steamboat ladies), in addition to Pater.[44] Her sister Vanessa also enrolled at the Ladies' Department (1899–1901).


The Dreadnought hoaxers in Abyssinian regalia; Virginia Woolf is the bearded figure on the far left.

After the death of their father and Virginia's second nervous breakdown, Vanessa and Adrian sold 22 Hyde Park Gate and bought a house at 46 Gordon Square in Bloomsbury.

A portrait of Woolf by Roger Fry c. 1917

Woolf came to know Lytton Strachey, Clive Bell, Rupert Brooke, E. M. Forster, Saxon Sydney-Turner, Duncan Grant, Leonard Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, David Garnett, and Roger Fry, who together formed the nucleus of the intellectual circle of writers and artists known as the Bloomsbury Group. Several members of the group attained notoriety in 1910 with the Dreadnought hoax, which Virginia participated in disguised as a male Abyssinian royal. Her complete 1940 talk on the hoax was discovered and is published in the memoirs collected in the expanded edition of The Platform of Time (2008). In 1907 Vanessa married Clive Bell, and the couple's interest in avant garde art would have an important influence on Woolf's development as an author.[45]

Virginia and Leonard Woolf, 1912

Virginia Stephen married the writer Leonard Woolf on 10 August 1912.[46] Despite his low material status (Woolf referring to Leonard during their engagement as a "penniless Jew") the couple shared a close bond. Indeed, in 1937, Woolf wrote in her diary: "Love-making—after 25 years can't bear to be separate ... you see it is enormous pleasure being wanted: a wife. And our marriage so complete." The two also collaborated professionally, in 1917 founding the Hogarth Press, which subsequently published Virginia's novels along with works by T. S. Eliot, Laurens van der Post, and others.[47] The Press also commissioned works by contemporary artists, including Dora Carrington and Vanessa Bell. Woolf believed that to break free of a patriarchal society that women writers needed a "room of their own" to develop and often fantasised about an "Outsider's Society" where women writers would create a virtual private space for themselves via their writings to develop a feminist critique of society.[48] Though Woolf never created the "Outsider's society", the Hogarth Press was the closest approximation as the Woolfs chose to publish books by writers that took unconventional points of view to form a reading community.[48] Until 1930, Woolf often helped her husband print the Hogarth books as the money for employees was not there.[48] Both the Woolfs were internationalists and pacifists who believed that promoting understanding between peoples was the best way to avoid another world war and chose quite consciously to publish works by foreign authors of whom the British reading public were unaware.[48] The first non-British author to be published was the Soviet writer Maxim Gorky, the book Reminiscences of Leo Nikolaiovich Tolstoy in 1920, dealing with his friendship with Count Leo Tolstoy.

17 The Green Richmond, 2017

Starting in October 1914, Leonard and Virginia Woolf lived at 17 The Green, Richmond; Leonard talks about it in his autobiography Beginning Again (1964). In early March 1915, the couple moved to nearby Hogarth House, Paradise Road.[49]

The Round House, Lewes, 2017

In 1919, the Woolfs purchased the Round House in Pipe Passage, Lewes. The same year they discovered Monk’s House in nearby Rodmell, which both she and Leonard favoured because of its orchard and garden. They then bought Monk’s House and sold the Round House.[50]

The ethos of the Bloomsbury group encouraged a liberal approach to sexuality, and in 1922 she met the writer and gardener Vita Sackville-West, wife of Harold Nicolson. At the time, Sackville-West was the more successful writer both commercially and critically, and it was not until after Woolf's death that she became considered the better writer.[51] After a tentative start, they began a sexual relationship, which, according to Sackville-West in a letter to her husband dated 17 August 1926, was only twice consummated.[52] However, Virginia's intimacy with Vita seems to have continued into the early 1930s.[53]

Sackville-West worked tirelessly to lift up Woolf's self-esteem, encouraging her not to view herself as a quasi-reclusive inclined to sickness who should hide herself away from the world, but rather offered praise for her liveliness and sense of wit, her health, her intelligence and achievements as a writer.[54] Sackville-West led Woolf to reappraise herself, developing a more positive self-image, and the feeling that her writings were the products of her strengths rather than her weakness.[54] Starting at the age of 15, Woolf had believed the diagnosis by her father and his doctor that reading and writing were deleterious to her nervous condition, requiring a regime of physical labour such as gardening to prevent a total nervous collapse. This led Woolf to spend much time obsessively engaging in such physical labour.[54] Sackville-West was the first to argue to Woolf she had been misdiagnosed, and that it was far better to engage in reading and writing to calm her nerves—advice that was taken.[54] Under the influence of Sackville-West, Woolf learned to deal with her nervous ailments by switching between various forms of intellectual activities such as reading, writing and book reviews, instead of spending her time in physical activities that sapped her strength and worsened her nerves.[54] Sackville-West chose the financially struggling Hogarth Press as her publisher in order to assist the Woolfs financially. Seducers in Ecuador, the first of the novels by Sackville-West published by Hogarth, was not a success, selling only 1500 copies in its first year, but the next Sackville-West novel they published, The Edwardians, was a bestseller that sold 30,000 copies in its first six months.[54] Sackville-West's novels, though not typical of the Hogarth Press, saved Hogarth, taking them from the red into the black.[54] However, Woolf was not always appreciative of the fact that it was Sackville-West's books that kept the Hogarth Press profitable, writing dismissively in 1933 of her "servant girl" novels.[54] The financial security allowed by the good sales of Sackville-West's novels in turn allowed Woolf to engage in more experimental work, such as The Waves, as Woolf had to be cautious when she depended upon Hogarth entirely for her income.[54]

In 1928, Woolf presented Sackville-West with Orlando, a fantastical biography in which the eponymous hero's life spans three centuries and both sexes. Nigel Nicolson, Vita Sackville-West's son, wrote, "The effect of Vita on Virginia is all contained in Orlando, the longest and most charming love letter in literature, in which she explores Vita, weaves her in and out of the centuries, tosses her from one sex to the other, plays with her, dresses her in furs, lace and emeralds, teases her, flirts with her, drops a veil of mist around her."[55] After their affair ended, the two women remained friends until Woolf's death in 1941. Virginia Woolf also remained close to her surviving siblings, Adrian and Vanessa; Thoby had died of typhoid fever at the age of 26.[56]

Mental health

Much examination has been made of Woolf's mental health (e.g. see Mental health bibliography). Throughout her life, Woolf suffered by periodic mood swings and associated illnesses. She spent three short periods in 1910, 1912 and 1913 at Burley House, 15 Cambridge Park, Twickenham, described as "a private nursing home for women with nervous disorder".[57] The death of her father in 1904 provoked her most alarming collapse and she was briefly institutionalised[31] under the care of her father's friend, the eminent psychiatrist George Savage. Savage blamed her education, frowned on by many at the time as unsuitable for women,[40] for her illness.[36][58] She spent time recovering at her friend Violet Dickinson's house, and at her aunt Caroline's house in Cambridge.[59] Modern scholars, including her nephew and biographer, Quentin Bell, have suggested[60] her breakdowns and subsequent recurring depressive periods were also influenced by the sexual abuse to which she and her sister Vanessa were subjected by their half-brothers George and Gerald Duckworth (which Woolf recalls in her autobiographical essays A Sketch of the Past and 22 Hyde Park Gate). Though this instability often affected her social life, her literary productivity continued with few breaks throughout her life.

Her mental health, described as "manic-depressive illness" in Thomas Caramagno's 1992 book, The Flight of the Mind: Virginia Woolf's Art and Manic-Depressive Illness, in which he also warns against the "neurotic-genius" way of looking at mental illness, where people rationalise that creativity is somehow born of mental illness.[61] In a book by Stephen Trombley, Woolf is described as having a confrontational relationship with her doctors, and possibly being a woman who is a "victim of male medicine", referring to the contemporary relative lack of understanding about mental illness.[62][63] Woolf's fiction is also studied for its insight into shell shock, war, witchcraft,[64] class and modern British society.[citation needed]


After completing the manuscript of her last novel (posthumously published), Between the Acts, Woolf fell into a depression similar to that which she had earlier experienced. The onset of World War II, the destruction of her London home during the Blitz, and the cool reception given to her biography of her late friend Roger Fry all worsened her condition until she was unable to work.[65] When Leonard enlisted in the Home Guard, Virginia disapproved. She held fast to her pacifism and criticized her husband for wearing what she considered to be the silly uniform of the Home Guard.[66] After World War II began, Woolf's diary indicates that she was obsessed with death, which figured more and more as her mood darkened.[67] On 28 March 1941, Woolf drowned herself by filling her overcoat pockets with stones and walking into the River Ouse near her home.[68] Her body was not found until 18 April.[69] Her husband buried her cremated remains beneath an elm tree in the garden of Monk's House, their home in Rodmell, Sussex.[70]

In her suicide note, addressed to her husband, she wrote:

Virginia Woolf's suicide letter to her husband

{{quote|Dearest, I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can't go through another of those terrible times. And I shan't recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can't concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don't think two people could have been happier till this terrible disease came. I can't fight it any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can't even write this properly. I can't read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that—everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can't go on spoiling your life any longer. I don't think two people could have been happier than we have been. V.[71][72]


Lytton Strachey and Woolf at Garsington, 1923[65]

Woolf is a major novelist and one of the pioneers among modernist writers using stream of consciousness as a narrative device, alongside her contemporaries Marcel Proust, Dorothy Richardson and James Joyce.[73] Woolf's reputation declined sharply after World War II, but her importance was re-established with the growth of feminist criticism in the 1970s.[74]

She began writing professionally in 1900. The first of her writings to be accepted for publication, "Haworth, November 1904", a journalistic account of a visit to the Brontë family home at Haworth, was published anonymously in a women's supplement to a clerical journal, The Guardian in December 1904.[4] From 1905 she wrote for The Times Literary Supplement.[75]

Her first novel, The Voyage Out, was published in 1915 at the age of 33, by her half-brother's imprint, Gerald Duckworth and Company Ltd. This novel was originally titled Melymbrosia, but Woolf repeatedly changed the draft. An earlier version of The Voyage Out has been reconstructed by Woolf scholar Louise DeSalvo and is now available to the public under the intended title. DeSalvo argues that many of the changes Woolf made in the text were in response to changes in her own life.[76] The novel is set on a ship bound for South America, and a group of young Edwardians onboard and their various mismatched yearnings and misunderstandings. In the novel are hints of themes that would emerge in later work, including the gap between preceding thought and the spoken word that follows, and the lack of concordance between expression and underlying intention, together with how these reveal to us aspects of the nature of love.[77]

Woolf would go on to publish novels and essays as a public intellectual to both critical and popular acclaim. Much of her work was self-published through the Hogarth Press.

"Virginia Woolf's peculiarities as a fiction writer have tended to obscure her central strength: she is arguably the major lyrical novelist in the English language. Her novels are highly experimental: a narrative, frequently uneventful and commonplace, is refracted—and sometimes almost dissolved—in the characters' receptive consciousness. Intense lyricism and stylistic virtuosity fuse to create a world overabundant with auditory and visual impressions".[78]

"The intensity of Virginia Woolf's poetic vision elevates the ordinary, sometimes banal settings"—often wartime environments—"of most of her novels".[79] "For example, Mrs Dalloway (1925) centres on the efforts of Clarissa Dalloway, a middle-aged society woman, to organise a party, even as her life is paralleled with that of Septimus Warren Smith, a working-class veteran who has returned from the First World War bearing deep psychological scars",[78]

"To the Lighthouse (1927) is set on two days ten years apart. The plot centres on the Ramsay family's anticipation of and reflection upon a visit to a lighthouse and the connected familial tensions. One of the primary themes of the novel is the struggle in the creative process that beset painter Lily Briscoe while she struggles to paint in the midst of the family drama. The novel is also a meditation upon the lives of a nation's inhabitants in the midst of war, and of the people left behind."[78] It also explores the passage of time, and how women are forced by society to allow men to take emotional strength from them.[80]

Orlando (1928) is one of Virginia Woolf's lightest novels. A parodic biography of a young nobleman who lives for three centuries without ageing much past thirty (but who does abruptly turn into a woman), the book is in part a portrait of Woolf's lover Vita Sackville-West. It was meant to console Vita for the loss of her ancestral home, Knole House, though it is also a satirical treatment of Vita and her work. In Orlando, the techniques of historical biographers are being ridiculed; the character of a pompous biographer is being assumed in order for it to be mocked.[81]

External video
Virginia Woolf 1927.jpg
Rare recording of Virginia Woolf, 1937, speaking about the craftsmanship of words on BBC Radio

"The Waves (1931) presents a group of six friends whose reflections, which are closer to recitatives than to interior monologues proper, create a wave-like atmosphere that is more akin to a prose poem than to a plot-centred novel".[78]

Flush: A Biography (1933) is a part-fiction, part-biography of the cocker spaniel owned by Victorian poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The book is written from the dog's point of view. Woolf was inspired to write this book from the success of the Rudolf Besier play The Barretts of Wimpole Street. In the play, Flush is on stage for much of the action. The play was produced for the first time in 1932 by the actress Katharine Cornell.

"Her last work, Between the Acts (1941), sums up and magnifies Woolf's chief preoccupations: the transformation of life through art, sexual ambivalence, and meditation on the themes of flux of time and life, presented simultaneously as corrosion and rejuvenation—all set in a highly imaginative and symbolic narrative encompassing almost all of English history."[78] This book is the most lyrical of all her works, not only in feeling but in style, being chiefly written in verse.[82] While Woolf's work can be understood as consistently in dialogue with the Bloomsbury group, particularly its tendency (informed by G. E. Moore, among others) towards doctrinaire rationalism, it is not a simple recapitulation of the coterie's ideals.[83]

Woolf's works have been translated into over 50 languages by writers such as Jorge Luis Borges and Marguerite Yourcenar.[citation needed]

Influences on Woolf

Shelf of Shakespeare plays hand-bound by Virginia Woolf in her bedroom at Monk's House. It has been suggested that Woolf bound books to help cope with her depression, as is hinted at in her writing: "A great part of every day is not lived consciously. One walks, eats, sees things, deals with what has to be done; the broken vacuum cleaner; ... cooking dinner; bookbinding."[84]

A major influence on Woolf from 1912 onward was Russian literature as Woolf adopted the aesthetic conventions of Russian literature.[85] The style of Fyodor Dostoyevsky with his depiction of a fluid mind in operation helped to influence Woolf's writings about a "discontinuous writing process", though Woolf objected to Dostoyevsky's obsession with "psychological extremity" and the "tumultuous flux of emotions" in his characters together with his right-wing, monarchist politics as Dostoyevsky was an ardent supporter of the autocracy of the Russian Empire.[86] In contrast to her objections to Dostoyevsky's "exaggerated emotional pitch", Woolf found much to admire in the work of Anton Chekhov and Leo Tolstoy.[86] Woolf admired Chekhov for his stories of ordinary people living their lives, doing banal things and plots that had no neat endings.[86] From Tolstoy, Woolf drew lessons about how a novelist should depict a character's psychological state and the interior tension within.[86] From Ivan Turgenev, Woolf drew the lessons that there are multiple "I's" when writing a novel, and the novelist needed to balance those multiple versions of him- or herself to balance the "mundane facts" of a story vs. the writer's overreaching vision, which required a "total passion" for art.[87]

Another influence on Woolf was the American writer Henry David Thoreau, with Woolf writing in a 1917 essay that her aim as a writer was to follow Thoreau by capturing "the moment, to burn always with this hard, gem-like flame" while praising Thoreau for his statement "The millions are awake enough for physical labor, but only one in hundreds of millions is awake enough to a poetic or divine life. To be awake is to be alive".[88] Woolf praised Thoreau for his "simplicity" in finding "a way for settling free the delicate and complicated machinery of the soul".[88] Like Thoreau, Woolf believed that it was silence that set the mind free to really contemplate and understand the world.[88] Both authors believed in a certain transcendental, mystical approach to life and writing, where even banal things could be capable of generating deep emotions if one had enough silence and the presence of mind to appreciate them.[89] Woolf and Thoreau were both concerned with the difficulty of human relationships in the modern age.[90]

Other notable influences include William Shakespeare, George Eliot, Leo Tolstoy, Marcel Proust, Anton Chekhov, Emily Brontë, Daniel Defoe, James Joyce, and E. M. Forster.

List of selected publications[91]

Short stories
  • Freshwater: A Comedy (performed in 1923, revised in 1935, and published in 1976)
Autobiographical writings and diaries
  • A Writer's Diary (1953) – Extracts from the complete diary
  • Woolf, Virginia (1985) [1976]. Schulkind, Jeanne, ed. Moments of being: unpublished autobiographical writings (2nd ed.). Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. ISBN 978-0-15-162034-0.  (see Moments of Being)
    • Schulkind, Jeanne. Preface to the Second Edition. p. 6. , in Woolf (1985)
    • Schulkind, Jeanne. Introduction. pp. 11–24. , in Woolf (1985)
    • Reminiscences. 1908. pp. 25–60. 
    • A Sketch of the Past. 1940. pp. 61–160. [g]
    • 22 Hyde Park Gate. 1921. pp. 162–178. 
  • A Moment's Liberty: the shorter diary (1990)
  • The Diary of Virginia Woolf (five volumes) – Diary of Virginia Woolf from 1915 to 1941
  • Passionate Apprentice: The Early Journals, 1897–1909 (1990)
  • Travels With Virginia Woolf (1993) – Greek travel diary of Virginia Woolf, edited by Jan Morris
  • The Platform of Time: Memoirs of Family and Friends, Expanded Edition, edited by S. P. Rosenbaum (London, Hesperus, 2008)
Photograph albums
  • Congenial Spirits: The Selected Letters (1993)
  • Paper Darts: The Illustrated Letters of Virginia Woolf (1991)
  • Woolf, Virginia (1975–1980). Nicolson, Nigel; Banks, Joanne Trautmann, eds. The Letters of Virginia Woolf 6 vols. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 


Though happily married to a Jewish man, Woolf often wrote of Jewish characters in stereotypical archetypes and generalisations, including describing some of her Jewish characters as physically repulsive and dirty.[93] For example, while travelling on a cruise to Portugal she protests at finding "a great many Portuguese Jews on board, and other repulsive objects, but we keep clear of them".[94] Furthermore, she wrote in her diary: "I do not like the Jewish voice; I do not like the Jewish laugh." In a 1930 letter to the composer Ethel Smyth, quoted in Nigel Nicolson's biography Virginia Woolf, she recollects her boasts of Leonard's Jewishness confirming her snobbish tendencies, "How I hated marrying a Jew—What a snob I was, for they have immense vitality."[95]

In another letter to Smyth, Woolf gives a scathing denunciation of Christianity, seeing it as self-righteous "egotism" and stating "my Jew has more religion in one toenail—more human love, in one hair."[96] Woolf claimed in her private letters that she thought of herself as an atheist.[97]

Woolf and her husband Leonard came to despise and fear the 1930s fascism and antisemitism. Her 1938 book Three Guineas was an indictment of fascism and what Woolf described as a recurring propensity among patriarchal societies to enforce repressive societal mores by violence.[98]

Modern scholarship and interpretations

External video
Presentation by Hermione Lee on her book Virginia Woolf, June 13, 1997, C-SPAN
Woolf's bust in Tavistock Square, London, by Stephen Tomlin. Erected in 2004, this is a cast of an original of 1931.

Though at least one biography of Virginia Woolf appeared in her lifetime, the first authoritative study of her life was published in 1972 by her nephew Quentin Bell. Hermione Lee's 1996 biography Virginia Woolf provides a thorough and authoritative examination of Woolf's life and work.[65] In 2001 Louise DeSalvo and Mitchell A. Leaska edited The Letters of Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf. Julia Briggs's Virginia Woolf: An Inner Life (2005) focuses on Woolf's writing, including her novels and her commentary on the creative process, to illuminate her life. The sociologist Pierre Bourdieu also uses Woolf's literature to understand and analyse gender domination.

Historical feminism

"Recently, studies of Virginia Woolf have focused on feminist and lesbian themes in her work, such as in the 1997 collection of critical essays, Virginia Woolf: Lesbian Readings, edited by Eileen Barrett and Patricia Cramer."[79]

In 1928, Virginia Woolf took a grassroots approach to informing and inspiring feminism. She addressed undergraduate women at the ODTAA Society at Girton College, Cambridge and the Arts Society at Newnham College with two papers that eventually became A Room of One’s Own. Woolf's best-known nonfiction works, A Room of One's Own (1929) and Three Guineas (1938), examine the difficulties that female writers and intellectuals faced because men held disproportionate legal and economic power, as well as the future of women in education and society, as the societal effects of industrialization and birth control had not yet fully been realized.[citation needed] In The Second Sex (1949), Simone de Beauvoir counts, of all women who ever lived, only three female writers—Emily Brontë, Woolf and "sometimes" Katherine Mansfield— have explored "the given."[99]


Virginia Woolf 1882–1941. Stamp of Romania, 2007.

In 2013 Woolf was honoured by her alma mater of King's College London with the opening of a building named after her on Kingsway.[108][109]

Appendix: Ancestry and family trees

 see Lee 1999, pp. xviii–xvix, Bell 1972, pp. x–xi

  1. ^ The line separating the additional floors of 1886 can be clearly seen[3]
  2. ^ Stella Duckworth was 26 when her mother died, and married Jack Hills (1876-1938) two years later, but died following her honeymoon. She was buried next to her mother[15]
  3. ^ Laura was born premature, at 30 weeks[17]
  4. ^ Quention Bell speculates that their relationship formed the background to their mutual friend Henry James' Altar of the Dead[24]
  5. ^ As Virginia Wool puts it, they "did what they could to prevent me"[27]
  6. ^ King's College began providing lectures for women in 1871, and formed the Ladies' Department in 1885. In 1900 women were allowed to prepare for degrees. Later it became Queen Elizabeth College[42]
  7. ^ Originally published in 1976, the discovery in 1980 of a 77 page typescript acquired by the British Library, containing 27 pages of new material necessitated a new edition in 1985. This was inserted following page 107 of the first edition.[92] All page references to Sketches are to the second edition, otherwise to the first edition of Moments of Being
  8. ^ "Like my hero Virginia Woolf, I do lack confidence. I always find that the novel I'm finishing, even if it's turned out fairly well, is not the novel I had in my mind."[105]
  9. ^ Mary Louisa and Herbert Fisher's children included 1. Florence Henrietta Fisher (1864–1920) who married Frederic William Maitland (1850–1906) in 1886, who wrote the biography of Leslie Stephen[121] and 2. H. A. L. Fisher (1865–1940), whose daughter Mary Bennett (1913–2005), wrote the biography of the Jackson family[6][122]
  10. ^ Leslie Stephen had one daughter, Laura (1870–1945), by his first wife, Minny Thackeray



  1. ^ a b King's 2017.
  2. ^ Collins 2018.
  3. ^ a b Rosner 2008, Walls p. 69
  4. ^ a b c Gordon 2004.
  5. ^ Vine 2018, Jackson Diary
  6. ^ a b Bennett 2002.
  7. ^ Lundy 2017.
  8. ^ Kukil 2011.
  9. ^ Smith 2011.
  10. ^ a b Garnett 2004.
  11. ^ Woolf 2016, Introduction pp. 5–6
  12. ^ Vine 2018, Duckworth
  13. ^ Eve 2017, Julia Prinsep Stephen. July 2014
  14. ^ a b c d e f Wood 2017.
  15. ^ Androom 2017, Hills, Stella
  16. ^ ACAD & STFN850L.
  17. ^ Koutsantoni & Oakley 2014.
  18. ^ Olsen 2012.
  19. ^ Luebering 2006.
  20. ^ a b Bicknell 1996.
  21. ^ Bell 1972, p. 13.
  22. ^ Wilson 1987.
  23. ^ Nadel 2016.
  24. ^ a b Bell 1965.
  25. ^ Tolley 1997, p. 106
  26. ^ Bloom & Maynard 1994.
  27. ^ a b c Woolf 1940, p. 127.
  28. ^ Bell 1972, p.18.
  29. ^ Bond 2000, Julia Stephen p. 23
  30. ^ Stephen 1987, Chronology pp. xvii–xxii
  31. ^ a b Meyer & Osborne 1982.
  32. ^ Julia&Keld 2007.
  33. ^ Lee 1999, pp. 141–142.
  34. ^ British Library 2018.
  35. ^ Fallon 2016.
  36. ^ a b Banks 1998.
  37. ^ Kukil 2011, Julia and children at lessons 1894
  38. ^ Dunn 1990, p. 33
  39. ^ Rosner 2014, p. 3
  40. ^ a b Burstyn 2016.
  41. ^ Curtis 2002, Introduction p. 58
  42. ^ a b Maggio 2010.
  43. ^ Jones & Snaith 2010a.
  44. ^ Jones & Snaith 2010.
  45. ^ Briggs 2006, pp. 69–70.
  46. ^ History 2018.
  47. ^ Messud 2006.
  48. ^ a b c d McTaggart 2010.
  49. ^ Richmond 2015.
  50. ^ Maggio 2009.
  51. ^ Smith 2006.
  52. ^ Boynton & Malin 2005, p. 580.
  53. ^ Cramer 1997, p. 126
  54. ^ a b c d e f g h i DeSalvo 1982.
  55. ^ Blamires 1983, p. 307.
  56. ^ Briggs 2006, p. 13.
  57. ^ Pearce 2007.
  58. ^ Adams 2016.
  59. ^ Lewis 2000.
  60. ^ Bell 1972, p. 44.
  61. ^ Caramagno 1992.
  62. ^ Trombley 1980.
  63. ^ Trombley 1981.
  64. ^ Brown 2015.
  65. ^ a b c Lee 1999.
  66. ^ Gordon 1984, p. 269.
  67. ^ Gordon 1984, p. 279.
  68. ^ Lee 1999, p. 185.
  69. ^ Panken 1987, p. 262
  70. ^ Wilson 2016, p. 825.
  71. ^ Jones 2013.
  72. ^ Rose 1979, p. 243.
  73. ^ "Modernism – Literature Periods & Movements". Retrieved 13 September 2014. 
  74. ^ Critical Essays on Virginia Woolf, Morris Beja, 1985, Introduction, pp. 1, 3, 53.
  75. ^ Liukkonen, Petri. "Virginia Woolf". Books and Writers. Finland: Kuusankoski Public Library. Archived from the original on 28 January 2015. Retrieved 8 February 2016. 
  76. ^ Haule, J. (1982). Melymbrosia: An Early Version of "The Voyage out". Contemporary Literature, 23, 100–104.
  77. ^ Matar 2014.
  78. ^ a b c d e Bhaskar A. Shukla, Feminism: From Mary Wollstonecraft To Betty Friedan. Sarup & Sons, 2007, p. 51.
  79. ^ a b Bhaskar A. Shukla, Feminism: From Mary Wollstonecraft To Betty Friedan, p. 51.
  80. ^ Critical Essays on Virginia Woolf, Morris Beja, 1985, pp. 15–17.
  81. ^ The Novels of Virginia Woolf, Hermione Lee, 1977, pp. 138–157.
  82. ^ Critical Essays on Virginia Woolf, Morris Beja, 1985, p. 24.
  83. ^ "From Clapham to Bloomsbury: a genealogy of morals", Professor Gertrude Himmelfarb, 2001.
  84. ^ "Introduction: Virginia Woolf: The Patterns of Ordinary Experience" (PDF). Docshare. Retrieved 13 November 2016. 
  85. ^ Lackey, Michael "Virginia Woolf and British Russophilia" pages 150–152 from The Journal of Modern Literature, Volume 36, No. 1, Fall 2012 page 150.
  86. ^ a b c d Lackey, Michael "Virginia Woolf and British Russophilia" pages 150–152 from The Journal of Modern Literature, Volume 36, No. 1, Fall 2012 page 151.
  87. ^ Lackey, Michael "Virginia Woolf and British Russophilia" pages 150–152 from The Journal of Modern Literature, Volume 36, No. 1, Fall 2012 page 152.
  88. ^ a b c Majumdar, Raja "Virginia Woolf and Thoreau" pages 4–5 from The Thoreau Society Bulletin, No. 109, Fall 1969 page 4.
  89. ^ Majumdar, Raja "Virginia Woolf and Thoreau" pages 4–5 from The Thoreau Society Bulletin, No. 109, Fall 1969 pages 4–5.
  90. ^ Majumdar, Raja "Virginia Woolf and Thoreau" pages 4–5 from The Thoreau Society Bulletin, No. 109, Fall 1969 page 5.
  91. ^ Kirkpatrick & Clarke 1997.
  92. ^ Schulkind 1985a.
  93. ^ Tales of abjection and miscegenation: Virginia Woolf's and Leonard Woolf's Jewish stories Twentieth Century Literature Fall 2003, by Leena Kore Schroder,
  94. ^ Forrester, Viviane (2015). Virginia Woolf: A Portrait. United States: Columbia University Press. p. 47. ISBN 0231153562. 
  95. ^ "Mr. Virginia Woolf". Commentary Magazine. Archived from the original on 28 February 2007. Retrieved 8 September 2008. 
  96. ^ The Letters of Virginia Woolf, Volume Five 1932–1935, Nigel Nicolson and Joanne Trautmann, 1979, p. 321.
  97. ^ Streufert, Mary J. (8 June 1988). Measures of reality: the religious life of Virginia Woolf (Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies). Retrieved 25 January 2018. 
  98. ^ The Hours DVD, "Special Features", "The Mind and Times of Virginia Woolf", 2003.
  99. ^ Beauvoir, Simone de (1949). The Second Sex. Trans. Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier (translated 2009). Random House: Alfred A. Knopf. p. 748. ISBN 978-0-307-26556-2. 
  100. ^ Place Settings. Brooklyn Museum. Retrieved on 6 August 2015.
  101. ^ "Vanessa and Her Sister". Goodreads. 
  102. ^ Brown, Mark (9 July 2014). "Virginia Woolf celebrated in gallery she spurned as it was 'filled with men'". The Guardian. 
  103. ^ "The Bloomsbury group". BBC. Retrieved 27 November 2015. 
  104. ^ "Google celebrates 136th birthday of Virginia Woolf with a doodle". The Times of India. 2018-01-25. Retrieved 2018-01-25. 
  105. ^ Cunningham: A life in writing
  106. ^ [1]"after having read Ulysses in English as well as a very good French translation, I can see that the original Spanish translation was very bad. But I did learn something that was to be very useful to me in my future writing—the technique of the interior monologue. I later found this in Virginia Woolf, and I like the way she uses it better than Joyce."
  107. ^ [2]"I wrote on Woolf and Faulkner. I read a lot of Faulkner then. You might not know this, but in the '50s, American literature was new. It was renegade. English literature was English. So there were these avant-garde professors making American literature a big deal. That tickles me now."
  108. ^ King's 2013.
  109. ^ King's 2018.
  110. ^ Bell 1972, Family Tree pp. x–xi
  111. ^ a b c d e f Geni 2018.
  112. ^ a b Vine 2018, Jackson Family
  113. ^ Lundy 2017, p. 47591 § 475902
  114. ^ a b Llewellyn-Jones 2017.
  115. ^ Lundy 2017, p. 47591 § 475904
  116. ^ Lundy 2017, p. 47592 § 475911
  117. ^ a b Caws & Wright 1999, p. 387, Note 4
  118. ^ Lundy 2017, p. 47592 § 475912
  119. ^ Wolf 1998, p. 81.
  120. ^ Forrester 2015, Family Tree
  121. ^ Maitland 1906.
  122. ^ Vogeler 2014.


Books and theses

Biography: Virginia Woolf

Mental health

Biography: Other

Literary commentary






External links