Virginia Woolf 1882-1941

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Virginia Woolf was born as Adeline Virginia Stephens in London, England, 1882 (Britannica). Her parents were well-off (her father a writer, and her mother a society woman with artistic connections), and so from an early age, she was encouraged to follow her creative passions. She chose writing, which was somewhat of a rivalry to her sister, Vanessa's, painting talent. When she was nine, she wrote a family newspaper. Tragedy struck early, however. Her mother died when she was thirteen, followed by her half-sister and father. This sent her into a deep depression that would ultimately haunt her all her life, and she had a nervous breakdown. As Virginia was recovering, Vanessa moved them back to Bloomsbury, and that was where Virginia met her future husband, Leonard Woolf, and the Stephens family (Virginia's, if you forgot) began to host salons of sorts. It seemed that Virginia was getting better. In 1926, her brother Thoby died of typhus (Britannica). All of this loss took a toll on her mentally, and in her writing, she often tries to elegize her loved ones, making character parallels to her family, friends, and even her self at times. She eventually married Leonard Woolf in 1912, who was a soldier-turned-political-activist, and spent her adult life as a writer and feminist. She dealt with manic depression on and off for years, and after their house was destroyed in the Blitz, in 1941, she committed suicide by filling her pockets with rocks and walking into a river.

Woolf was born in the Victorian literary era, and as an experimental modernist, she wanted to create a new approach to literature, different from the traditional Victorian novel. In her early novels, she based a lot of characters on people she knew, and explored madness and death and disease, almost a way of coping with her own personal tragedy. She believed women had a very diverging way of viewing the world, and believed men were more linear. She wanted to master then break the mold of the Victorian novel, and explored “class, politics, and suffrage” ( She experimented by taking out traditional parts of novels, such as plot, conflict, and sometimes characters. Woolf wanted to explore and delve deep into her characters, even at the expense of other major literary devices. She was also a feminist, and explored taboo topics such as feminism, depression, and homosexuality. She was modernist, but wrote more abstractly than other writers in her time, such as Joyce and Faulkner, and wrote more fiction than they do. She's often credited with creating the stream-of-consciousness style, which is supposed to mirror all the conscious thoughts that a person has, with the goal of exploring the human psyche. She believed that humans were not perfect, they were “splinters & mosaics; not, as they used to hold, immaculate, monolithic, consistent wholes.” (Britannica), a view that was reflected in her portrayals of real people and real life.

In her lifetime, Woolf was very successful. She spoke at colleges and universities, had books published, and self-published short stories and essays. She was very respected as an intellectual and a writer, and had huge hits like Mrs. Dalloway, which was about a lesbian love affair. She pioneered a new style of writing, and was a feminist.

Woolf was very influential. She was considered a literary pioneer, creating new devices such as stream-of-consciousness, and challenging traditional novel format. She also was a passionate feminist, writing many letters and essays and books that addressed women’s roles and issues. Though her popularity fell after WWII, her work influenced the feminist movement of the 1970s, and left many great novels such as Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, A Room of One's Own, the Waves, and many more.

This is a scene from the "The Hours", a biopic about Woolf starring Nicole Kidman. Citations for this and my two other sources are in OneNote.


Created with images by Unsplash - "typewriter book notebook" • atelier de betty - "Virginia"

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