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virginia woolf
(1882-1941)



Virginia Woolf

Biography

  • British writer
  • Born Adeline Virginia Stephen

Virginia Woolf is now recognised as one of the most imaginative and creative writers of the twentieth century. She became a prominent figure on the London literary scene, where the originality of her writing and the brilliance of her conversation commanded both admiration and antagonism.

A Londoner, she was the daughter of Julia Jackson Duckworth, a member of the Duckworth publishing family, and Sir Leslie Stephen, a literary critic. Her father educated her at home at 22 Hyde Park Gate. Her youth was a serious of traumatic and emotional setbacks: her half-brother, Gerald Duckworth, sexually abused her; her mother died whilst she was in her early teens; her half sister, Stella Duckworth, took her mother's place, but died just two years later; her father died a slow, painful death from cancer in 1904; and to cap it all off, her brother Thoby died of typhus when she was only 23. This trickered a prolonged nervous breakdown.

Following her fether's death, Woolf moved with her sister and two brothers to the house in Bloomsbury. Vanessa, a painter, and who remained close to her throughout her life, agreed to marry the critic of art and literature Clive Bell. Virginia's economic situation improved when she inherited 2,500 from an aunt. Their house become central to activities of the Bloomsbury group.

From 1905 Woolf began to write for the Times Literary Supplement. She married the political theorist Leonard (Sidney) Woolf in 1912. They together set up Hogarth Press in 1917 which went on to publish, among other things, Freud, E.M.Forster, T.S.Eliot and Vita Sackwille-West.

Virginia's first book, The Voyage Out was published in 1915, followed by Night and Day in 1919. The 1922 Jacob's Room was based upon the life and death of her brother Thoby.

However, it was with the release of the 1927 To The Lighthouse and the 1931 The Waves that really established Woolf's name as one of the leading writers of modernism. The Waves follows in soliloquies the lives of six persons from childhood to old age.

In these works Woolf's objective was to reveal women's experience and to highlight the reality for a woman. With the techniques she used to achieve this she was so far ahead of her time that she hasn't been seen since!

Between these works came Mrs Dalloway in 1925, with the piece taking place during the course of a day.

She lived in Richmond from 1915 to 1924, in Bloomsbury from 1924 to 1939, leased a home at Asheham, Sussex and maintained Monk's House in Rodmell, near Lewes, Sussex from 1919-41. Interestingly at Monk's House, her wrting hut in the grounds was directly next to the village graveyard.

It was at Rodmell where it all came to an end. Dogged again by mental illness, Woolf loaded her pockets full of stones and drowned herself in the River Ouse near her home on March 28, 1941. She left her husband a note saying:

"I have a feeling I shall go mad. I cannot go on longer in these terrible times. I hear voices and cannot concentrate on my work. I have fought against it but cannot fight any longer. I owe all my happiness to you but cannot go on and spoil your life."

In subsequent years her suicide completely changed the interpretation of her work.

Other books in which she explored the feminist psyche include Orlando (1928), and A Room of One's Own (1929). She also published over 500 essays in periodicals.

Although she was married to Leonard from 1912 to her death in 1941, Woolf had several lesbian lovers as befitted a member of the Bloomsbury Group who were involved in extra-marital affairs; gay or straight, it didn't matter. Woolf's lovers included Madge Vaughn (the inspiration for the character of Mrs. Dalloway), Violet Dickinson, and composer Ethel Smyth. Her most famous affair was with Vita Sackville-West which lasted most of the 1920s.


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