Virginia Woolf - Biography
Adeline Virginia Woolf, better known as Virginia Woolf, was born on the 25th of January 1882 in London, England. She was an essayist, novelist, publisher, critique, specially famous for her novels and feminist writings. She is considered to be one of the leading figures of modernist literature of the twentieth century. Her most notable works are the novels Mrs Dalloway, Orlando, To the Lighthouse, The Waves and the feminist essay A Room of One's own. She was an active figure in the London literary society in the interwar period and was a member of the Bloomsbury Group. Virginia Woolf died on the 28th of March 1941 in East Sussex, England, at the age of 59.
Virginia Woolf was educated by her parents. Her father, Sir Leslie Stephen, was an author himself as well as a historian and mountaineer, and her mother, renowed for her beauty, modeled for many painters including Edward Burne-Jones. The Dictionary of National Biography, a work edited by her father, proved to be an influence in Virginia Woolf's later experimental biographical writings. Both her parents were widows and therefore the house was full of children from their previous marriages, adding up to eight children. The house, thanks to Virginia Woolf's father literary circle, grew under the influence of the Victorian literary society with guests such as Julia Margaret Cameron, Henry James, and James Russell Lowell, who became Virginia Woolf's honorary grandfather. Virginia Woolf's mother was no less well connected, coming from a family of renowned beauties that worked as models for the pre-Raphaelite painters and photographers. While the boys of the house were sent to Cambridge,Virginia Woolf was only taught at home, at her father's library, a difference that deeply affected her. Virginia Woolf's best memories from her childhood were from their summer house in St. Ives, Cornwall, which served as inspiration for her later novel To the Lighthouse. In 1895 her mother died, when Virginia Woolf was only 13. Her half sister also died, only two years later, provoking her first nervous breakdown. Virginia Woolf was to have many other breakdowns throughout the course of her life. She nevertheless managed to study at the Ladies Department of the King's College London, which got her acquainted with some of the first reformers of women's higher education. Her father’s death, in 1904, in a period when Virginia Woolf and her sister Vanessa were sexually abused by their half-brothers, brought to Virginia Woolf her biggest nervous collapse and she was institutionalized.
Virginia Woolf became acquainted with the intellectual circle of artists and writers that formed the Bloomsbury Group, a group that became known in 1910 with Dreadnought Hoax, a work that Woolf participated in using a male pen name. In the Bloomsbury group she met Leonard Woolf and they married in 1912, despite his poverty. The couple is known to have led a happy married life and also collaborated professionally, most notably founding the Hogarth Press, which published works by Virginia Woolf herself, by T.S. Eliot, and commissioned contemporary art works. The Bloomsbury Group had a liberal approach to sexuality and Virginia Woolf started a relationship with Vita Sackville-West, the wife of the writer Harold Nicolson. They remained good friend till Woolf's death and for her she wrote Orlando, a literary love letter.
Virginia Woolf began her professional literary career in 1910 working for the Times Literary Supplement and released her first novel, The Voyage Out, in 1915. Throughout her life, she released most of her works through her publishing house Hogarth Press. In 1925 she released Mrs Dalloway, the story of Clarissa Dalloway, a society woman preparing a party that she will host. The story is set in England, just after World War I. The narrative travels back and forth in time as well as in and out of each character's minds, constructing a unique perspective on post-war English society as well as Clarissa's life. The style has at times been compared to James Joyce's Ulysses, even if Virginia Woolf denied a direct connection. The novel also works with themes of mental illness, in the figure of a shell-shocked war survivor that suffers with doctors that dismiss his condition and ultimately commits suicides. The book examines feminist issues, in the figure of Dalloway herself, as a personification of the female stereotype, sexually and economically repressed and in the figure of Sally Seton, who appears as her opposite, independent and care free. It is also with Seton that Dalloway shares an unforgettable kiss which she defines as the happiest moment of her life.
In 1927 she published To the Lighthouse, a novel set in two days, with a gap of ten years. The novel is the drama of the Ramsay family in its reflections on a visit to the lighthouse. One of the central themes of the novel is the creative process of the painter Lily Briscoe within the family drama. It also explores the everyday life of people in times of war and the unbalanced relationship between men and women.
In 1928 Virginia Woolf published Orlando, partly a portrait of Vita Sackville-West, her lover. The book is a parodic biography an eternally young nobleman that lives for three centuries without ever being much older than thirty, and that suddenly turns into a woman. In Orlando, Woolf satirically assumes the role of a historical biographer only to mock its pomp. The work also satirizes Vita herself, even if it was also meant as a consolation for the loss of Vita's ancestral home. Orlando is considered as one of Woolf's lightest novels. In 1929 Woolf published her best known non-fiction work A Room of One's Own where she famously wrote "A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction." The book came out of a series of lectures Woolf gave in different colleges and Universities throughout the year of 1928. The work develops around the themes of women's access to education, a history of female writers and female novel characters, and lesbianism. The book criticizes the lack of space and freedom that women suffered then and strongly linked the ability to produce good works of art to such conditions, developing a lot on the figure of Shakespeare and a fictional sister that, like Woolf herself, had to stay at home while her brother is sent to school. A Room of One's Own was criticized for concerning only the narrow group of high middle-class British women, which actually could have the socio-economic means to have a room of their own. Between the Acts, from 1941, was Woolf's last work and was published posthumously. The plot revolves around a theater play performed in a festival in a small village in England before the start of the Second World War. The work is full of veiled allusions to the upcoming war and constructed as a play within a play, exploring the different characters and their relationships. In the last scene of the play in the novel, one of the actresses shockingly face the audience with mirrors. The book ends with life returning to normality. After completing Between the Acts, and enhanced by the ongoing war, Woolf fell into deep depression which ended with her suicide in the River Ouse, close to her home, on the 28th of March, 1941. The body was found 20 days later.
In 2005 Time magazine chose Mrs Dalloway as one of the one hundred best novels written in English since 1923. Mrs Dalloway also made its way to cinema, first with an adaptation by the dutch director Marleen Gorris, in 1997 and later it was a central element in the novel, and later film, by Michael Cunningham entitled The Hours, which was the original title for Woolf's Mrs Dalloway. A Room of One's Own became the name of a LGBT bookstore in Madison, Wisconsin, US. The two main groups involved with promoting discussions and readings of Virginia Woolf's work are the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain and The International Virginia Woolf Society. The two best known biographies available were written by Wollf's nephew Quentin Bell in 1972, and by Hermione Lee in 1996.