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, critic, especially famous for her novels and feminist writings. 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. Woolf was an active figure in the London literary society during 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 as well as historian and mountaineer. Her mother, renowned 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 taught at home in her father's library; some think that this difference deeply affected her. Virginia Woolf's best childhood memories were from the family’s summer house in St. Ives, Cornwall, which served as inspiration for her later novel To the Lighthouse. When in 1895 her mother died, Virginia Woolf was only 13. Her half sister also died only two years later; this provoked Wolf’s first nervous breakdown. Virginia Woolf was to have many other breakdowns throughout 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 was part of the Bloomsbury Group, an intellectual circle of artists and writers. The group became known in 1910 with Dreadnought Hoax, a hoax in which Woolf had participated with a masculine pen name. In the Bloomsbury group she met Leonard Woolf, they married in 1912 despite his poverty. The couple is known to have led a happy married life and also to have collaborated professionally, most notably with the founding of the Hogarth Press. Hogarth published works by Woolf, T.S. Eliot, among others as well as commissioned contemporary artworks. 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. Woolf wrote Orlando, a literary love letter, for Sackville-West. The two remained good friends until Woolf's death.
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, Woolf’s works were published 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 would 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 who suffers as doctors dismiss his condition, and who ultimately commits suicide. The book examines feminist issues with Dalloway as a personification of the female stereotype, sexually and economically repressed, as well as in the figure of Sally Seton, who appears as her opposite; an independent and carefree woman. It is also with Seton that Dalloway shares an unforgettable kiss which Dalloway defines as the happiest moment of her life.
In 1927 Woolf published To the Lighthouse, a novel set over the course of 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 within this novel is the creative process of a painter named Lily Briscoe. The work also explores the everyday life of people during times of war, as well as the unbalanced relationship between men and women.
In 1928 Virginia Woolf published Orlando, partly as a portrait of Vita Sackville-West, her lover. The book is a parodic biography an eternally young nobleman that lives for three centuries without becoming older than thirty, and who suddenly turns into a woman. In Orlando, Woolf satirically assumes the role of a historical biographer. The work also satirizes Vita herself, even if it was meant as consolation for the loss of Vita's ancestral home.
In 1929 Woolf published her best known non-fiction work A Room of One's Own, an essay from which she is often quoted: "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 had given in various colleges and Universities throughout 1928. The work develops around the themes of women's access to education, the history of female writers and female novel characters, as well as lesbianism. The book criticizes the lack of space and freedom that women suffered historically and strongly links the ability to produce good works of art under such conditions. Woolf imagines the figure of Shakespeare’s fictional sister who, like Woolf herself, would have to stay at home while her brother goes off to school. A Room of One's Own was criticized for addressing only the narrow group of high to middle-class British women, who had the socio-economic possibility of obtaining a room of their own. Between the Acts, from 1941, was Woolf's last work, it was published posthumously. The plot revolves around a theater piece performed during 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 is 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 faces the audience with mirrors. The book ends with life returning to normality. After completing Between the Acts, and while enduring 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, in 1941. Her 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 The Hours by Michael Cunningham, which was the original title for Woolf's Mrs Dalloway. A Room of One's Own also became the name of a LGBT bookstore in Madison, Wisconsin, US.
Two main groups involved with promoting the discussions and reading of Virginia Woolf's works are The Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain and The International Virginia Woolf Society.
The two best known biographies available were written by Woolf's nephew Quentin Bell in 1972, and by Hermione Lee in 1996.