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Life, Family, and Origin
Virginia Woolf was born on the 25th of January, 1882 in Kensington, London. Her mother, Julia, was a philanthropist and model, and her father, Leslie Stephen, was a writer and biographer. Since both of her parents had been previously married and widowed, Virginia grew together with 2 half-brothers and 2 half-sisters in addition to three siblings. Woolf was brought up in socially acceptable conditions influenced by the Victorian Literary Society.
While her brothers were educated at university, Virginia and her sisters were home-educated in English literature and Greek. A vivid impression that had made an impact on her was the summer home in St. Ives, Cornwall, and particularly the Godrevy Lighthouse, which she later used in her novel To the Lighthouse. The sudden death of her mother in 1895 and the death of her half-sister Stella several years later led to Virginia’s first nervous breakdown. Notwithstanding that, Virginia studied classics and literature at King’s College in London. It was there where she heard about the women’s rights movement and met Lilian Faithfull and Clara Pater.
Virginia’s strongest episode of depression was caused by the death of her father in 1904, after which she was hospitalized. It is thought that Virginia’s episodes and depressive periods might have been caused by sexual abuse by her half-brothers. Throughout her, later life, Virginia was suffering from mood swings, which had a major impact on her social life and adaptation to the community.
In 1912, Virginia got married to Leonard Woolf who was a writer. Despite the fact that his material state was low, Virginia fell in love with him. Their marriage lasted for 29 years and was considered an example of mutual respect and emotional support. Spouses also had professional relations in that they founded a publishing house Hogarth Press in 1917, which published some of Virginia’s works along with the ones of T. S. Eliot, Laurens van der Post, and others. Virginia held the view that in the patriarchal society, female writers needed support in their work. Her dream was to create a virtual space for herself and other women for developing a feminist critique of society. Woolf assisted her husband in publishing books in the Hogarth Press because there was no money to hire some employees.
Relationship to T. S. Eliot
T. S. Eliot was among the writers whose works were published by the Hogarth Press. It is a curious fact that for the first time Virginia and Eliot did not get along well. In her diaries, Virginia considered Eliot to be narrow-minded, too dramatic, and even sluggish. Nevertheless, after some time Virginia and Eliot managed to become good friends as Eliot became less pompous and pedantic.
After Virginia’s father’s death and her second mental breakdown, her siblings sold their old house and moved to Bloomsbury. There Virginia met Lytton Strachey, Clive Bell, Desmond McCarthy, Saxon Sydney-Turner, Duncan Grant, E.M. Forster, Roger Fry, and David Garnett. Together they established the Bloomsbury Group or Bloomsbury set, an intellectual association of writers and artists. Some of the members of the group, including Virginia, had become famous after the “Dreadnought Hoax” in 1910.
Virginia Woolf developed the idea of a liberal attitude to human sexuality. Interestingly, in 1922 she met Vita Sackville-West, a writer, and gardener, with whom Virginia had a romantic relationship to which her husband did not object. Sackville-West did her best to rise up Virginia’s self-esteem as the woman grew up to be a sickly recluse. Vita appreciated and encouraged Virginia’s liveliness, wit, and high intelligence.
As a result, that helped Virginia to build up a more confident image of herself. Sackville-West was the first one to help Virginia deal with her disease by switching between various forms of intellectual activities, such as reading and writing. In order to improve Virginia’s material situation, Sackville-West made a decision to be published in the Hogarth Press. After their love affair came to an end, Vita and Virginia remained friends till Woolf’s death in 1941.
At the onset of World War II, Virginia began to suffer from episodes and headaches which were caused by permanent fear for her Jewish husband. The house in London which they owned was destroyed during a heavy airstrike. After she had completed work on the manuscript of her last novel Between Acts, Virginia got depressed and was unable to continue her work. According to her diary, after the end of World War II, Virginia got obsessed with thoughts of death.
On 28 March 1941, having written a letter to her husband and sister, she took on her coat, filled the pockets with stones, and drowned herself in the River Ouse, which was near her home in Sussex. Her body was found two weeks after her death. In her suicide note, she said that she continued to hear the voices and could not recover. She thanked Leonard for all the good things he had been doing to her in the course of their family life.
Virginia Woolf’s novels were translated into 50 languages. She is considered to be among the best novelists of the 20th century and a progressive modernist writer. Her works are prominent for Virginia’s experimental approach in using a stream of consciousness and paying much attention to the emotional side of the protagonists. Despite the fact that she grew to be less popular after World War II, her works became to be of great interest after the feminist movements in the 1970s.
In her famous novel Mrs. Dalloway (1925), Virginia shows a try of a middle-class woman to organize an evening meeting as her life is paralleled with the life of Septimus Warren, a veteran who has returned from World War I. In the novel To the Lighthouse (1927), Virginia tells a two-day story of a family which is going to visit the lighthouses and faces various domestic disputes along the way. The main theme of the novel is the struggle in the creative process as the protagonist continues painting during a family drama. In the novel Orlando: A Biography, Virginia portrays a young aristocrat who lives for three centuries and does not age. In this novel, a historical biography grows into absurdity. Among Virginia Woolf’s famous novels there are also Between the Acts and The Waves.
Despite the fact that her husband was a Jew, Virginia often incorporated stereotypical archetypes in portraying Jewish characters. In her diary, she mentioned that she liked neither the sound of a Jewish voice nor a Jewish laugh. She also tended to criticize Christianity because of its confident selfishness. As follows from her private letters, Woolf considered herself to be an atheist. In her book Three Guineas, she criticized fascism and the patriarchal societies’ tendency to violence.
Virginia Woolf has contributed much to 20th-century literature; her works have made a great impact on modern culture, in particular, literature. Michael Cunningham’s novel The Hours tells a story of three generations of women influenced by Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway. In 2002, The Hours was made into a movie. In her novel Vanessa and Virginia (2008), Susan Sellers discovers relations between Virginia Woolf and her sister Vanessa. In 1962, Edward Albee’s play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was published. Virginia Woolf is still being popular and studied by such organizations as the Virginia Woolf Society and The Virginia Woolf Society of Japan.