WHO WAS VIRGINIA WOOLF?
"The question now inevitably asks itself, whether the lives of great men only should be recorded. Is not anyone who has lived a life, and left a record of that life, worthy of biography - the failures as well as the successes, the humble as well as the illustrious."
Virginia Woolf, The Art of Biography.
We’re celebrating the wonderful Virginia Woolf this week, born 25th January 1882. Author of so many fantastic works and a feminist icon. There is so much that we could discuss about her life; who she was, what she stood for and why her writing was so important. We’ve taken some of the most significant parts of her story and have written about them below.
Adeline Virginia Woolf was born in South Kensington to Leslie and Julia Stephen. Woolf’s father was the founder of the Oxford Dictionary of Biography and was knighted for services to literature. She was the seventh child in a blended family of eight, with three full siblings and four half siblings.
Woolf lived a privileged upbringing in terms of economic and social status (her parents were very well connected). Her and her sisters were homeschooled and were given the run of their parents substantial library. She also enjoyed a number of summers at the family holiday home in Cornwall.
Woolf’s early life wasn’t without trauma, a lot of which contributed to her suffering poor mental health throughout most of her life. She was sexually abused as a young child by her half-brothers, George and Gerald Duckworth. Virginia’s mother died suddenly when she was just thirteen, her half-sister, father and brother died shortly after. A lot of her trauma was reflected in her writing.
Life With Leonard
Virginia first met Leonard Woolf around 1900 but the pair did not begin dating in 1911 when Leonard rented a room in her and her brother’s home in Brunswick Square. The two courted for six months, growing closer and engaging in various escapades, Virginia accepted Leonard’s third marriage proposal. (She ignored the first one and rejected the second.) She wrote to a friend telling them that she was ‘more happy than anyone said was possible’. They married on 10th August 1912.
The two loved one another deeply and spent the rest of their lives together. It’s thought that they had an open relationship, with Virginia having an affair with Vita Sackville West - something that Leonard knew about and didn’t object to.
Leonard helped Virginia through her various mental health struggles until her suicide in March 1941. She left a note for Leonard, writing ‘I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been.’
Virginia produced a number of successful published works in her time. Her fourth novel Mrs Dalloway was the first to receive rave reviews. Her groundbreaking novel To the Lighthouse was deemed revolutionary for its stream of conscious storytelling, with Orlando and The Waves pushing narrative boundaries.
Woolf also wrote a number of essays in her time, where she would discuss various topics including societal values and artistic theories. This includes her brilliant feminist essay A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas which addressed facism and war.
As well as her various writings, she also published the works of many other well known authors and academics including Sigmund Freud, T.S. Eliot and Katharine Mansfield. (Her and Leonard operated a publishing house from their home!)
There’s no doubt that Virginia Woolf was tremendously talented. If you’re a fan of her and her brilliant writing then you might like a few of our literary gifts, each of them inspired by Woolf. See more right here.