Virginia Woolf was an English author and novelist who wrote modernist classics. Not only is she known as a pioneer of modernism, but is also known as the greatest modernist literary personality of the twentieth century. She pioneered feminist texts as well. She is known for works like ‘To the Lighthouse’, ‘Mrs. Dalloway’ and ‘Orlando’ and an essay ‘A Room of One's Own.’ Being an important figure of the Victorian Literary Society, as well as an influential figure of the Bloomsbury group of intellectuals, she was also an innovator of English literature with her experimental language. Her works are considered unique as they go deep into the psychology of a character, and show the way of their thinking. She published novels and essays as a public intellectual, and received both critical and popular success. She used to self-publish most of her works through the Hogarth Press which she had co-founded. Throughout her life, she suffered from mental illnesses, probably including bipolar disorder, and she took her own life in 1941. She was 59. Her posthumous reputation suffered after the Second World War, but it was re-established with the growth of feminist criticism during the 1970s. Woolf’s novels can be described as highly experimental: a narrative, frequently uneventful, and commonplace, is seen to be refracted, or dissolved, in the receptive consciousness of the character.
- Virginia Woolf was born as Adeline Virginia Stephen into a privileged English family on 25 January 1882. Her parents, Sir Leslie Stephen, an editor and a critic, and Julia Prinsep Stephen, a photographer, were quite freethinking people, who educated her in their own literate and well-connected house. Since both her parents had been previously married, she grew up with several half-siblings.Because of her father being an editor himself, and having a connection to William Thackeray, she grew up in an environment which had the influence of the Victorian literary society. There was also a library in their house, from which the children were taught classics and English literature. Her brothers were educated at Cambridge and they often used to bring home their Cambridge contacts, which further helped in her intellectual advancement.Her family made summer migrations from their London townhouse to the Talland House, which was situated on the rugged Cornwall coast. This annual relocation helped structure her childhood in the terms of opposites, as she experienced city and country, winter and summer, repression and freedom, etc.Her mother passed away in 1895, followed by her sister two years later, which left her in a state of shock. She also lost her father in 1904, which led to her losing her mental stability. It was revealed later, that she also suffered sexual abuse at the hands of her half-brothers which only further added to her trauma.Career
- Virginia Woolf had begun writing professionally in 1900. The first of her writings, which was a journalistic account of a visit to the Bronte family, was published anonymously in a journal in December 1904. She started writing for ‘The Times Literary Supplement’ the following year.She published her first novel ‘The Voyage Out’ in 1915, though it was originally titled ‘Melymbroisa.’ The book was mostly about the experiences in her own life. She continued writings novels, self-publishing most of them, and slowly she became a famous personality in the Victorian literary society.In 1928, Virginia Woolf started taking a grassroots approach to inspiring feminism. She started addressing undergraduate women in various colleges. ‘A Room of One’s Own’ and ‘Three Guineas’ were two of her non-fiction works that discuss the hardships that women writers and intellectuals had to go through since it was men who held legal and economic power. She wanted to make people realize the effects of industrialization as well as create awareness about birth control too.It was during the bombing of London in 1940 and 1941 when she worked on ‘Between the Arts.’ Here, she portrayed war as threatening art and humanity itself. Though she raised several questions in this work, she later felt that her work was of little significance as England seemed on the verge of invasion and civilization about to slide over a cliff. It was such horrors that made her unable to write. She found herself haunted by her fears, which led to her killing herself by drowning in 1941. Her work was published later that year after her death.With the end of the Second World War, her posthumous popularity suffered. However her works gained popularity again in the 1970s with the advent of feminist criticism. Despite her fame, she earned criticism for being anti-Semitic and for her snobbery—attributes she had herself admitted to in her personal diary.Major Works
- Her first work ‘The Voyage Out’ was published on 26 March 1915 by her half-brother Duckworth’s company. It was written during the periods when she was psychologically vulnerable, and suffered from depression.In 1981, an alternate version of ‘The Voyage Out’ under its original title of ‘Melymbrosia’ was published by Loise DeSalvo, an American writer, editor and professor. DeSalvo claimed that her work was an attempt to restore the text of the novel as Virginia Woolf had originally conceived it, and contained much more commentary of subjects like homosexuality, women’s issues, and colonialism. Since Woolf had been warned by her colleagues that publishing such an outspoken work would affect her career, the earlier version had been heavily edited.’To the Lighthouse’ was another one of her important works. It was published in 1927 by the Hogarth Press—which she had co-founded with her husband. What’s unique about this novel was that it contained little dialogue, and almost no action, as most of it was written as thoughts and observations. Childhood emotions were recalled and adult relationships were highlighted. She had begun writing this book as a way of understanding as well as dealing with unresolved issues concerning her parents. That is why similarities with her life can be seen in the book.’The Waves’ was published in 1931. It was one of her most experimental novels. It consisted of six characters, through which Virginia Woolf explores concepts of individuality, self, and community. It is difficult to assign a genre to this novel, because of its complexity. Even the term ‘novel’ may not describe it in an accurate way because of its complexity. As described in Woolf’s biography, it was less of a novel and more of a ‘playpoem.’ The book was translated by Marguerite Yourcenar in 1937.'Flush: A Biography’ was published in 1933 by Hogarth Press. The book, which views city life through the eyes of a dog, is a harsh criticism of the unnatural ways in which people live in the city. Woolf’s emotional and philosophical views are verbalized in this book.Awards & Achievements
- Her work ‘To the Lighthouse’ was named No. 15 by the Modern Library in 1998, on its list of the 100 best English language novels of the 20th century. The ‘TIME’ magazine also chose it as one of the best English language novels from 1923 to presentin2005.Personal Life & Legacy
- Virginia Stephen married writer Leonard Woolf in 1912. They shared a close bond and a led a happy married life, which lasted till her death in 1941. The two also collaborated professionally.She was bisexual and believed in exploring her sexuality. She met the writer and gardener Vita Sackville in 1922, with whom she had a sexual relationship.Because of the trauma she endured in her childhood, she suffered from mental illnesses for most of her life. Unable to bear it anymore, she committed suicide by filling her pockets with stones and then drowning herself in a river on 28 March 1941. Her body was found on 18 April of the same year. Her husband Leonard buried her cremated remains in the garden of their house in Sussex.
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