Virginia Woolf was born Adeline Virginia Stephen in 1882 in London, to a father who was a well known Historian, author and founding editor of The Dictionary of National Biography.
Educated at home by her parents Virginia was surrounded by Victorian Literary society. Virginia resented the fact that her brothers attended Cambridge. The family spent summers in Cornwall, a place that had a profound effect on the young Virginia and the landscape was later to feature in some of her work.
Woolf had her first breakdown in 1897, but it’s generally believed that it was the death of her father in 1904 (her mother had died 9 years earlier) that brought on her first breakdown where she was institutionalized. After she was released she bought a house in Bloomsbury and it was there that she met the writers and artists known as The Bloomsbury Group.
She began writing professionally in 1900, initially for The Times Literary Supplement, but it wasn’t until 1915 that she published her first novel, The Voyage Out, which was published by her half-brother’s imprint. She went on to publish novels and essays to both critical and popular success. Most of her work was initially self-published through the Hogarth Press.
She suffered from depression her whole life and after recently completing the manuscript of her last novel, put on her overcoat, filled its pockets with stones, and walked into the river near her home, drowning herself in 1941. Her body wasn’t found for over 20 days.
Considered to be a major innovator in the English language, Woolf’s novels are highly experimental and she been described as one of the foremost modernists of the 20th Century.
The note she left for her husband read: “Dearest, I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier ’til this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can’t even write this properly. I can’t read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that—everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer. I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been. V.”
My favourite Woolf quotes:
“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”
“Every secret of a writers soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind is written large in his works.”
“Nothing induces me to read a novel except when I have to make money by writing about it. I detest them.”
“Fiction is like a spiders web, attached ever so slightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all 4 corners. Often the attachment is scarcely perceptible.”
“The poet gives us his essence, but prose takes the mold of the body and mind.”
“Writing is like sex. First you do it for love, then you do it for your friends, and then you do it for money.”
“The only advice, indeed, that one person can give another about reading is to take no advice, to follow your own instincts, to use your own reason, to come to your own conclusions. If this is agreed between us, then I feel at liberty to put forward a few ideas and suggestions because you will not allow them to fetter that independence which is the most important quality that a reader can possess. After all, what laws can be laid down about books? The battle of Waterloo was certainly fought on a certain day; but is Hamlet a better play than Lear? Nobody can say. Each must decide that question for himself. To admit authorities, however heavily furred and gowned, into our libraries and let them tell us how to read, what to read, what value to place upon what we read, is to destroy the spirit of freedom which is the breath of those sanctuaries. Everywhere else we may be bound by laws and conventions-there we have none.”
Virginia talking about “craftsmanship” for the BBC:
Woolf’s best-known nonfiction piece is “A Room Of Ones Own” (1929) where she discusses the difficulties facing female writers, because men hold the legal and economic power. A Guardian Article from 2011 seemed to suggest that the world of fiction is still dominated by men…. What do you think?
- Hogarth House, home to Virginia and Leonard Woolf (conwaydavid0.wordpress.com)
- A Servant of One’s Own: On Virginia Woolf, Domestics, and Downton Abbey (themillions.com)
- Virginia Woolf on feminism (creepingcommonsense.wordpress.com)
- Modern and Post Modern – Virginia Woolf (louisecharente.wordpress.com)
- Virginia Woolf on How to Read a Book (brainpickings.org)