Adeline Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) was a novelist and pioneer in modernist writings, most notably in her use of stream of consciousness. She become an integral subject of the feminist criticism movement in the 1970s.
Virginia Woolf was born Adeline Virginia Stephen on January 25,1882 at 22 Hyde Park Gate, London. She was the third child of Sir Leslie Stephen, a historian and author, and his second wife, Julia Prinsep Duckworth, a famous model and nurse.1 Due to her parent's previous marriages, Woolf not only had three full siblings, she also had four half-siblings. The boys were formally educated, while the girl were home schooled using the Victorian library they had accessible at home.
In the spring of 1882, Woolf's father was on one of his typical trips to Cornwall when he impulsively rented Talland House outside of St. Ives. For the next ten years the family lived in that house for the summer season. Woolf's strongest and best memories were from her time she spent at St. Ives which served as a basis for her art. She explains why she felt so connected to her summer home in one of her memoirs, To the Lighthouse, from a diary entry of 22 March 1921: "Why am I so incredibly and incurably romantic about Cornwall? One’s past, I suppose; I see children running in the garden … The sound of the sea at night … almost forty years of life, all built on that, permeated by that: so much I could never explain."2
Woolfs earliest writings were her families newspaper, entitled "Hyde Park Gate News," where she would write of her families humorous stories, experiences, and trips. It wasn't until 1905 that she began writing professionally for "The Times Literary Supplement." Woolf and her remaining family then moved to another part of London where she then met the Bloomsbury Group, "a circle of intellectuals and artists." It was from this group that she met her husband, Leonard Woolf, who were married in August of 1912. She continued to write, until 1941 when she committed suicide by filling her coat with rocks and walking into a local river.
At the age of six her older half-brother, George, "lifted her onto a ledge and explored her private parts—leaving her prey to sexual fear and initiating a lifelong resistance to certain forms of masculine authority."1 This was the first of many factors that led to a lifetime of mental breakdowns. When Woolf was thirteen years old, her mother died from influenza that had quickly progressed to rheumatic fever. Two years later her half-sister, Stella, also passed away.3 Following the death of her half sister, her father died from stomach cancer in 1904, which caused a serious collapse that led to her being briefly institutionalized.4 Then in 1906 her brother, Thoby, died from typhoid fever at the age of twenty-six. Throughout her life, Woolf had periodic mood swings and mental breakdowns as a result of the sexual abuse she experienced and the deaths of her family members. It was these experiences that contributed to her writing and eventual participation in the early feminist movements.
- "To the Lighthouse" (1927) : The plot focuses on the Ramsay family and their experiences with travelling to a lighthouse and focused on the familial tensions that arise. The novel comments on the lives of a nation's people during a war and of the people that are left behind. It also focuses in on "how woman are forced by society to allow men to take emotional strength from them."2
- "A Room of One's Own" (1929) : One of the major themes in this extended essay was women's access to education. Woolf notes that if women had financial freedom then they would have the freedom to write. "In the first place, to have a room of her own... was out of the question, unless her parents were exceptionally rich or very noble". She emphasizes the importance of education while warning them to recognize their position within society. Woolf goes on to analyze many historical female authors and discusses the ideas from Jane Ellen Harrison, a notable feminist and scholar. In a separate section she mentions being lesbian and references a obscenity trial that occurred from the lesbian-themed book "The Well of Loneliness" by Radclyffe Hall.1 One of Woolf's most famous quotes "Give her a room of her own and five hundred a year, let her speak her mind and leave out half that she now puts in, and she will write a better book one of these days" comments not only on gender dynamics but also on social class.
- Other works include: Mrs. Dallowing (1925),Orlando (1928), The Waves (1931), Between the Acts (1941)
Woolfs Role in Feminism
- Come to find out, her marriage was polyamourous, and both her and her husband had other relationships while happily married to each other. "In 1922, Virginia met Vita Sackville-West, a poet who also had an open marriage with her husband Harold Nicolson. The two women had a romantic relationship for several years. . ."
- Woolf considered herself a feminist and expressed it in many of her works. She was big into equality between men, believing that if a person can embrace both their masculinity and feminity they will in turn reach their full potential in creativity. "The normal and comfortable state of being is that when the two [genders] live in harmony together, spiritually co—operating. If one is a man, still the woman part of his brain must have effect; and a woman also must have intercourse with the man in her," Woolf wrote in "A Room of One's Own". Even in her book "Orlando" the plot is about a young man who wakes up as a woman.
- In her other works she also expresses her desire for equality in terms of education and their roles in society.
- In "A Room of Ones Own," one of the main points of criticism is its exclusion of women of color. Alice Walker writes in her "In Search of Our Mother's Gardens: Womanist Prose" that "Virginia Woolf, in her book A Room of One's Own, wrote that in order for a woman to write fiction she must have two things, certainly: a room of her own (with key and lock) and enough money to support herself. What then are we to make of Phillis Wheatley, a slave, who owned not even herself? This sickly, frail, Black girl who required a servant of her own at times—her health was so precarious—and who, had she been white, would have been easily considered the intellectual superior of all the women and most of the men in the society of her day." In most of her works she only targeted white, working class women. Unfortunanly, this is a large downfall in her writing.
- Lyndall Gordon, ‘Woolf , (Adeline) Virginia (1882–1941)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, May 2005 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/37018, accessed 27 Sept 2017]
- “To the Lighthouse.” The British Library, The British Library, 28 Sept. 2015, www.bl.uk/works/to-the-lighthouse.
- Fallon, Claire. “Virginia Woolf's Guide To Grieving.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 25 Jan. 2016,
- Meyer, Robert (1998). Case Studies in Abnormal Behaviour. Allyn and Bacon.
- Gordon, Lyndall Virgina Woolf A Writer's Life, New York: W.W. Norton, 1984 page 279
- Walker, Alice (2004). In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. p. 235
- Cannato, Vincent J., et al. “Virginia Woolf Was More Than Just a Women's Writer.” National Endowment for the Humanities, www.neh.gov/humanities/2015/mayjune/feature/virginia-woolf-was-more-just-womens-writer.
- Shmoop Editorial Team. “Virginia Woolf: Women & Gender.” Shmoop, Shmoop University, 11 Nov. 2008, www.shmoop.com/virginia-woolf/women.html.
- “Virginia Woolf.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 27 Feb. 2018, www.biography.com/people/virginia-woolf-9536773.