Virginia Woolf (January 21, 1882 – March 28, 1941), born Adeline Virginia Stephen in London, epitomized rare literary genius. Despite debilitating battles with mental breakdowns, Woolf produced a body of work considered among the most groundbreaking in twentieth century literature. Her father was a literary critic, and her mother a renowned beauty and artists’ model. Her mother’s sudden death when Virginia was 13 may have been the catalyst for the first of her recurrent nervous breakdowns.
As a young woman, Woolf developed her writer’s voice with a number of literary pursuits. She reviewed books for the Times Literary Supplement, wrote scores of articles and essays, and for a short time, taught English and history at Morley College in London (she herself had never earned a degree).
She wrote criticism and essays while her literary reputation modestly and steadily increased. Woolf started her first novel, The Voyage Out, in 1907; after seven and a half years of toil, eventually completed and published it in 1915.
With her husband Leonard Woolf, she founded Hogarth Press. It started as a hobby, to print fine small editions of literary works. The press gradually grew to accommodate some notable authors from their Bloomsbury circle and beyond, and enjoyed some bestseller successes, notably, the novels of Vita Sackville-West. Some of Virginia Woolf’s novels were published by the press once it gained prestige—a case of publishing close to the vest, rather than self-publishing. She also acted as editor and sometimes marketer for the press, much to her chagrin.
You might also like: Virginia Woolf wants you to write “for the good of the world”
Struggles with mental illness
Woolf might have lived the ideal writing life were it not for her lifelong struggle with mental illness. But this wasn’t the only source of anguish. She was eternally self-critical, restless, and rarely satisfied with her efforts.
It’s now widely believed that she suffered from bipolar disorder. There were scant options for treatment at this time, and so, during particularly bad bouts of mania or depression, she withdrew, unable to participate in her active social life, and found it nearly impossible to focus on writing.
Leonard Woolf and the Bloomsbury Circle
She was nurtured by husband Leonard Woolf and beloved by her Bloomsbury colleagues. What has come to be known as the Bloomsbury Circle was a group of British colleagues that included writers, artists, critics, and intellectuals. In addition to herself and her husband, other members included her sister, Vanessa Bell, an artist, Clive Bell, Duncan Grant, Lytton Strachey, E.M. Forester, and others.
Leonard Woolf was ever vigilant of his wife’s mental state; he cared for and protected her as best as anyone could. This was clearly a marriage of minds, if not a typical union, and there’s little doubt that he helped create the best possible scenario for her thrive and produce, under the circumstances.
Insight into the writer’s mind
Woolf left much insight into the writer’s mind as a diarist and essayist, along with her numerous books of fiction and nonfiction. She encouraged women to write about whatever fascinated them, and to dare to be dreamers and creators, as encapsulated in A Room of One’s Own, one of her best-known works of nonfiction.
Death by suicide
As is well known, Virginia Woolf’s inner demons got the best of her. She walked into the river Ouse with stones in her pockets and succumbed to suicide by drowning in 1941, at the age of 59.
More about Virginia Woolf on this site
- Virginia Woolf wants you to write “For the good of the world.”
- Virginia Woolf — the most self-critical author of all time?
- Orlando: Gender, Identity and Sexuality Through Time
- Virginia Woolf’s 1941 suicide note
- Quotes on Living and Writing
- The Voyage Out (1920)
- The Years
- Jacob’s Room
- The Waves
- To the Lighthouse
- Mrs. Dalloway
- A Room of One’s Own
Autobiographies and Biographies about Virginia Woolf
- The Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain
- The International Virginia Woolf Society
- Virginia Woolf in the Virtual World
- Reader discussions of Woolf’s books on Goodreads
- Page on Amazon
- Read Woolf’s Monday or Tuesday: Eight Stories
Selected film adaptations of Virginia Woolf’s works
Articles, News, Etc.
- LGBT History: Famous Women Who Loved Women
- Great Literary Husbands: The Men Who Supported Genius
- Handwritten Manuscript Pages From Classic Novels:
A Draft of Mrs. Dalloway
- Woolf’s Last Diary Entry
- “The Legacy” by Virginia Woolf
- Virginia Woolf on How to Read a Book
- The Most Moving and Timelessly Beautiful LGBTQ Love Letters in History –
Virginia Woolf & Vita Sackville-West
- Afterwords: Moving Letters of Condolence on Virginia Woolf’s Death
- Woolf on the Creative Benefits of Keeping a Diary
- How Orlando Subverted Censorship
and Revolutionized the Politics of Lesbian Love in 1928
- ‘Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision’ in Portraiture’
- Woolf’s Strange Treatment to Cure Her Mental Illness
- “She wrote. She wrote. She wrote.” Virginia Woolf, Orlando
- Woolf’s Idea of Privacy
- The Last Photograph of Virginia Woolf
- In the Footsteps of Virginia Woolf
- Woolf, Wharton, and a Case of Anxiety of Influence
- Monk’s House – Lewes, Sussex, UK
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