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LGBT History Month profile: Accomplished 20th century English novelist Virginia Woolf

via Equality Forum
Sunday, October 30, 2011

Virginia Woolf, Author
b. January 25, 1882
d. March 28, 1941

“Language is wine upon the lips.”

Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf was an accomplished 20th century English novelist and one of the founders of the modernist movement. She published nearly 500 essays and nine novels.

Born Adeline Virginia Stephen, she was privately tutored at home and never attended college. She inherited a love of literature from her father, Sir Leslie Stephen, who had an impressive library and was a magazine editor.

Woolf suffered emotional hardships from an early age. When she was 6, her stepbrother began molesting her. The abuse continued into her early adulthood. At 13, she suffered a mental breakdown following her mother’s death. At 22, Woolf suffered a second breakdown when her father died.

Upon recovering, Woolf and her siblings moved to Bloomsbury in London. There she involved herself with the Bloomsbury Group, a cadre of intellectuals who met for discussion of politics, art and literature. She began her literary career teaching at Morley College and writing book reviews.

In 1912, Virginia married Leonard Woolf, a member of the Bloomsbury Group. The marriage was described as passionless, but loving. Together they founded the Hogarth Press and published significant books, including Mansfield’s “Prelude,” T.S. Elliot’s “Poems” and her own book “Kew Gardens.”

Woolf had a number of close relationships with women. It is believed there was only one sexual relationship, which was with Vita Sackville-West, on whom she based the protagonist of her book “Orlando.” Sackville-West’s son described the novel as “the longest and most charming love letter in literature.” “Orlando” was made into a movie in 1993.

Woolf’s modernist style differed from other writers of the day. It concentrated more on communicating impressions and people’s inner lives than recreating reality. It often included techniques such as stream-of-consciousness writing. Many of her works contain strong feminist themes, such as her essay “A Room of One’s Own” where she wrote, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

Over the course of Woolf’s life, she was treated for mental illness. She was likely suffering a mental breakdown at the time of her death. After weighing down her pockets with stones, she drowned herself in the River Ouse in Lewes, England. According to her suicide note, she feared her suffering would not end.

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13 more reader comments:

  1. One of my favorite authors. I read Orlando and Mrs. Dalloway.

    Posted on Sunday, October 30, 2011 at 5:14pm
  2. Read “Mrs. Dalloway” for a literary interpretation class last year. That was intensely difficult but immensely satisfying.

    Posted on Sunday, October 30, 2011 at 5:17pm
  3. To The Lighthouse is a beautiful piece of art. One of the most challenging books I read in college, though.

    Posted on Sunday, October 30, 2011 at 5:23pm
  4. Anyone want to say what her best work is?

    Posted on Sunday, October 30, 2011 at 5:43pm
  5. there should be way more people liking this! me gusta virginia woolf!!

    Posted on Sunday, October 30, 2011 at 6:00pm
  6. @Mary: I think her best work is The Waves, which is just beautiful. Jeanette Winterson, who warrants her own profile, wrote a wonderful essay, “A Veil of Words,” that can serve as a useful introduction to Woolf’s gorgeous and challenging novel. The essay can be found in her book Art Objects.

    Posted on Sunday, October 30, 2011 at 6:32pm
  7. ‘Orlando’ is wonderful. I’ll have to reread that soon!

    Posted on Sunday, October 30, 2011 at 7:01pm
  8. and i just remembered ‘A Room of One’s Own’! so good!

    Posted on Sunday, October 30, 2011 at 7:02pm
  9. Wooooolf!

    Posted on Sunday, October 30, 2011 at 9:44pm
  10. sound interesting do have in book? must find it somehow? thx

    Posted on Sunday, October 30, 2011 at 9:44pm
  11. Here is a woman before her time!! A genius!

    Posted on Monday, October 31, 2011 at 1:36am
  12. she was and is a genius

    Posted on Monday, October 31, 2011 at 1:58am
  13. Such a tortured soul…

    Posted on Monday, October 31, 2011 at 6:14am