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Virginia Woolf (Adeline Virginia Woolf) Biography

(1882–1941), (Adeline Virginia Woolf), The Voyage Out, Times Literary Supplement, Two Stories, The Waste Land

British novelist and critic, daughter of the agnostic Victorian biographer, editor, and critic Sir Leslie Stephen (18321904) and the beautiful philanthropic Julia Duckworth, née Jackson, wife, mother, and nurse (184695). She described herself as ‘born into a very communicative, literate, letter writing, visiting, articulate, late nineteenth century world’. She grew up, and was educated at home, at 22 Hyde Park Gate, Kensington, with Julia's children by her first marriage to Herbert Duckworth, George, Stella (who died young in 1897), and Gerald; with Leslie's mentally defective daughter Laura, by his first wife Minny Thackeray; and with the other Stephen children, Vanessa (the painter V. Bell), and her brothers Thoby (who died young in 1906) and Adrian. After both parents' deaths Virginia had a mental collapse. In 1904 the Stephen children moved to Gordon Square, and with Thoby's Cambridge friends formed a circle of friends and family connections which came to be known as the Bloomsbury Group. Its ‘members’ were closely involved with her life: Clive Bell, who married Vanessa in 1906, Lytton Strachey, life-long friend, who proposed to Virginia in 1909, Desmond and Molly MacCarthy, Roger Fry, Duncan Grant, John Maynard Keynes, Saxon Sydney Turner, E. M. Forster, David Garnett, and Leonard Woolf. She married Woolf in 1912, at the onset of serious periods of instability between 1912 and 1915, including an attempted suicide in September 1913. Her first novel, The Voyage Out, came out in 1915, but since 1904 she had been publishing reviews (mainly, anonymously, for the Times Literary Supplement) and writing fictional sketches and drafts of the novel. In 1915 the Woolfs moved to Hogarth House in Richmond and in 1917 founded the Hogarth Press, which published their own work (starting with Two Stories) and that of many of the leading writers of the time, perhaps most notably their friend T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land. Woolf was always actively involved in every aspect of the Press. In 1919 she published Night and Day and the experimental story ‘Kew Gardens’, and became friendly with K. Mansfield; and the Woolfs bought Monk's House in Rodmell, Sussex.

In the early 1920s she began to be recognized as an important writer and evolved a programme for her writing with the collection of stories Monday or Tuesday (1921), the novel Jacob's Room (1922), and her seminal essays on fiction, ‘Modern Novels’ (1919, an attack on the Edwardians, revised as ‘Modern Fiction’), ‘Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown’ (1923, a reply to Arnold Bennett's criticism of Jacob's Room as unrealistic), and ‘Character in Fiction’ (1924). In 1923 Leonard became editor of the Nation and Athenaeum, and they moved to Tavistock Square. Her great modernist novels of the 1920s, Mrs Dalloway and To the Lighthouse, and her 1925 collection of essays The Common Reader (the first of several), established her reputation as an original modernist comparable with Joyce or Proust. But her jeu d'esprit, Orlando, a love-offering to V. Sackville-West, was more popular. Orlando's theme of androgyny was echoed in the vital essay on feminism and writing A Room of One's Own (1929), which arose from lectures given at the women's colleges, Newnham and Girton, Cambridge. Meanwhile she was working on The Waves (1931), her ‘brave attempt’ to represent interior mental states through a formal experiment in narrative.

The 1930s, with the rise of fascism and Nazism, the death of her nephew Julian Bell in the Spanish Civil War, Leonard's involvement with the Labour Party, and her friendship with the militant feminist composer Ethel Smyth, turned her arguments on writing from issues of Modernism in fiction to the relation of art and propaganda (as in the essay ‘The Leaning Tower’, 1940). A Room of One's Own led to the argument on feminism, patriarchy, and war in the lecture ‘Professions for Women’ (1931), the long essay Three Guineas (1938), and the novel The Years (1937). (These two were originally conceived as one book, The Pargiters.) Even a light fantasy, Flush (1933), told as if by Elizabeth Barrett Browning's dog, continued the theme of tyrannical patriarchy. In the late 1930s the habitual features of her life continued—a full and active social life in London (from 1939, at Mecklenburgh Square), car trips to Europe, work on the Press, on a biography of Roger Fry (1940), on essays and fiction, and intermittent periods of illness and depression. She began to develop in a new direction, towards a history of obscure lives and a ‘philosophy of anonymity’, in a sketch for a book about human continuity, Anon, and in Pointz Hall, published posthumously as Between the Acts (1941). In 1940 the Woolfs' past and present London homes were bombed and they withdrew to Monk's House. Woolf finished her last novel, became increasingly disturbed, and drowned herself in the River Ouse in March 1941.

After her death, posthumous volumes of stories and essays were published (The Death of the Moth and Other Essays, 1942; The Captain's Death Bed and Other Essays, 1950; Granite and Rainbow, 1958; Collected Essays, 4 volumes, 1966, 1967), and A Writer's Diary, edited by L. Woolf (1958). Since Q. Bell's biography of his aunt (Virginia Woolf, 2 volumes, 1972), her stature as one of the major novelists of the century, and a vital figure in the history of modernism and of the feminist movement, has been established in three ways. One is by the publication of the great mass of primary materials unpublished in her lifetime: her letters (in 6 volumes, edited by N. Nicolson and J. Trautmann, 197580), her diaries (in 5 volumes, edited by A. O. Bell and A. McNeillie, 197784), her essays (volumes I–IV, 198694; edited by A. McNeillie), her complete shorter fiction (edited by S. Dick, 1985), her early journals (A Passionate Pilgrim, edited by M. Leaska, 1990), and her autobiographical writings (Moments of Being, edited by J. Schulkind, 1976). The second is by the publication of the manuscript versions of her novels (eg. To the Lighthouse: The Original Holograph Draft, edited by S. Dick, 1983), of the definitive Holograph Press edition of her novels (1990), and, since her coming out of copyright, of various annotated editions (Penguin, Oxford University Press, 1991). The third is by successive waves of literary, biographical, and critical writing on Woolf examining every aspect of her life and work from a wide variety of approaches. See also feminist criticism.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Woking Surrey to Æ