Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)
v Virginia Woolf was one of the most famous modernist writers, and was also an important member of the Bloomsbury Group of intellectuals.
v Her most famous novels are Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, and Orlando. Each of these stories focus on a kind of personal crisis which characters think about, while doing mundane (boring) things, in the midst of family problems and life during war time.
v In 1938 she wrote Three Guineas, an essay that suggests fighting fascism with feminism, giving women more equality, thereby changing society as a whole. The idea is, Virginia asked, How can there be an end to fascism in the world, when there is fascism in every home?
v In 1941 she wrote her last work Between the Acts, a novel written in verse. It's about an amateur play produced in an English village, representing a parody of English history and literature, from Shakespeare to the present.
v She's also famous for her essay A Room of One's Own, in which she said "A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction."
v Virginia Woolf is considered a modernist because she wrote using stream of consciousness, as well as focusing on the emotional motives of her characters. Stream of consciousness is when you enter the mind of a character and see what he or she is thinking, often randomly going from one idea to another.
"Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day. The mind receives myriad impressions - trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel . . . Is it not the task of the novelist to convey this varying, this unknown and uncircumscribed spirit?"
Virginia Woolf, by her sister Vanessa Bell
Virginia Woolf came from a large family in Kensington, London. Her father was a historian, and his mother was a model for famous Pre-Raphaelite painters, like Edward Burne-Jones. She was educated by her parents. Her brothers went to a formal school, which Virginia resented, but the family had a large library, so she read a lot, and her house also received visits from famous writers like Henry James. Every summer her family visited St. Ives in Cornwall, which was a great influence on her writing.
Virginia began writing at eighteen, for the Times Literary Supplement. She married Leonard Woolf in 1912. Although happy with her husband, Virginia also experimented a bit with a lady named Vita Sackville-West, whom Virginia portrayed in her novel Orlando.
Virginia suffered from bipolar disorder, a psychological illness in which your mood changes quickly and suddenly, from happy to sad, and calm to angry. She suffered a series of nervous breakdowns following the deaths of family members - her mother when she was thirteen, her sister Stella when she was fifteen, and then her father when she was twenty-two. Adding to the depression, she was sexually abused by her step brothers. She was put in psychiatric care numerous times. Life became unbearable for her during World War II, when London was Blitzed. She wrote a biography that no one liked, about her friend, the artist Roger Fry. So, she committed suicide, filling her coat with stones and walking into the River Ouse, where she drowned, age 59. Her last note reads,
"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 till 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"
Virginia Woolf, by Roger Fry