“I thought how unpleasant it is to be locked out; and I thought how it is worse, perhaps, to be locked in.” –
“If you are losing your leisure, look out! — It may be you are losing your soul.” –
“Oh, yes, dear reader: the essay is alive. There is no reason to despair.” –
Inspirational Women, Virginia Woolf
Adeline Virginia Stephen was born on January 25, 1882, into a privileged English household in London. Sadly her mother, Julia Jackson, died when Virginia was only thirteen years old, leaving Virginia and her siblings to be raised by their father, Sir Leslie Stephen, who was a famous scholar and philosopher. The American poet, James Russell Lowell, was her godfather. Before her death, her mother was accomplished in her own right, born in India and later served as a model for several painters. She was also a nurse and wrote a book on the profession. Both of Virginia’s parents were married/widowed before they met and married each other. Virginia had three full siblings (Thoby, Vanessa, and Adrian) and four half-siblings (Laura Makepeace Stephen and George, Gerald and Stella Duckworth.)
All of the girls were taught at home in the splendid confines of the family’s lush Victorian library. Virginia’s parents were extremely well connected, artistically and socially. Young Virginia soon fell deep into the world of literature.
As a young girl, Virginia was curious and playful. She even started a family newspaper called Hyde Park Gate News, documenting her family’s humorous adventures. However, her childhood took a dark turn, including being sexually abused by her half-brothers George and Gerald Duckworth, which she wrote about in her essays A Sketch of the Past and 22 Hyde Park Gate. Also, the death of her mother when she was thirteen, caused her first mental breakdown and the loss of her sister only two years later.
Amidst her personal losses, Virginia continued her studies in German, Greek, and Latin at the Ladies’ Department of King’s College London. During her years of study, Virginia was introduced to a handful of radical feminists. Virginia was institutionalized for a brief period in 1904, after another emotional meltdown following the death of her father. After their father’s death, Virginia and her siblings sold the family home in Hyde Park Gate and bought a house in the Bloomsbury area of London. During this time, Virginia met several members of the Bloomsbury Group, a circle of intellectuals and artists.
In 1910, this particular group became famous for the Dreadnought Hoax, a practical joke in which members of the group dressed up as a delegation of Ethiopian royals, including Virginia, and successfully persuaded the English Royal Navy to show them their warship, the HMS Dreadnought. After this crazy act, Virginia and Leonard Woolf grew extremely close and were married in August of 1912.
Several years before marrying Leonard, Virginia had begun working on her first novel. It took nine years and a large number of drafts, but in 1915 The Voyage Out was released. In 1917, the Woolf’s purchased a used printing press and established Hogarth Press, their own publishing house operated out of their home. Virginia and Leonard published some of their writing, as well as the work of Sigmund Freud, Katharine Mansfield, and T.S. Eliot.
In 1919, Virginia published Night and Day, a novel set in Edwardian England. Her third novel Jacob’s Room was published by Hogarth in 1922, which was based on her brother Thoby. That year, she met the author, poet, and landscape gardener Vita Sackville-West. Virginia and Vita began a close friendship, that did eventually turn into a romantic relationship. After the affair was over, Vita and Virginia remained close friends until Virginia’s death.
Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia’s fourth novel, received high praise in 1925. The mesmerizing story interweaved interior monologues and raised issues of feminism, mental illness, and homosexuality in post-World War I England. To the Lighthouse, which was released in 1928, was considered revolutionary.
Throughout her career, Woolf spoke regularly at colleges and universities, wrote letters, essays, short stories, and a total of fifteen books. By her mid-forties, Virginia had proven herself to be an intellectual, highly influential writer, and feminist. However, despite her outward success, Virginia continued to suffer debilitating periods of depression and horrible mood swings.
Lenard, Virginia’s husband, did notice her slipping into despair as she worked on what would be her last book, which was published after her death in 1941. At this time, World War II was raging. Leonard, who was Jewish, was really worried about his safety if England was invaded by Germany. Out of this fear, that made a plan to commit suicide together if this happened. The couple’s London home was destroyed during the Blitz in 1940. Unable to move on from this heartbreak, Virginia Woolf pulled on her overcoat, filled its pockets with rocks and all things heavy and walked into the River Ouse on March 28, 1941, and her body was washed away. The authorities didn’t find her body until three weeks later and Lenard had her body cremated. Her ashes were scattered at their home.
Virginia Woolf’s popularity did taper off quite a bit after World War II, but her popularity increased again with a new generation of readers during the 1970s feminist movement. To this day, Virginia Woolf remains one of the most influential authors of the 21st century.
See you next week for another #InspirationalWomenWednesday. ❤
“But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” -Isaiah 40:31