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Virginia Woolf is undeniably one of the most renowned modernist literary figures in history. To this day, Woolf continues to be a significant icon in the world of literature. Her authority and image continue to be claimed (or challenged) in various debates about gender, race, feminism, art, politics, and other relevant topics — making her an inspiration to both established and emerging artists.
Virginia Woolf, whose real name is Adeline Virginia Stephen, was born on the 25th of January, 1882 in London, England. She grew up in a remarkable household, which likely influenced her to become a great artist herself. Her father, Sir Leslie Stephen, was an author and a historian. He was also one of the most important names in the golden age of mountaineering.
Woolf’s mother, Julia Prinsep Stephen, was known for being a model for Pre-Raphaelite painters during her younger years. Aside from being a nurse, she also wrote a book about her profession. Woolf had four half-siblings and three full siblings. Together, they all lived at 22 Hyde Park Gate in Kensington.
Struggles in Life
Virginia Woolf was playful and curious as a young girl. She even came up with a family newspaper called the Hyde Park Gate News. It documented humorous anecdotes about her family.
Unfortunately, her happy childhood was marred by early traumatic events. She previously wrote about being sexually abused by two of her half-brothers in her essays “22 Hyde Park Gate” and “A Sketch of the Past.”
At the age of 13, Woolf also experienced loss for the first time with the sudden death of her mother due to rheumatic fever. She went through her first mental breakdown at the time as well. Her half-sister, who assumed the role of mother in their home, also passed away two years later.
Rising Up to the Occasion
Despite facing multiple challenges in life, Virginia Woolf did not let her past struggles bring her down. While still dealing with the loss of her mother and half-sister, the budding writer continued her studies in Latin, Greek, and German at King’s College in London.
After four years of study, Woolf was exposed to radical feminists, which later inspired her work. The death of her father due to stomach cancer led to another emotional setback in 1904. She was briefly institutionalized, and her dance between personal desolation and literary expression went on for the rest of her life.
Virginia Woolf started writing professionally for The Times Literary Supplement in 1905. One year later, one of Woolf’s brothers died from typhoid fever.
In 1912, Woolf tied the knot with a brilliant young writer named Leonard Woolf. Also a critic from England, Leonard has interest in economics and literature. Their shared passion for various topics made them a perfect match as they are both interested in the labor movement.
Just for amusement, the couple even came up with a printing press business in 1917. They founded the Hogarth Press, which published many important books that would later on shape history.
Most Famous Novels
Virginia Woolf published many notable novels during her time, but two of them really stood out from the rest: “Mrs. Dalloway (1925)” and “To the Lighthouse (1927).” In the first book, readers get a glimpse of a day in the life of the fictional Clarissa Dalloway, a high-society woman living in post-war England.
“To the Lighthouse” is a family portrait and history told through personal views at various points in time. The first part of the novel deals with the time between six o’clock in the evening and dinner. Mainly told through Mrs. Ramsay’s perspective, the book offers a deeper understanding of the clash between males and females in the family.
Woolf’s life ended when she drowned in Lewes, Sussex, England, on March 28, 1941. Not much is known about the exact way she died, but her passing has often been considered as a suicide. It was believed to be caused by the unbearable strains of life during WWII. Many historical accounts claim Virginia Woolf had regular mental breakdown symptoms and feared it would be a permanent feeling.
Throughout her life, Virginia Woolf proved she was more than just a woman’s writer. While others just remember her because of the way she died, many still see her as one of the greatest writers who ever lived.
Like most people, she did have her darker interludes. However, when not sunk in a depressive episode, Woolf was the one person who could speak on just about any topic with extreme passion. She also loved the idea of the future and what wonders it might bring.
Here are the most thought-provoking and inspirational quotes from English writer, Virginia Woolf.
Best Virginia Woolf Quotes
“All extremes of feeling are allied with madness.” – Virginia Woolf
“I thought how unpleasant it is to be locked out; and I thought how it is worse, perhaps, to be locked in.” – Virginia Woolf
“Let me sit here forever with bare things, this coffee cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves, myself being myself.” – Virginia Woolf
“What does the brain matter compared with the heart?” – Virginia Woolf
“Second hand books are wild books, homeless books; they have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of the library lack.” – Virginia Woolf
“Books are the mirrors of the soul.” – Virginia Woolf
“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” – Virginia Woolf
“I meant to write about death, only life came breaking in as usual.” – Virginia Woolf
“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.” – Virginia Woolf
“If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people.” – Virginia Woolf