Now regarded as a classic feminist work, Woolf based her extended essay A Room on lectures she had given at women’s colleges at Cambridge University. Using such female authors as Jane Austen and Emily and Charlotte Bronte, she examines women and their struggles as artists, their position in literary history and need for independence. She also invents a female counterpart of William Shakespeare, a sister named Judith to at times sarcastically get her point across. Woolf proved to be an innovative and influential 20th Century author. In some of her novels she moves away from the use of plot and structure to employ stream-of-consciousness to emphasise the psychological aspects of her characters. Themes in her works include gender relations, class hierarchy and the consequences of war. Woolf was among the founders of the Modernist movement which also includes T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and Gertrude Stein.
The effects of bi-polar disorder at times caused Woolf protracted periods of convalescence, withdrawing from her busy social life, distressed that she could not focus long enough to read or write. She spent times in nursing homes for ‘rest cures’; frankly referred to herself as ‘mad’; said she heard voices and had visions. “My own brain is to me the most unaccountable of machinery—always buzzing, humming, soaring roaring diving, and then buried in mud. And why? What’s this passion for?” (from a letter dated 28 Dec. 1932). The subject of suicide enters her stories and essays at times and she disagreed with the perception that it is an act of cowardice and sin. When Virginia was not depressed she worked intensely for long hours at a time. She was vivacious, witty and ebullient company and a member of the Bloomsbury Group or ‘Bloomsbury’ which had been started by her brother Thoby and his friends from Cambridge. It quickly grew to encompass many of London’s literary circle, who gathered to discuss art, literature, and politics. During her life and since her death she has been the subject of much debate and discussion surrounding the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her half-brother, her mental health issues and sexual orientation. Also, her pacifist political views in line with Bloomsbury caused controversy. From Three Guineas (1931); Therefore if you insist upon fighting to protect me, or “our” country, let it be understood, soberly and rationally between us, that you are fighting to gratify a sex instinct which I cannot share; to procure benefits which I have not shared and probably will not share; but not to gratify my instincts, or to protect either myself or my country. “For,” the outsider will say, “in fact, as a woman, I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman my country is the whole world.”-Ch. 3
Regardless of the polemic, or because of it, even into the 21st Century Woolf’s prodigious output of diaries, letters, critical reviews, essays, short stories, and novels continue to be the source of much scholarly study. Adeline Virginia Stephen was born in London, England on 25 January 1882, daughter of Sir Leslie Stephen (1832-1904), literary critic and first editor of the Dictionary of National Biography. His first wife, daughter of William Makepeace Thackeray, Harriet Marion (b.1840) died in 1875. Virginia’s mother was his second wife, Julia Prinsep Jackson Duckworth (1846-1895) who inspired the character Mrs. Ramsay in To The Lighthouse (1927).
Virginia had two brothers, Thoby (1880-1906) and Adrian (1883-1948) who became a psychoanalyst. She was very close to her older sister Vanessa ‘Nessa’...