A distinguished English feminist, author, essayist, critic and publisher, Virginia Woolf is regarded to be one of the significant figures of twentieth century modern literature. Woolf is the author of well known books including Mrs Dalloway(1925), To the Lighthouse (1927) and Orlando (1928) but her most famous work is the book-length essay A Room of One’s Own (1929).
The extensive essay, A Room of One’s Own is an evidence of Virginia’s feminist nature. The various lectures Woolf delivered in women’s colleges of Cambridge University formed the basis for this essay. By taking examples of personalities such as Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen, Woolf explained the nature of women, their quest for independence and their struggle to achieve notable positions in literary fields and as artists. A lot of Virginia’s work revolves around social class hierarchy, gender relations and consequences of war. Virginia Woolf along with James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound is known to be a founder of the Modernist movement. Today, Woolf’s work is still widely read and used frequently for purposes of scholarly studies.
The daughter of Sir Leslie Stephen, a literary critic and editor and Julia Stephen, a well connected woman with a sound family background, Adeline Virginia Stephen was born on 25 January, 1882 in London, England. Both her parents had previously been married and widowed. They lived together in 22 Hyde Park Gate, Kingston with four children from their previous marriages and four from their marriage to each other. Unlike the boys who were sent to Cambridge, Woolf and her sisters were mostly educated at home by their parents under the Victorian influence of their literary circle. Their education was supplemented by classic books and other English literature from the vast in house library.
The death of Woolf’s mother in 1895 was followed by the death of her half sister Stella in 1897. The sudden deaths caused the first of several nervous breakdowns Virginia had in her lifetime. However, she was able to collect herself enough to attend courses to study Greek, Latin, German and history at the Ladies’ Department of King’s College London between 1897 and 1901. It was here that Virginia was introduced to reformers of women’s higher education such as Clara Peter and Lilian Faithful. In 1904, the death of her father led to Virginia’s most terminal breakdown for which she was institutionalized. Many researchers believe that in addition to other hardships, these frequent collapses and depressive periods were also a result of the sexual abuse pressed upon Virginia and her sister by their half brothers. Woolf has mentioned the abuse in her essays A Sketch of the Past and 22 Hyde Park Gate.
When 22 Hyde Park was sold, Virginia’s siblings bought a house at 46 Gordon Square in Bloomsbury, which became a significant place in the history of literature. Here, many literary and artistic friends of Virginia and her siblings formed the Bloomsbury group. It was a meeting place for scholars writers, artists, critics to discuss and exchange views.
Woolf began her professional writing career in 1900. Her first novel The Voyage Out was published in 1915 followed by many more novels and essays of immense literary significance. On August 10, 1912, Virginia married writer Leonard Woolf. The couple collaborated to form the Hogarth Press which published the works of Virginia and other contemporary writers and artists. A severe spell of depression hit Woolf again after she finished the manuscript of her last novel. On March 28, 1941, Woolf committed suicide by drowning herself into a river by walking into it wearing an overcoat with pockets filled with stones. Her body was found on April 18, 1941.