Virginia Woolf: The Stream of Modernist Creation - ReadScholars

Virginia Woolf: The Stream of Modernist Creation - ReadScholars

Virginia Woolf: The Stream of Modernist Creation

Virginia Woolf's Family Background

Virginia Woolf was born into a family of wealthy intellectuals. Her grandfather, Sir James Stephen, authored the bill to abolish slavery in 1833. Her father, Leslie Stephen, was an author and editor, and founder of the Dictionary of National Biography. Leslie Stephen married Julia Duckworth, a model for pre-Raphaelite painters, and they had several children together.

Virginia's Early Writing Talent

Virginia displayed a talent for writing stories from the age of five. She wrote long serials about evil spirits lurking in rubbish heaps. She loved her crowded house in London, but her favorite place was Talland House in Cornwall, the family summer getaway. From its windows, she admired the views of Godrevy Lighthouse and enjoyed the sounds of children playing in the terraced gardens.

Virginia's Close Relationship with Her Father

Virginia's love for writing and reading drew her very close to her father, Leslie Stephen. They would spend hours together sharing books and making up stories. Leslie and Virginia took long walks together, during which he taught her to find poetic interest in the prosaic aspects of everyday life.

Virginia's Struggles and Traumatic Events

Virginia's childhood was marred by several traumatic events. Her older half-brother Gerald Duckworth had touched her inappropriately when she was just six years old. Her mother, Julia Stephen, died when Virginia was in her teens. Her sister, Stella Duckworth, who had taken on the role of surrogate mother, also died. George Duckworth, another half-brother, would visit Virginia at night and force himself on her, but by day, he would ridicule her.

Virginia Woolf's Protagonist-like Stance

Virginia Woolf stood out from the background and got involved in big political issues of the time, such as the campaign for women's rights and suffrage.

Virginia's Challenging Mental State

Virginia experienced deterioration of her mind and was committed to Burley Sanatorium in Twickenham in 1910. She wrote to her sister Vanessa about seeing jumping out of a window as a means of escape but was dismissed from Burley after less than two months.

Virginia's Marriage to Leonard Woolf

Virginia moved into a new house and shared lodgings with her brother Adrian, Leonard Woolf, and other friends in Brunswick Square, Bloomsbury. Leonard played a positive role in Virginia's life, helping her cope with mental illness and coaching her into writing her first novel, "The Voyage Out." However, tensions arose in their marriage, as Leonard could not or would not understand Virginia's sexual fears and history of abuse.

Virginia's Battle with Mental Illness

Virginia had a history of mental illness which was further compounded by traumatic experiences since childhood, including a series of deaths in the family and sexual abuse. Some contemporary psychiatrists believe that she suffered from bipolar disorder.

Hogarth Press and Virginia's Writing

After Virginia's recovery, Leonard worried that writing would cause her to have another breakdown, so he sought a distraction for her. They began publishing books by hand using a printing machine and eventually formed Hogarth Press. "The Voyage Out" and later works by Virginia were published through Hogarth Press.

Themes in Virginia's Novels

Virginia's novels explored the struggles of women in early 20th-century Britain, locked in a society that only saw them as wives and daughters. She introduced the idea that writers do not need sensational events to propel a story or develop a character, but that ordinary moments and thoughts are worth narrating.

"Mrs Dalloway" and "To the Lighthouse"

"Mrs. Dalloway" is considered one of Virginia's best novels, focusing on the main character, Clarissa Dalloway, as she questions the meaning of her own existence. The novel also introduces the character of Septimus Warren Smith, a World War I veteran suffering from shell shock. "To the Lighthouse" is divided into three sections and follows the lives and thoughts of its characters over time.


Virginia Woolf's novels are known for their exploration of various themes and experimental narrative techniques. Her works, such as "To the Lighthouse" and "Orlando," challenge traditional linear concepts of time and delve into the complexities of human consciousness.

Introducing the Death of Important Characters

In her novels, Woolf often introduces the deaths of significant characters through quick edits and square brackets. One example is the death of Andrew Ramsay, who was blown up in France during World War I.

Completing the Trip to the Lighthouse

In the final section of Woolf's novel "To the Lighthouse," the character James finally completes his trip to the lighthouse after a delay of ten years. This delayed journey mirrors the theme of time's influence on one's life in Woolf's work.

Reception of Woolf's Novels

Woolf's novels, including "To the Lighthouse," were well-received by both critics and readers. This success came as a surprise to the author, who had previously faced criticism and doubt about her writing abilities.

"Orlando: A Biography"

Woolf's next work, "Orlando: A Biography," published in 1928, defied expectations with its fantastical tone. The novel features a protagonist who switches gender and spans centuries of British history. It challenges the traditional linear concept of time as the protagonist accumulates memories that transport them to different periods.

Vita Sackville-West and Friendship with Woolf

Woolf had a close friendship with poet, novelist, and horticulturalist Vita Sackville-West. Their friendship developed into a short romance, and they took holidays together in France and Italy. The connection between Woolf and Sackville-West influenced Woolf's novel "Orlando," as it can be read as a fictional biography of Sackville-West.

"A Room of One's Own"

Woolf's essay, "A Room of One's Own," published in 1929, is one of her most celebrated feminist writings. In this work, Woolf addresses the pressures that deny women intellectual and professional development, including the confinement to the domestic sphere and lack of financial independence. The essay also questions how history is written and suggests a counter-historiography that highlights the contributions of women excluded from historical records.

"The Waves"

Woolf's most experimental work, "The Waves," published in 1931, is structured as six soliloquies voiced by three men and three women over the course of a single day. The characters cope with the death of a dear friend, and their personalities are revealed through their internal stream of consciousness. The novel explores the complexities of human experience and consciousness.

"The Years"

Woolf's novel "The Years," published in 1937, revolves around the extended Pargiter family and spans 50 years of British history. Each section starts with a sweeping narration of the sky over Britain before zooming into the consciousness of a particular character. The novel delves into how historical events and institutions shape individual consciousness.

"Three Guineas"

Woolf's essay "Three Guineas," published in 1938, serves as her second feminist essay. It addresses the dominant issues for women in the 20th century, such as the lack of access to education and professional advancement. Woolf argues that the exclusion of women from the public sphere contributes to a patriarchal society and increases the risk of international conflict.

Tragic End of Woolf's Life

In September 1939, World War II broke out, and Woolf began working on her final novel, "Between the Acts." The Woolfs' home in Bloomsbury was bombed, and they moved to Monk's House in Rodmell, Sussex. Woolf experienced declining mental health, and on March 28, 1941, she tragically took her own life by drowning.



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