Woolf, (Adeline) Virginia 1882-1941 (Virgina Stephen)

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WOOLF, (Adeline) Virginia 1882-1941
(Virgina Stephen)


Born January 25, 1882, in London, England; committed suicide by drowning, March 28, 1941, in Lewes, Sussex, England; daughter of Leslie (a biographer, critic, and scholar) and Julia Prinsep (Jackson) Stephen; married Leonard Woolf (an economist, publisher, critic, and writer), August 10, 1912 (died, 1969). Education: Self-educated.


Writer. Morley College, London, England, instructor in English, c. 1905-07; Hogarth Press, Brighton, England, then London, founder and operator, with husband, Leonard Woolf, beginning 1917.


Prix Femina, 1928.


The Voyage Out (novel; also see below), Duckworth (London, England), 1915, revised, Doran (New York, NY), 1920, reprinted, Modern Library (New York, NY), 2000.

Two Stories Written and Printed by Virginia Woolf and L. S. Woolf, Hogarth Press (Richmond, Surrey, England), 1917, story by Virginia Woolf published separately as The Mark on the Wall (also see below), 1919.

Kew Gardens (short stories; also see below), Hogarth Press (Richmond, Surrey, England), 1919, Folcroft Press (Folcroft, PA), 1969.

Night and Day (novel), Duckworth (London, England), 1919, Doran (New York, NY), 1920.

Monday or Tuesday (short stories; includes "The Mark on the Wall" and "Kew Gardens"), Harcourt (New York, NY), 1921, reprinted, Dover Publications (Mineola, NY), 1997.

Jacob's Room (novel), Hogarth Press (Richmond, Surrey, England), 1922, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1923, reprinted, Dover Publications (Mineola, NY), 1998, manuscript version published as Virginia Woolf's "Jacob's Room": The Holograph Draft, Pace University Press (New York, NY), 1998.

Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown (criticism), Hogarth Press (Richmond, Surrey, England), 1924, Folcroft Press, 1977, edited by Edward Bishop, Blackwell (Malden, MA), 2004.

The Common Reader (criticism), Harcourt (New York, NY), 1925, reprinted, 1984.

Mrs. Dalloway (novel; also see below), Harcourt (New York, NY), 1925, reprinted with introduction by Woolf, Modern Library, 1928, reprinted, Harcourt, 1985.

To the Lighthouse (novel), Harcourt (New York, NY), 1927, reprinted, Routledge (New York, NY), 1994.

Orlando (novel), Crosby Gaige, 1928.

A Room of One's Own (essays), Harcourt (New York, NY), 1929, edited by Jenifer Smith, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1995, foreword by Mary Gordon, G. K. Hall (Thorndike, ME), 1999.

On Being Ill, Hogarth Press (London, England), 1930, introduction by Hermione Lee, Paris Press (Northampton, MA), 2002.

The Waves (novel), Harcourt (New York, NY), 1931.

The Second Common Reader (criticism), Harcourt (New York, NY), 1932, reprinted, 1986, published as The Common Reader, Second Series, Hogarth Press (London, England), 1932.

Flush: A Biography, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1933, reprinted, Hogarth Press (London, England), 1983.

The Years (novel; also see below), Harcourt (New York, NY), 1937.

Three Guineas (essays), Harcourt (New York, NY), 1938.

Roger Fry (biography), Harcourt (New York, NY), 1940.

Between the Acts (novel), Harcourt (New York, NY), 1941, reprinted, University Publications (New York, NY), 1983.

The Death of the Moth, and Other Essays, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1942, reprinted, Hogarth Press (London, England), 1981.

A Haunted House, and Other Short Stories, Hogarth Press (London, England), 1943, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1944.

The Moment, and Other Essays, Hogarth Press (London, England), 1947, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1948, reprinted, Hogarth, 1981.

The Captain's Death Bed, and Other Essays, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1950, reprinted, Hogarth Press (London, England), 1981.

Granite and Rainbow (essays), Harcourt (New York, NY), 1958.

Contemporary Writers (essays), preface by Jean Guiguet, Hogarth Press (London, England), 1965, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1966.

Nurse Lugton's Golden Thimble (juvenile), Hogarth Press (London, England) 1966, published as Nurse Lugton's Curtain, illustrated by Julie Vivas, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1991, redesigned edition, 2004.

Collected Essays, four volumes, Hogarth Press (London, England), 1966-67, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1967.

Mrs. Dalloway's Party: A Short Sequence, edited with an introduction by Stella McNichol, Hogarth Press (London, England), 1973, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1975.

Moments of Being (autobiographical essays), edited by Jeanne Schulkind, Chatto &Windus (London, England), 1976, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1977.

Freshwater (comedy), edited with a preface by Lucio P. Ruotolo, illustrated by Loretta Trezzo, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1976.

Books and Portraits: Some Further Selections from the Literary and Biographical Writings of Virginia Woolf, edited by Mary Lyon, Hogarth Press (London, England), 1977, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1978.

The Pargiters: The Novel-Essay Portion of "The Years," edited with an introduction by Mitchell A. Leaska, New York Public Library (New York, NY), 1977.

Melymbrosia: An Early Version of "The Voyage Out," edited with an introduction by Louise A. DeSalvo, New York Public Library (New York, NY), 1982, reprinted, Cleis Press (San Francisco, CA), 2002.

The Complete Shorter Fiction of Virginia Woolf, edited by Susan Dick, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1985.

The Essays of Virginia Woolf, edited by Andrew McNeillie, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1986.

Woolf Omnibus (contains Jacob's Room, Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, and The Waves), Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1994.

The Mark on the Wall, and Other Short Fiction, edited with an introduction by David Bradshaw, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2001.

Carlyle's House: And Other Sketches, edited by David Bradshaw, foreword by Doris Lessing, Hesperus Press (London, England), 2003.

(With others) The Mrs. Dalloway Reader, edited by Francine Prose, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2003.

Also author of essays under maiden name, Virginia Stephen. Essays, novels, and short stories published in numerous other collections; short stories also published separately. Selected works have been recorded and released on cassette by Love Story Classics. Works represented in anthologies. Contributor of criticism, essays, and short fiction to periodicals, including Times Literary Supplement, Guardian, Cornhill, Athenaeum, and New Statesman.


A Writer's Diary: Being Extracts from the Diary of Virginia Woolf, edited by husband, Leonard Woolf, Hogarth Press (London, England), 1953, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1954.

The Diary of Virginia Woolf, five volumes, edited by Anne Olivier Bell, introductory notes by Quentin Bell, Volume 1: 1915-1919, Hogarth Press (London, England), 1977, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1979; Volume 2: 1920-1924, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1978; Volume 3: 1925-1930, Harcourt, 1980; Volume 4: 1931-1935, Harcourt, 1982; Volume 5: 1936-1941, Hogarth Press (London, England), 1984.

A Passionate Apprentice: The Early Journals, 1897-1909, edited by Mitchell A. Leaska, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1990.

A Moment's Liberty: The Shorter Diary of Virginia Woolf, abridged and edited by Anne Olivier Bell, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1990.


Letters: Virginia Woolf and Lytton Strachey, edited by Leonard Woolf and James Strachey, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1956.

The Letters of Virginia Woolf, six volumes, edited by Nigel Nicolson and Joanne Trautmann, Volume 1: The Flight of the Mind, 1888-1912, Hogarth Press (London, England), 1975, published as 1888-1912, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1975; Volume 2: The Question of Things Happening, 1912-1922, Hogarth Press (London, England), 1976, published as 1912-1922, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1976; Volume 3: A Change of Perspective, 1923-1928, Hogarth Press (London, England), 1977, published as 1923-1928, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1978; Volume 4: A Reflection of the Other Person, 1929-1931, Hogarth Press (London, England), 1978, published as 1929-1931, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1979; Volume 5: The Sickle Side of the Moon, 1932-1935, Hogarth Press (London, England), 1979, published as 1932-1935, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1979; Volume 6: Leave the Letters Till We're Dead, 1936-1941, Hogarth Press (London, England), 1980, published as 1936-1941, Harcourt (New York, NY), 1980.

Letters also published separately and in additional collections.


Virginia Woolf "The Hours": The British Museum Manuscript of Mrs. Dalloway, transcribed and edited by Helen M. Wussow, University Press of America (Lanham, MD), 1996.

Translator, with S. S. Koteliansky, of works by Fedor Dostoevsky and Leo Tolstoy.


To the Lighthouse was adapted as a film by the British Broadcasting Company (BBC-TV), written by Hugh Stoddart, directed by Colin Gregg, 1983; The Waves was adapted into a musical play by David Bucknam and Lisa Peterson, produced at the Perry Street Theater, 1990; Orlando was adapted as a film by Sony Pictures, written and directed by Sally Potter, 1993, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1994; Mrs. Dalloway was adapted as a film by Mrs. D. Productions/Bergen Films, written by Eileen Atkins, directed by Marleen Gorris, 1997. The 2003 film The Hours was adapted from Mrs. Dalloway as well as incidents from Woolf's own life.


English writer Virginia Woolf was one of the most innovative and influential literary figures of the twentieth century, as well as one of the most controversial. A prolific author of essays, journals, letters, and long and short fiction, Woolf is probably best remembered for her provocative experimental novels. As an early practitioner of stream-of-consciousness writing, Woolf subordinates dramatic action and plot development in her novels, exploring instead the inner thoughts and feelings of her characters. Through her revolutionary writings, she questions both the nature of reality and the significance of the individual human being in an alienating and dehumanizing world. Her works offer a unique, early twentieth-century perspective on such topics as sexuality, feminism, life and death, madness and sanity, and the disintegration of society. Deeming Woolf "one of the half-dozen novelists" of her generation "whom the world will not easily let die," David Daiches, writing in Virginia Woolf, asserted: "There can be little question that she was the greatest woman novelist of her time, though she herself would have objected to the separation of her sex implied in such a judgment."

Woolf was born in London in 1882 to a distinguished family that promoted the study and appreciation of literature and the arts. Leading literary and political figures frequented Woolf's childhood home at Hyde Park Gate. Often ill as a child, she was unable to attend school regularly but benefitted from the ongoing intellectual exchange occurring in her rich cultural milieu. Woolf's father, noted scholar and biographer Leslie Stephen, further facilitated his daughter's quest for knowledge by opening his private library to her. He also counseled her in the art of effective reading: his advice, as recounted by Woolf in A Writer's Diary, was "to read what one liked because one liked it [and] never to pretend to admire what one did not."

Throughout her early years, Woolf saw several members of her family fall victim to insanity and illness. Her half sister's mental illness and her cousin's madness from an accidental head injury both exerted a profound effect on her. In his 1972 study Virginia Woolf: A Biography, Quentin Bell alleged that Woolf's endurance of sexual abuse as a young girl by her older half brother permanently altered her attitude toward sex. In addition to the psychological strain brought on by the abuse, the siblings' perverted relationship, according to Bell, may have contributed to Woolf's frigidity as a married woman. Critics have indicated that the combined effect of these childhood experiences drained Woolf of her delicate emotional reserves, heightened her sensitivity to the harsh realities of life, and seriously impaired her ability to cope.

Woolf's first mental breakdown was precipitated by the 1895 death of her mother, Julia Stephen, a warm and loving individual who had worked to achieve an atmosphere of harmony in the Stephen household. Slowly recovering from the trauma after a prolonged period of rest and introspection, Woolf suffered additional trials in rapid succession. Her half sister Stella Duckworth, who had taken over some of the homemaking responsibilities after Julia Stephen's death, became ill and died in 1902. Two years later, Woolf's father also died. Woolf experienced another mental collapse in the months following her father's death, and she attempted suicide that same year. Upon her recovery, she moved with her sister Vanessa and brothers Thoby and Adrian from the family home at Hyde Park Gate to Bloomsbury, a London district with relatively inexpensive housing.

Around the time of her father's illness and death, Woolf began to envision ideas for stories and consequently decided that she wanted to pursue a career in writing. By 1905 she was leading a relatively independent life and had begun a more than thirty-year affiliation with the Times Literary Supplement, writing reviews and feature articles. Meanwhile, Woolf's older brother Thoby arranged for gatherings of his friends from Cambridge at the house in Bloomsbury to discuss art, literature, and world affairs. Manly Johnson, writing in Virginia Woolf, noted that Woolf thrived in the company of these intellectuals. The "Bloomsburys," as the group was called, came to include Vanessa and her husband, art critic Clive Bell; biographer Lytton Strachey; economist John Maynard Keynes; novelist E. M. Forster; artist Roger Fry; and critic and economist Leonard Woolf, the author's future husband, among others.

In 1906 Thoby Stephen was taken ill with typhoid and died. His death—at the age of twenty-six—devastated Woolf, and her sister Vanessa's marriage to Clive Bell intensified that sense of loss. She moved with her younger brother Adrian to a smaller house in Bloomsbury, maintained her ties with the Bloomsbury group, and concentrated on writing. Although annoyed by suggestions that she should find a husband, Woolf harbored thoughts—revealed in her letters—that she would never marry. Strachey, a known homosexual, proposed to Woolf, but after due consideration they both thought better of such an arrangement. Woolf soon experienced another mental breakdown, and Strachey, still concerned about his friend, encouraged Leonard Woolf, a friend from Cambridge, to pursue her. The Woolfs were married in 1912, and for the next three decades Leonard sought to instill in his wife a sense of stability, confidence, and worthiness.

Several years after their marriage, the Woolfs founded the Hogarth Press in their home in Brighton. Leonard engineered the couple's foray into publishing, hoping that the experience of setting type and operating the press might relieve his wife of some of the tension brought on by her writing. Moving to London in 1924, the Hogarth Press became an important publisher of experimental and alternative literature, including works by Woolf, W. H. Auden, Forster, Sigmund Freud, Robert Graves, Katherine Mansfield, H. G. Wells, and many others then perceived as radical, and the first editions overseen by the Woolfs remain highly sought after by bibliophiles.

Critics have suggested that writing, though a physically and psychologically taxing process, served Woolf as an outlet for self-exploration. Her writings reflect an attempt to reconcile the dual nature of her sexuality, her unfulfilled desire to bear a child—she often compared the writing process with childbirth—her consuming fear of failure, and an overwhelming sense that she might lose control over her life. Woolf herself admitted, as quoted by Bell, that she wrote "to prove to myself that there was nothing wrong with me—which I was already beginning to fear there was."

Woolf fought an ongoing battle against depression for most of her life. In adulthood, such bouts were usually precipitated by her insecurities as a writer. Excerpts from the author's copious diary entries indicate that the act of writing both sustained and tortured her. A Writer's Diary—selected notes on writing culled from Woolf's diaries and edited by Leonard Woolf—conveys her vacillating attitudes toward her craft: "What a born melancholic I am! The only way I keep afloat is by working," she declared in the summer of 1929; in a later entry, she proclaimed, "Few people can be so tortured by writing as I am." In composing each of her most enduring works of fiction, Woolf went through a predictable, almost ritualistic progression. In a flash of inspiration, she conceived the original ideas for her novels. She would labor over the actual writing of a book, usually for more than a year, alternating between periods of great productivity and utter frustration. Though never completely satisfied with a finished manuscript, even after extensive rewriting, Woolf, working with her husband, readied her texts for distribution. The production cycle culminated in exhaustion—and, periodically, mental collapse—as Woolf awaited the reaction of literary critics. Ironically, these periods of near madness seemed to fuel the author's imagination with ideas for future novels.

Woolf became gravely ill in 1913 after finishing the manuscript for her debut novel, The Voyage Out, about a young woman coming of age while traveling in South America. This tragic tale, which offered radical new views on women and education, was generally viewed as the work of a promising author. But according to Bell, Woolf's fears of a negative critical reception had already driven her to despair, causing severe headaches, a profound state of melancholia, and both visual and auditory hallucinations, including one in which she was taunted by a mocking crowd. A brief stay at a nursing home proved ineffective therapy, and Woolf returned home anorectic, insomniac, and suicidal. Under her husband's nurturing care, she slowly improved, but, as Bell theorized, "After two years of intermittent lunacy it appeared [thereafter] that her mind and her character were permanently affected."

Woolf wrote her second novel, Night and Day, while recuperating from the mental breakdown brought on by the completion of The Voyage Out. Published in 1919, the work revolves around a group of poorly matched young couples and the events that lead to their recombining as more suitable duos. Woolf viewed Night and Day as a safe project, one less demanding psychologically than its predecessor. But while critics generally commended Woolf for her writing style in Night and Day, many—including Mansfield—found the book's subject matter trite and its treatment predictable. Although the book received only mixed reviews, Woolf herself was more satisfied with it than with The Voyage Out.

Woolf was less confident in withstanding the critical ambivalence accorded her next book, the 1921 short fiction collection Monday or Tuesday, which contains stories usually regarded as precursors to her best experimental long works. Though hailed for their stunning imagery and evocations of characters' inner lives, the stories in Monday or Tuesday, according to some critics, are obscured by indirectness. "The reader is left with nothing definite in his mind," a Springfield Republican reviewer noted, "no real idea or purpose, no clear-cut thought." Perhaps as a consequence of the book's reception, Woolf underwent another period of extreme self-doubt: "I'm a failure as a writer. I'm out of fashion," she proclaimed in an entry from A Writer's Diary, ever sensitive to critical commentary. But at this time Woolf was already writing the experimental Jacob's Room—the book that marked a turning point in her career.

The idea for Jacob's Room reportedly came to Woolf as she stared into the fireplace at Hogarth House. A powerful depiction of the effects of a harsh world on an individual human being, the novel chronicles the life and wartime death of young Jacob Flanders, who is revealed indirectly through brief glimpses of the contents of his room and scattered impressions from others. Reviewers generally considered Jacob's Room a stunning progression that demonstrated a technical mastery lacking in both The Voyage Out and Night and Day. "For the first time Virginia Woolf caught both her society and her sense of the soul in a unified vision," asserted A. D. Moody in Virginia Woolf. Jacob's Room remains a testament to Woolf's achievements as a writer, containing some of her most vivid imagery and polished lyrical prose. As a Spectator reviewer commented, "There is no writer who can give the illusion of reality with more certainty and with so complete a concealment of illusionary devices behind a perfection of style which is at once solid and ethereal."

Already known for rendering with precision the thoughts and feelings of her characters, Woolf gained additional recognition with her next novel, Mrs. Dalloway, which evokes the actual thought process of a middle-aged woman. Commenting on the work in an essay included in Abinger Harvest, E. M. Forster wrote: "It is easy for a novelist to describe what a character thinks of.…But to convey the actual process of thinking is a creative feat, and I know of no one except Virginia Woolf who has accomplished it."

Favorably compared to James Joyce's classic Ulysses, Mrs. Dalloway ranks among Woolf's greatest triumphs. Following the events of a single day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, an upper-class Englishwoman, the work is regarded as a stunning document of the state of post-World War I society. The story opens with Mrs. Dalloway making last-minute preparations for a party to be held at her home that evening. Utilizing the stream-of-consciousness technique, Woolf exposes Mrs. Dalloway's inner thoughts as the heroine reviews the course her life has taken. Prior to marrying the respectable but passionless Parliament member Richard Dalloway, Mrs. Dalloway had been pursued by sprightly suitor Peter Walsh. But after an emotionally fulfilling encounter with another woman, Mrs. Dalloway rejected Walsh in favor of Mr. Dalloway, thus insulating herself from the true nature of her sexuality. On the day of her party, Walsh reenters Mrs. Dalloway's life.

Mrs. Dalloway never meets the novel's other significant character, World War I veteran Septimus Smith. His sensitive temperament destroyed, Smith leaps to his death from a balcony at the prospect of commitment to a sanatorium. More than merely the culmination of his madness, Septimus's suicide is generally viewed as an expression of freedom, his ultimate assertion of independence at a time when he had lost control over his own future. During her party, Mrs. Dalloway learns of Septimus's suicide. Commenting on the evolution of the story line in her introduction to the 1928 edition of Mrs. Dalloway, Woolf noted some of the revisions she had made to the text: "In the first version Septimus, who later is intended to be [Mrs. Dalloway's] double, had no existence; and … Mrs. Dalloway was originally to kill herself, or perhaps merely to die at the end of the party."

In an article for Renascence, Rene E. Fortin pointed to Mrs. Dalloway's "inconsistent … appraisal" of Septimus's death: his suicide is, for Mrs. Dalloway, both "a triumph and a disaster." "Death was defiance. Death was an attempt to communicate.… There was an embrace in death," the character initially muses. She then proceeds to agonize over the suicide, viewing it in purely personal, selfish terms: "Somehow it was her disaster—her disgrace. It was her punishment to sink and disappear … in this profound darkness, … forced to stand here in her evening dress." Referring to the latter statement, Moody implied that Mrs. Dalloway is an embodiment of vapidity—she is a character created by Woolf to disclose the moral degeneration of society. "Clarissa Dalloway isn't set off against her world," Moody asserted; "she is realised at its own valuation as one of its fine products; and by that very fact she exposes its bankruptcy the more absolutely." As quoted by Lyndall Gordon in Virginia Woolf: A Writer's Life, Woolf strove through Mrs. Dalloway to illuminate one of her chief concerns: "The truth is people scarcely care for each other."

With the publication of her 1927 novel To the Lighthouse, Woolf established herself as a leading writer of the twentieth century. Divided into three sections, the lush, poetic narrative offers insights into the processes of decay and renewal and the enduring influence of the past on the present. The story revolves around the Ramsays—a family that occupies a summer house off the coast of Scotland—and several of their guests, including a painter named Lily Briscoe. Mrs. Ramsay functions as a link between the members of the household. In the first of the book's sections, young James Ramsay's hopes of trekking to the island's lighthouse are frustrated by the pessimistic and preoccupied Mr. Ramsay's prediction of rain. Part two of the book begins with the storm's onset. In this section ten years elapse, during which Mrs. Ramsay and two of the Ramsay children die and the summer house falls to ruin. Even after her death, though, Mrs. Ramsay's memory lives on, and in part three the remaining Ramsays return to the house, James and Mr. Ramsay complete the journey to the lighthouse, and Lily Briscoe—also back at the house—finally completes a painting she had begun a decade earlier.

To the Lighthouse has been judged a profound and moving portrait of the human spirit. As Conrad Aiken wrote in his Collected Criticism, "Nothing happens, in this houseful of odd nice people, and yet all of life happens. The tragic futility, the absurdity, the pathetic beauty of life—we experience all of this." Speculating on the symbolism intended in To the Lighthouse, James Ginden wrote in his Harvest of a Quiet Eye: "The lighthouse itself, distant and ambiguous across the water, stands as the central symbol of meaning and achievement in the novel.…Woolf's symbolic searcher must suffer, must pass through the tumult of destruction and war, before he can reach the lighthouse." In a diary entry for November 28, 1928, Woolf admitted: "I used to think of [father] and mother daily; but writing the Lighthouse laid them in my mind.… I was obsessed by them both, unhealthily; and writing of them was a necessary act." But, as quoted by Bell, the author disclaimed any single critical interpretation of the novel: "I meant nothing by The Lighthouse. … [I] trusted that people would make it the deposit for their own emotions—which they have done, one thinking it means one thing another another. I can't manage Symbolism except in this vague, generalised way.… [When] directly I'm told what a thing means, it becomes hateful to me."

Woolf's next novel, the thinner Orlando, is a mock biography that transcends the limits of time, mortality, and sexuality. Published in 1928, this fantastic work traces the adventures of young Orlando, a sixteenth-century poet born to a wealthy English family. Having taken Queen Elizabeth as a lover and engaged in a steamy affair with a Russian princess, the charming Orlando falls into a series of deep sleeps, awakening in the eighteenth century as a thirty-six-year-old woman who maintains her youth throughout the twentieth century. Woolf based the character of Orlando on Vita Sackville-West, an English writer and Bloomsbury member with whom Woolf shared an intimate friendship. The book is said to be a mythic reconciliation of Woolf's sexual duality. Critics heralded Orlando as a clever and substantial literary document that catalogs English manners and sensibilities over various generations and examines human history from multiple perspectives through the androgynous Orlando.

Woolf reaffirmed her place in contemporary literature with her 1931 publication The Waves, a highly experimental novel containing no dialogue. Widely regarded as the most difficult of Woolf's books, The Waves focuses on three men and three women, all of whom reveal themselves through soliloquies and interior monologue. As the characters eulogize their heroic friend Percival, they progress in their understanding of life's mutability. Some contemporary reviewers objected to the novel's radical structure and found its premise overly obscure. Others lauded Woolf's revolutionary vision and technical acumen. Alluding to the sense of mystery inherent in The Waves, Gerald Bullett, in a review for the New Statesman and Nation, asserted, "It is impossible to describe, impossible to do more than salute, the richness, the strangeness, the poetic illumination of this book. The characters are not analysed, … they are entered into, intuited."

In her 1937 novel The Years Woolf again addresses life's mysteries and tragedies, offering insights into the effects of war, the aging process, and modernization on both the individual and society as a whole. Chronicling three generations of the mundane Pargiter family, the novel presents an overview of England's upper middle class from the end of the nineteenth through the beginning of the twentieth century. True to Woolf's style, The Years lacks substantial action, but several critics applauded the book as a valuable exploration of both the evolution of modern society and the inner resources of the human personality. "Many people will wonder what on earth Mrs. Woolf is trying to say in so many uneventful pages. [But] the long last chapter plainly tells," surmised Olga Owens in the Boston Transcript. George Stevens, writing in the Saturday Review, commented: "An expression of abstract experience, The Years is one of Mrs. Woolf's most brilliant achievements, written with imagination that is luminous and evocative."

Critical reaction to The Years was not entirely positive. The book was faulted by some for its seemingly slight and haphazard world view. Moody, for instance, deemed it "the least inspired … of Virginia Woolf's novels." Woolf herself had her doubts, as revealed in A Writer's Diary, about the importance of the work, but upon reading it in its entirety she produced this reassessment: "Seldom have I been more completely miserable than I was … reading over the last part of The Years," she began. "Such feeble twaddle—such twilight gossip—it seemed; such a show up of my own decrepitude.… I could only plumb it down on the table and rush upstairs with burning cheeks to L[eonard]. He said 'This always happens.' But I felt, No, it has never been so bad as this. I make this note should I be in the same state after another book. Now this morning, dipping in, it seems to me, on the contrary, a full, bustling live book."

Woolf's feelings of anguish eventually returned, however. In an entry for January of 1941, as documented in A Writer's Diary, she resolved, "This trough of despair shall not, I swear, engulf me." Two months later, however, fearing that she lacked the stamina needed to recover from any further bouts of depression, Woolf filled her pockets with rocks and waded into the Ouse River. In her last note to Leonard, excerpted in Virginia Woolf: A Biography, she explained: "I am doing what seems the best thing to do.… If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can't go on spoiling your life any longer. I don't think two people could have been happier than we have been."

Woolf's final novel, Between the Acts, was published in 1941, shortly after her death. The slim volume concerns an English family and their guests, all of whom gather one summer day in the country to watch a village pageant. The audience, however, lacks a commonality of spirit: the failure of the viewers to unite symbolizes the fragmentation of society. At the end of the pageant, the members of the audience go their own separate ways, absorbed by their own personal obsessions. Between the Acts received mixed reviews, and critics differed in their assessments of its meaning. Though not generally regarded as one of Woolf's major works, the posthumous novel is said to contain several unforgettably disturbing passages. David Cecil's Spectator review captured the critical consensus: "Perhaps had she lived to revise [Between the Acts], Mrs. Woolf would have brought it into clear pattern and harmony. As it is, it must be counted as in part a failure. But Mrs. Woolf's failures are more precious than most writers' successes."

In addition to her status as a novelist and short story writer, Woolf distinguished herself as both a critic and essayist with several impressive works of nonfiction, including Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown, A Room of One's Own, and Three Guineas. In Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown, Woolf attacks John Galsworthy, Arnold Bennett, and H. G. Wells—leading writers of the day—for their inability to capture a character's individuality in their works. A Room of One's Own—which Rebecca West in Ending in Earnest: A Literary Log deemed "an uncompromising piece of feminist propaganda … the ablest yet written"—offers witty commentary on women and literature, and Three Guineas provides insightful political discourse on women and society. The keenness and precision with which Woolf articulates her opinions has made her nonfiction as valuable and enduring as her fiction.

Since Woolf's death in 1941, critics and biographers have produced a voluminous body of books and articles about the author's life and work. In addition, Woolf's own substantial private writings—her journals and letters—have been edited and published. A Passionate Apprentice: The Early Journals, 1897-1909 contains the entirety of seven notebooks that Woolf kept between the ages of fifteen and twenty-seven. Although Woolf's life during this period was filled with major events, including a nervous breakdown and the deaths of her father, her half sister Stella, and her beloved brother Thoby, she does not expound on these experiences in much detail. The early notebooks of this volume record mostly matter-of-fact items from Woolf's daily existence: shopping trips, minor illnesses, visits by friends and relatives, and other routine activities. Critics reviewing the journals note the gap in the journals between 1897 and 1899, after which Woolf's daily comments take on a different character: "Now we can see that there is some point in speaking of these journals as recording an apprenticeship.… The entries are longer, things happen and get conscientiously described.… There are also serious exercises in the description of character," explained London Review of Books critic Frank Kermode. Added Bloomsbury Review contributor Robin Lippincott on the change in Woolf's entries after 1899: "She is teaching herself to write. Many of these early attempts are stiff and stilted, but subsequent notebooks record her improvement, growing success, and confidence." At the close of these diaries in 1909, Woolf had begun work on her first published novel, The Voyage Out.

Woolf's remaining diaries, written between 1915 and 1941 and comprising thirty manuscript volumes, were condensed by Anne Olivier Bell and published in five volumes between 1977 and 1984. In 1990 Bell produced A Moment's Liberty: The Shorter Diary of Virginia Woolf, a one-volume edition of these diaries that focused on the major events in Woolf's personal life. In this way, the volume stands as a companion to Leonard Woolf's A Writer's Diary, which focused more heavily on Virginia Woolf's working life. Numerous collections of Woolf's letters have also been published, most notably in a six-volume work edited by Nigel Nicolson and Joanne Trautmann published between 1975 and 1980.

Decades after Woolf's death, critical debate continues to rage over the degree to which Woolf's literary achievements should be held. While many critics and scholars continue to praise her innovation, and her books remain popular and the subject of discussion as a result of film adaptations and their frequent use as texts in women's studies programs and other groups, others have cited her oeuvre as overrated and her lasting popularity undeserved. In his Selected Essays, for example, William Troy maintained: "What is so often regarded as unique in her fiction is actually less the result of an individual attitude than of the dominant metaphysical bias of a whole generation." Most observers maintain that Woolf's contributions to the development of the modern novel, like those of fellow author James Joyce, remain unrivaled, however. John Lehmann, writing in English Critical Essays, concluded: "The dazzling surface radiance of the world and a terror and despair always lurking beneath: nowhere in modern writing have these things found symbols more audacious and memorable than in the novel-poems of Virginia Woolf, so that one can truly say that she enlarged the sensibility of her time, and changed English literature."



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Woolf, (Adeline) Virginia 1882-1941 (Virgina Stephen)

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