Her BiographyEdit


Born: Adeline Virginia Stephen was born on January 25th, 1882.

Died: March 28, 1941. After leaving two suicide notes for her husband, she filled her pockets with stones and drowned herself in the River Ouse.

Family Background: Woolf was born into an upper-middle class background, into an intellectually gifted family. She had a sister, Vanessa, and two brothers, Thoby and Adrian. Woolf’s family was split along moral lines—her half-siblings upheld the views of the Victorian era, while Woolf and her own siblings were more interested in the darker side of society. Though Virginia was a pensive child, her sense of humor earned her the nickname “Goat.”

Education: Woolf’s father, Sir Leslie Stephen, was an eminent scholar. Though he encouraged Woolf and her sister, Vanessa, to better their minds, he focused his personal energies on the education of Woolf’s brothers. Despite having a gifted father and siblings and being allowed to read anything from her father’s library, Woolf was not allowed to attend school like her brothers. Though later offered honorary degrees from Cambridge and other schools, she always considered herself ill educated.

Marriage and Family: Married Leonard Woolf in , after a mental breakdown. Though she had “affairs of the heart” with other women (e.g. Vita Sackville-West and Violet Dickinson), she was very much in love with her husband, who was also her greatest supporter.

Entrance Into Literary Career: Began publishing articles and book reviews not long after moving to Bloomsbury. Her first novel, The Voyage Out, was five years and seven drafts in the writing; it met good reviews and inspired Woolf to write other novels. After the publishing of To the Lighthouse and The Waves in 1927 and 1931 respectively, Woolf was hailed as a literary genius; however, she was always insecure about the public’s reaction to her writing.

Literary Friendships/Influences: After moving out of her childhood home, Woolf and her siblings became members of the Bloomsbury Group, which included writers, painters, economists, etc. Here Virginia met Leonard Woolf, whom she later married. The Bloomsbury Group provided an environment in which Woolf felt as though she was judged on her ideas rather than her sex; this safe intellectual environment prompted her to write.

Life Conflicts/Significant Events: Moved into the “student ghetto” of Bloomsbury with her siblings, and chose to commit herself to the “life of the mind” rather than rest on the upper-middle-class wealth of her birth. Founded a publishing house, Hogarth Press, with her husband. Was most likely manic-depressive; spent her life in and out of hospitals with mental breakdowns. Her husband, Leonard, nursed her through these as best he could; however, in 1941 Woolf committed suicide.

Major Works: The Voyage Out; The Waves, A Room of One’s Own

Shakespeare's SisterEdit


Lacking historical evidence, Woolf again uses her fictional powers in describing the plight of Shakespeare's sister. She first details all the factors that aided Shakespeare's natural genius: his early education; his freedom to leave his wife for London; his ready employment in the theatrical world; his ability to earn money for himself; his opportunities to explore other walks of life; his lack of familial responsibility. Judith, conversely, is victimized by a number of socioeconomic factors: lack of education; discouragement from reading and writing; absence of privacy; lack of employment opportunities in the artistic world; the burden of children.

The narrator again cites the looking-glass relationship between men and women: men rely on women's supposed inferiority to enlarge themselves. Beyond the socioeconomic factors described above, women writers have the additional obstacle of discouragement and disdain from their patriarchal society.

And obstacles, the narrator concludes, are poison to a writer's mind. She starts developing her theory that for a writer to attain genius like Shakespeare's, there must be no external obstacles, nor can there be personal grudges within the work. Only then can genius be "incandescent," yet another word choice that equates brilliance with light.

The modern reader may find Woolf's theories classist; indeed, the statement "For genius like Shakespeare's is not born among labouring, uneducated, servile people" would be met with furor if published nowadays. However, it is important to remember that Woolf believes that money and personal independence foster freedom of thought, and that poverty and its attendant ills inhibit such thought. Moreover, she admits that brilliance does emerge from the working class, albeit rarely.

Still, Woolf is clearly at odds with any kind of "protest" literature, feeling that it dilutes the "incandescent" brilliance of the writer. Many contemporary critics maintain that protest literature is the strongest kind of art, the only art that can truly effect social change. Indeed, much contemporary feminist and minority literature theory emphasizes protest as a means to reclaim voices historically drowned out by white males. Woolf will soon elaborate on her controversial theory.