Virginia Woolf Biography

Black and white photograph of Virginia Woolf, seated on a chair and resting her arms on the chair.
Portrait of Virginia Woolf. Getty Images

(1882-1941) British writer. Virginia Woolf became one of the most prominent literary figures of the early 20th century, with novels like Mrs. Dalloway (1925), Jacob's Room (1922), To the Lighthouse (1927), and The Waves (1931).

Birth and Early Life

Virginia Woolf was born Adeline Virginia Stephen on January 25, 1882, in London. Woolf was educated at home by her father, Sir Leslie Stephen, the author of the Dictionary of English Biography, and she read extensively. Her mother, Julia Duckworth Stephen, was a nurse, who published a book on nursing. Her mother died in 1895, which was the catalyst for Virginia's first mental breakdown. Virginia's sister, Stella, died in 1897, and her father died in 1904.

Woolf learned early on that it was her fate to be "the daughter of educated men." In a journal entry shortly after her father's death in 1904, she wrote: "His life would have ended mine... No writing, no books; — inconceivable." Luckily, for the literary world, Woolf's conviction would be overcome by her itch to write.

Virginia Woolf's Writing Career

Virginia married Leonard Woolf, a journalist, in 1912. In 1917, she and her husband founded Hogarth Press, which became a successful publishing house, printing the early works of authors such as E.M Forster, Katherine Mansfield, and T.S. Eliot, and introducing the works of Sigmund Freud. Except for the first printing of Woolf's first novel, The Voyage Out (1915), Hogarth Press also published all of her works.

Together, Virginia and Leonard Woolf were a part of the famous Bloomsbury Group, which included E.M. Forster, Duncan Grant, Virginia's sister, Vanessa Bell, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, and T.S. Eliot.

Virginia Woolf wrote several novels which are considered to be modern classics, including Mrs. Dalloway (1925), Jacob's Room (1922), To the Lighthouse (1927), and The Waves (1931). She also wrote A Room of One's Own (1929), which discusses the creation of literature from a feminist perspective.

Virginia Woolf's Death

From the time of her mother's death in 1895, Woolf suffered from what is now believed to have been bipolar disorder, which is characterized by alternating moods of mania and depression.

Virginia Woolf died on March 28, 1941 near Rodmell, Sussex, England. She left a note for her husband, Leonard, and for her sister, Vanessa. Then, Virginia walked to the River Ouse, put a large stone in her pocket, and drowned herself.

Virginia Woolf's Approach to Literature

Virginia Woolf's works are often closely linked to the development of feminist criticism, but she was also an important writer in the modernist movement. She revolutionized the novel with stream of consciousness, which allowed her to depict the inner lives of her characters in all too intimate detail. In A Room of One's Own Woolf writes, "we think back through our mothers if we are women. It is useless to go to the great men writers for help, however much one may go to them for pleasure."

Virginia Woolf Quotes

"I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman." - A Room of One's Own

"One of the signs of passing youth is the birth of a sense of fellowship with other human beings as we take our place among them."
- "Hours in a Library"

"Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself."
- Mrs. Dalloway

"It was an uncertain spring. The weather, perpetually changing, sent clouds of blue and purple flying over the land."
- The Years

"What is the meaning of life?... a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years. The great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark."
- To the Lighthouse

"The extraordinary irrationality of her remark, the folly of women's minds enraged him. He had ridden through the valley of death, been shattered and shivered; and now, she flew in the face of facts..."
- To the Lighthouse

"Imaginative work... is like a spider's web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners.... But when the web is pulled askew, hooked up at the edge, torn in the middle, one remembers that these webs are not spun in midair by incorporeal creatures, but are the work of suffering, human beings, and are attached to the grossly material things, like health and money and the houses we live in."
- A Room of One's Own

" reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even of a very remarkable man who had a mother, then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet, of some mute and inglorious Jane Austen, some Emily Brontë who dashed her brains out on the moor or mopped and mowed about the highways crazed with the torture that her gift had put her to. Indeed, I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman."
- A Room of One's Own

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Lombardi, Esther. "Virginia Woolf Biography." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Lombardi, Esther. (2023, April 5). Virginia Woolf Biography. Retrieved from Lombardi, Esther. "Virginia Woolf Biography." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 4, 2023).