Biography:Virginia Woolf

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Short description: English modernist writer (1882–1941)
Virginia Woolf
Photograph of Virginia Woolf in 1902; photograph by George Charles Beresford
Woolf in 1902
BornAdeline Virginia Stephen
London, England
Died28 March 1941(1941-03-28) (aged 59)
River Ouse in East Sussex, England
  • Novelist
  • essayist
  • publisher
  • critic
Alma materKing's College London
Notable works
  • Mrs Dalloway (1925)
  • To the Lighthouse (1927)
  • Orlando (1928)
  • A Room of One's Own (1929)
  • The Waves (1931)
Leonard Woolf (m. 1912)
  • Leslie Stephen
  • Julia Prinsep Jackson
  • Vanessa Stephen (sister)
  • Thoby Stephen (brother)
  • Adrian Stephen (brother)
  • George Herbert Duckworth (half-brother)
  • Gerald Duckworth (half-brother)
  • Katharine Stephen (cousin)


Adeline Virginia Woolf (/wʊlf/;[2] née Stephen; 25 January 1882 – 28 March 1941) was an English writer. She is considered one of the most important modernist 20th-century authors and a pioneer in the use of stream of consciousness as a narrative device.

Woolf was born into an affluent household in South Kensington, London, the seventh child of Julia Prinsep Jackson and Leslie Stephen in a blended family of eight that included the modernist painter Vanessa Bell. She was home-schooled in English classics and Victorian literature from a young age. From 1897 to 1901, she attended the Ladies' Department of King's College London, where she studied classics and history and came into contact with early reformers of women's higher education and the women's rights movement.

After her father's death in 1904, the Stephen family moved from Kensington to the more bohemian Bloomsbury, where, in conjunction with the brothers' intellectual friends, they formed the artistic and literary Bloomsbury Group.

In 1912, she married Leonard Woolf, and in 1917, the couple founded the Hogarth Press, which published much of her work. They rented a home in Sussex and later moved there permanently in 1940.

Woolf began writing professionally in 1900. During the inter-war period, Woolf was an important part of London's literary and artistic society. In 1915, she published her first novel, The Voyage Out, through her half-brother's publishing house, Gerald Duckworth and Company.

Her best-known works include the novels Mrs Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927) and Orlando (1928). She is also known for her essays, such as A Room of One's Own (1929).

Woolf became one of the central subjects of the 1970s movement of feminist criticism. Her works, translated into more than 50 languages, have attracted attention and widespread commentary for inspiring feminism.

A large body of writing is dedicated to her life and work. She has been the subject of plays, novels and films. Woolf is commemorated by statues, societies dedicated to her work and a building at the University of London.


Family origin

Photo of her father, Leslie Stephen in 1860
Leslie Stephen, 1860
Photo of her mother, Julia Stephen 1867
Julia Stephen, 1867

Virginia Woolf was born Adeline Virginia Stephen on 25 January 1882 at 22 Hyde Park Gate in South Kensington, London,[3] to Julia (née Jackson) and Sir Leslie Stephen, writer, historian, essayist, biographer, and mountaineer.[3] She was named after her mother's eldest sister Adeline Maria Jackson[4] and her mother's aunt Virginia Pattle. Because of her aunt Adeline's death the year before Adeline Virginia's birth, the family never used her first name.

The Jacksons were a well educated, literary and artistic proconsular middle-class family.[5][6] Their side of the family contained Julia Margaret Cameron, a celebrated photographer, and Lady Henry Somerset, a campaigner for women's rights.

In 1867, Julia had married her first husband, Herbert Duckworth, a barrister,[7] but within three years was left a widow with three infant children:[8] George, Stella, and Gerald.

Photo of Julia Stephen with Virginia on her lap in 1884
Julia Stephen and Virginia, 1884[lower-alpha 1]

Woolf's father, Leslie Stephen, was born in 1832 in South Kensington to Sir James and Lady Jane Catherine Stephen (née Venn), daughter of John Venn, rector of Clapham. The Venns were the centre of the evangelical Clapham Sect. Sir James Stephen was the under secretary at the Colonial Office, and with another Clapham member, William Wilberforce, was responsible for the passage of the Slavery Abolition Bill in 1833.[3][10]

As a family of educators, lawyers, and writers the Stephens' represented the elite intellectual aristocracy. A graduate and fellow of Cambridge University, Leslie renounced his faith and position to move to London where he became a notable man of letters.[11] He was described as a "gaunt figure with a ragged red brown beard...a formidable man."[lower-alpha 2][12]

In 1867 he wed Harriet Marian ("Minny") Thackeray, youngest daughter of William Makepeace Thackeray. They had a daughter, Laura,[13] but Harriet later died in childbirth in 1875. Laura was born prematurely at 30 weeks, and was developmentally disabled, eventually being institutionalised.[14][15]

The widowed Julia Duckworth knew Leslie Stephen through her friendship with Minny's elder sister Anne (Anny) Isabella Ritchie and had developed an interest in his agnostic writings. Both were preoccupied with mourning and they developed a close friendship and intense correspondence.[lower-alpha 3][16][17] Leslie proposed to Julia in 1877, and they were married on 26 March 1878. Julia was 32 and Leslie was 46.[18] They had four children together: Vanessa, Thoby, Virginia, and Adrian.

22 Hyde Park Gate (1882–1904)


Virginia Woolf was born at 22 Hyde Park Gate and lived there until her father's death in 1904.[19][lower-alpha 4] She was, as she describes it, "born into a large connection, born not of rich parents, but of well-to-do parents, born into a very communicative, literate, letter writing, visiting, articulate, late nineteenth century world."[25]

Duckworth Stephen Family c. 1892. Back row: Gerald Duckworth, Virginia, Thoby and Vanessa Stephen, George Duckworth. Front row: Adrian, Julia, Leslie Stephen.

It was a well-connected family consisting of Virginia's two half brothers and a half sister (the Duckworths, from her mother's first marriage), another half sister, Laura (who lived with the family until she was institutionalised in 1891), and her three full siblings.[26]

The house was described as dimly lit and crowded with furniture and paintings.[27] Within it, the younger Stephens formed a close-knit group.[28] Their outdoor activities consisted of walks and play in nearby Kensington Gardens, and sailing their boats on the Round Pond,[29] while indoors, activity revolved around their lessons.[3]

Leslie Stephen's eminence as an editor, critic, and biographer, and his connection to William Thackeray, meant his children were raised in an environment filled with the influences of a Victorian literary society. Henry James, George Henry Lewes, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Thomas Hardy, Edward Burne-Jones, and Virginia's honorary godfather, James Russell Lowell, were among the visitors to the house.[citation needed]

Virginia showed an early affinity for writing. Although both parents disapproved of formal education for females, writing was considered a respectable profession for women. Later, she would describe this as "ever since I was a little creature, scribbling a story in the manner of Hawthorne on the green plush sofa in the drawing room at St. Ives while the grown-ups dined." By the age of five, she was writing letters.[citation needed]

It was her fascination with books that formed the strongest bond between her and her father.[3] For her tenth birthday, she received an ink-stand, a blotter, drawing book, and a box of writing implements.[29]

In February 1891, with her sister Vanessa, Woolf began the Hyde Park Gate News,[30] chronicling life and events within the Stephen family,[31][32] and modelled on the popular magazine Tit-Bits.[29] Virginia would run the Hyde Park Gate News until 1895, the time of her mother's death.[28] The Stephen sisters also used photography to supplement their insights.[33] Vanessa Bell's 1892 portrait of her sister and parents in the Library at Talland House (see image) was one of the family's favourites and was written about lovingly in Leslie Stephen's memoir.[34]

In 1897[35] Virginia began her first diary, which she kept for the next twelve years,[36] and a notebook in 1909.[37]

Photograph of 22 Hyde Park Gate with commemorative plaques for the Stephen family
22 Hyde Park Gate, 2015[lower-alpha 5]

Talland House (1882–1894)

Photo of Talland House, St Ives during period when the Stephen family leased it
Talland House, St Ives, Cornwall, c. 1882–1895

In the spring of 1881, Leslie came across a large white house[39] in St Ives, Cornwall, and took out a lease on it that September.[40] Although it had limited amenities,[lower-alpha 6] its main attraction was the view overlooking Porthminster Bay towards the Godrevy Lighthouse,[3] which the young Virginia could see from the upper windows and was to be the central figure in her To the Lighthouse (1927).[41] Each year between 1882 and 1894 from mid-July to mid-September, the Stephen family leased Talland House.[3][42][lower-alpha 7] as a summer residence.

Leslie Stephen, who referred to it as "a pocket-paradise",[43] described it as "The pleasantest of my memories ... our summers, all of which were passed in Cornwall, especially to the thirteen summers (1882–1894) at St Ives. There we bought the lease of Talland House: a small but roomy house, with a garden of an acre or two all up and down hill, with quaint little terraces divided by hedges of escallonia, a grape-house and kitchen-garden and a so-called 'orchard' beyond,"[44] a place of "intense domestic happiness".[45]

For the children, it was the highlight of the year, and Virginia's most vivid childhood memories were not of London but of Cornwall. In a diary entry of 22 March 1921,[46] she looked back to a summer day in August 1890. "Why am I so incredibly and incurably romantic about Cornwall? One's past, I suppose; I see children running in the garden...the sound of the sea at much I could never explain".[46][3][47]

Cornwall inspired aspects of her work, in particular the "St Ives Trilogy" of Jacob's Room (1922),[48] To the Lighthouse (1927),[41] and The Waves (1931).[49][50]

Close up view of Godrevy Lighthouse in 2005
Godrevy Lighthouse, 2005

Activities at Talland
Virginia and Adrian Stephen playing cricket at Talland House in 1886
Her brother's keeper: Virginia and Adrian Stephen playing cricket, 1886
Julia, Leslie and Virginia reading in the library at Talland House. Photography by Vanessa Bell
Julia, Leslie and Virginia, Library, Talland House, 1892
Virginia playing cricket with Vanessa 1894
Virginia and Vanessa, 1894[51]

While Cornwall was supposed to be a summer respite, Julia Stephen soon immersed herself in the work of caring for the sick and poor there, as well as in London.[42][43][lower-alpha 8]

Both at Hyde Park Gate and Talland House, the family mingled with much of the country's literary and artistic circles.[22] Frequent guests included literary figures such as Henry James and George Meredith,[52] as well as James Russell Lowell. The family did not return following Julia Stephen's death in May 1895.[43]


Portrait of Virginia Woolf with her father Leslie Stephen in 1902, by Beresford
Virginia and Leslie Stephen, 1902

Julia Stephen fell ill with influenza in February 1895, and never properly recovered, dying on 5 May,[53] when Virginia was 13. It was a pivotal moment in her life.[3] Essentially, her life had fallen apart.[54]

The Duckworths were travelling abroad at the time of their mother's death, and Virginia's half-sister Stella returned immediately to take charge and assume her role. That summer, rather than return to the memories of St Ives, the Stephens went to Freshwater, Isle of Wight, where some of their mother's relatives lived. [53]

George Duckworth took upon himself the task of bringing the girls out into society.[54] First Vanessa, then Virginia, but it was not a rite of passage that resonated with either girl. Virginia: "Society in those days was a very competent machine. It was convinced that girls must be changed into married women. It had no...understanding of any other wish..."[55][56] Her priority was her writing.[54]

Stella Duckworth, who had only recently married Jack Hills on 10 April 1897, died on 19 July 1897, after a long illness.[57][58]

In April 1902, their father became ill, and although he underwent surgery later that year he never fully recovered, dying on 22 February 1904.[59]

Woolf described the period following the deaths of Stella and her father as "1897–1904 – the seven unhappy years."[60][54]


In the late 19th century, education was sharply divided along gender lines. Boys were sent to school, and in upper-middle-class families such as the Stephens, it involved private boys schools, often boarding schools, and university.[61][62][63]After public school, the boys in the family all attended the University of Cambridge.

Girls, if they were afforded the luxury of education, received it from their parents, governesses, and tutors.[64] Virginia was educated by her parents: Julia taught the children Latin, French, and history, while Leslie taught them mathematics. They also received piano lessons.[65]

Supplementing their lessons was the children's unrestricted access to Leslie Stephen's vast library, exposing them to much of the literary canon,[6] resulting in a greater depth of reading than any of their Cambridge contemporaries.[66] Later, Virginia recalled:

Even today there may be parents who would doubt the wisdom of allowing a girl of fifteen the free run of a large and quite unexpurgated library. But my father allowed it. There were certain facts – very briefly, very shyly he referred to them. Yet "Read what you like", he said, and all his books...were to be had without asking.[67]

Another source was the conversation of their father's friends, to whom they were exposed. Leslie Stephen described his circle as "most of the literary people of mark...clever young writers and barristers, chiefly of the radical persuasion...we used to meet on Wednesday and Sunday evenings, to smoke and drink and discuss the universe and the reform movement".[12]

Julia Stephen at Talland House supervising Thoby, Vanessa, Virginia and Adrian doing their lessons, summer 1894
Virginia (3rd from left) with her mother and the Stephen children at their lessons, Talland House, c. 1894[lower-alpha 9]
Photograph of 13 Kensington Square where Virginia attended classes of the Ladies' Department, King's College
13 Kensington Square, former home of the Ladies' Department, King's College

Later, between the ages of 15 and 19, Virginia was able to pursue higher education. She took courses of study, some at degree level, in beginning and advanced Ancient Greek, intermediate Latin and German, together with continental and English history at the Ladies' Department of King's College London between 1897 and 1901.[lower-alpha 10] She studied Greek under the eminent scholar George Charles Winter Warr, professor of Classical Literature at King's.[69]

In addition she had private tutoring in German, Greek, and Latin. One of her Greek tutors was Clara Pater (1899–1900), who taught at King's.[70][68][71] Another was Janet Case, who involved her in the women's rights movement, and whose obituary Virginia would later write in 1937. Her experiences led to her 1925 essay "On Not Knowing Greek."[72] Her time at King's also brought her into contact with some of the early reformers of women's higher education such as the principal of the Ladies' Department, Lilian Faithfull (one of the so-called steamboat ladies), in addition to Pater.[71]

Her sister Vanessa also enrolled at the Ladies' Department (1899–1901). Although the Stephen girls could not attend Cambridge, they were to be profoundly influenced by their brothers' experiences there. When Thoby went to Trinity in 1899, he befriended a circle of young men, including Clive Bell, Lytton Strachey, Leonard Woolf (whom Virginia would later marry), and Saxon Sydney-Turner, whom he would soon introduce to his sisters at the Trinity May Ball in 1900.[lower-alpha 11][75] These men formed a reading group they named the Midnight Society.[76][77]

Relationships with family

Although Virginia had only turned thirteen when her mother died, she was profoundly influenced by her mother throughout her life. She famously stated that "for we think back through our mothers if we are women",[78] and invoked the image of her mother repeatedly throughout her life in her diaries,[79] her letters[80] and a number of her autobiographical essays, including Reminiscences (1908),[20] 22 Hyde Park Gate (1921)[21] and A Sketch of the Past (1940),[22] frequently evoking her memories with the words "I see her ...".[81]

She also alludes to her mother in her fictional writing. In To the Lighthouse (1927),[41] the artist, Lily Briscoe, attempts to paint Mrs Ramsay, a complex character based on Julia Stephen, and repeatedly comments on the fact that she was "astonishingly beautiful".[82] Her depiction of the life of the Ramsays in the Hebrides is an only thinly disguised account of the Stephens in Cornwall and the Godrevy Lighthouse they would visit there.[83][16][84] Woolf's understanding of her mother and family evolved considerably between 1907 and 1940, in which the somewhat distant, yet revered figure becomes more nuanced and complete.[85]

While her father painted Julia Stephen's work in terms of reverence, Woolf describes her degree of sympathy, engagement, judgement, and decisiveness, and her sense of both irony and the absurd. She recalls trying to recapture "the clear round voice, or the sight of the beautiful figure, so upright and distinct, in its long shabby cloak, with the head held at a certain angle, so that the eye looked straight out at you."[86]

Julia Stephen dealt with her husband's depressions, nursed her parents in their final illness, and had many commitments outside the home. In considering the demands on her mother, Woolf described her father as "difficult, exacting, dependent on her" and reflected that it was at the expense of the amount of attention she could spare her young children.[87][88]

She reflected that she rarely ever spent a moment alone with her mother: "someone was always interrupting."[89] In To the Lighthouse, she describes it as "boasting of her capacity to surround and protect, there was scarcely a shell of herself left for her to know herself by; all was so lavished and spent."[90] At the same time, she admired the strengths of her mother's ideals.

Julia Stephen greatly admired her husband's intellect, yet, as Woolf observed, "she never belittled her own works, thinking them, if properly discharged, with a firm sense of what was important, and valuing devotion, of equal, though other, importance with her husband's."

The children had to deal with Leslie Stephen's temper.[91][92] Virginia had a deep emotional attachment as his literary heir, writing about her "great devotion for him." Yet, like Vanessa, she also saw him as "victimiser."[93]

She had a lasting ambivalence towards him through her life, albeit one that evolved. As she grew older, she began to realise how much of him was in her: "I have been dipping into old letters and father's candid and reasonable and transparent—and [he] had such a fastidious delicate mind, educated, and transparent"[94] she wrote 22 December 1940.

She was in turn both fascinated and condemnatory: "She [her mother] has haunted me: but then, so did that old wretch my father...but he was an adorable man, and somehow, tremendous."[lower-alpha 12][3][96]

Sexual abuse

Against a background of over-committed and distant parents, suggestions that this was a dysfunctional family must be evaluated. These include evidence of sexual abuse of the Stephen girls by their older Duckworth half-brothers, and by their cousin, James Kenneth Stephen (1859–1892).[lower-alpha 13]

Woolf stated that she first remembers being molested by Gerald Duckworth when she was six years old, and recounted being continually sexually abused during the time that she lived at 22 Hyde Park Gate. Stella and Laura are also thought to have been abused.

Bloomsbury (1904–1940)

Gordon Square (1904–1907)

Photograph of 46 Gordon Square, Virginia's home from 1904 to 1907
46 Gordon Square

On their father's death 22 February 1904, the Stephens' first instinct was to escape from the house of yet more mourning, and this they did accompanied by George Duckworth, travelling to Manorbier, on the coast of Pembrokeshire. There, they spent a month, then spent April in Italy and France.[97] At that time, Virginia suffered her second "nervous breakdown" and made a first suicide attempt.[98]

Before their father died, the Stephens had discussed the need to leave South Kensington.[99] George Duckworth was 35, his brother Gerald 33. The Stephen children were now between 24 and 20. Virginia was 22. Vanessa and Adrian decided to sell 22 Hyde Park Gate in South Kensington and move to Bohemian Bloomsbury, which, with its leafy squares, seemed sufficiently far away, geographically and socially, and was a much cheaper area. They had not inherited much and they were unsure about their finances.[100] Then Lady Margaret Herbert[lower-alpha 14] appeared on the scene; George proposed and they married in September, leaving the Stephens to their own devices.[101]

Vanessa found a house at 46 Gordon Square in Bloomsbury, and they moved in November, to be joined by Virginia, now sufficiently recovered. At Gordon Square the Stephens began in March 1905 to entertain brother Thoby's intellectual friends. The circle, which largely came from the Cambridge Apostles, included writers (Saxon Sydney-Turner, Lytton Strachey) and critics (Clive Bell, Desmond MacCarthy) with Thursday evening "At Homes" that became known as the Thursday Club, a vision of recreating Trinity College ("Cambridge in London"[102]).[103]

This circle formed the nucleus of the intellectual circle of writers and artists known as the Bloomsbury Group.[76][77][104] Later, it would include John Maynard Keynes (1907), Duncan Grant (1908), E. M. Forster (1910), Roger Fry (1910), Leonard Woolf (1911), and David Garnett (1914).[lower-alpha 15][106][107]

The Stephens and their Bloomsbury Friends
Portrait of Vanessa Stephen in 1902, by George Beresford
Vanessa Stephen 1902
Photograph of Thoby Stephen in 1902
Thoby Stephen 1902
Photograph of Adrian Stephen with his wife Karin Costelloe in 1914, the year they were married
Adrian Stephen
Karin Stephen 1914
Photo of Clive Bell, seated, around 1910
Clive Bell 1910
Snapshot by Ray Strachey of her brother, Lytton Strachey with Sydney Saxon-Turner, reclining at the beach
Lytton Strachey, Sydney Saxon-Turner 1917
Photograph of Desmond MacCarthy sitting on steps, from 1912
Desmond MacCarthy 1912

In 1905, Virginia and Adrian visited Portugal and Spain. Virginia began teaching evening classes at Morley College and Vanessa added another event to their calendar with the Friday Club, dedicated to the discussion of and later exhibition of the fine arts.[76][108] This introduced some new people into their circle, including Vanessa's friends from the Royal Academy and Slade, such as Henry Lamb and Gwen Darwin (who became secretary),[109] but also the eighteen-year-old Katherine Laird ("Ka") Cox (1887–1938), who was about to go up to Newnham College, Cambridge.[lower-alpha 16][113] Ka and others brought the Bloomsbury Group into contact with another, slightly younger, group of Cambridge intellectuals to whom the Stephen sisters gave the name "Neo-pagans". The Friday Club continued until 1913.[114]

Photo of 29 Fitzroy Square, Virginia's home from 1907 to 1910
29 Fitzroy Square
plaque that reads "Virginia Woolf 1882–1941 Novelist and Critic lived here 1907–1911"
Blue Plaque installed at 29 Fitzroy Square in 1974

In 1906, Virginia's cherished brother Thoby, who was only 26, died of typhoid.

Vanessa accepted Clive's proposal,[115][116] and they were married in February 1907. As a couple, their interest in avant-garde art would have an important influence on Woolf's further development as an author.[117]

Fitzroy Square (1907–1911)

With Vanessa's marriage, Virginia and Adrian needed to find a new home.[118] Virginia moved into 29 Fitzroy Square in April 1907, a house formerly occupied by George Bernard Shaw. It was in Fitzrovia, immediately to the west of Bloomsbury but still relatively close to her sister at Gordon Square. The two sisters continued to travel together, visiting Paris in March.

Adrian was now to play a much larger part in Virginia's life, and they resumed the Thursday Club in October at their new home, while Gordon Square became the venue for the Play Reading Society in December. During this period, the group began to increasingly explore progressive ideas, first in speech, and then in conduct, Vanessa proclaiming in 1910 a libertarian society with sexual freedom for all.[119] Meanwhile, Virginia began work on her first novel, Melymbrosia, that eventually became The Voyage Out (1915).[120][118]

Vanessa's first child, Julian was born in February 1908, and in September Virginia accompanied the Bells to Italy and France.[121]

It was while she was at Fitzroy Square that the question arose of Virginia needing a quiet country retreat, a place of her own, like St Ives, but closer to London. In December, she and Adrian stayed at Lewes and started exploring the area of Sussex around the town. She soon found a property in nearby Firle (see below), maintaining a relationship with that area for the rest of her life.[122][123]

Dreadnought hoax 1910
Bearded Virginia Woolf in Ethiopian costume 1910, in the Dreadnought Hoax
The Dreadnought hoaxers in Abyssinian regalia, 1910 (Virginia Stephen far left with beard)

Several members of the group attained notoriety in 1910 with the Dreadnought hoax, which Virginia participated in disguised as a male Abyssinian royal. Her complete 1940 talk on the hoax was discovered and is published in the memoirs collected in the expanded edition of The Platform of Time (2008).[124]

Brunswick Square (1911–1912)

In October 1911, the lease on Fitzroy Square was running out and Virginia and Adrian decided in favour of a different living arrangement, moving to a four-storied house at 38 Brunswick Square in Bloomsbury proper[lower-alpha 17] in November.

Virginia saw it as a new opportunity: "We are going to try all kinds of experiments", she told Ottoline Morrell.[123] Adrian occupied the second floor, with Maynard Keynes and Duncan Grant sharing the ground floor.[128] This arrangement for a single woman was considered scandalous. The house was adjacent to the Foundling Hospital, much to Virginia's amusement.[125]

Marriage (1912–1941)

Virginia and Leonard on their engagement in July 1912
Engagement photograph, Virginia and her husband Leonard Woolf, 23 July 1912

Leonard Woolf was one of Thoby Stephen's friends at Trinity College, Cambridge, and noticed the Stephen sisters in Thoby's rooms there on their visits to the May Ball in 1900 and 1901. He recalls them in "white dresses and large hats, with parasols in their hands, their beauty literally took one's breath away". To him, they were silent, "formidable and alarming".[129]

Woolf did not meet Virginia formally till 17 November 1904 when he dined with the Stephens at Gordon Square, to say goodbye before leaving to take up a position with the civil service in Ceylon. In 1909, Woolf proposed, but received no answer. In June 1911, he returned to London on a one-year leave,[130] but he did not go back to Ceylon and renewed his contacts with family and friends. Three weeks after arriving he dined with Vanessa and Clive Bell at Gordon Square on 3 July, where they were later joined by Virginia and other members of what would later be called "Bloomsbury", and Leonard dates the group's formation to that night.[131] In September, Virginia asked Leonard to join her at Little Talland House at Firle in Sussex for a long weekend and they began seeing each other.[132]

On 4 December 1911, Leonard moved into the ménage on Brunswick Square, occupying a bedroom and sitting room on the fourth floor, started to see Virginia constantly.[133] On 11 January 1912, he proposed to her; she asked for time to consider, so he asked for an extension of his leave and, on being refused, offered his resignation on 25 April, effective 20 May.[134] He continued to pursue Virginia, and in a letter of 1 May 1912 (which see)[clarification needed][135] she explained why she did not favour a marriage.

However, on 29 May, Virginia told Leonard that she wished to marry him, and they were married on 10 August 1912 at the St Pancras Register Office.[136][137] The Woolfs continued to live at Brunswick Square until October 1912, when they moved to a small flat at 13 Clifford's Inn, further to the east.[138] The couple shared a close 1937, Woolf wrote in her diary: "Love-making—after 25 years can't bear to be separate ... you see it is enormous pleasure being wanted: a wife. And our marriage so complete."[139]

In October 1914, Leonard and Virginia Woolf moved away from Bloomsbury and central London to Richmond, living at 17 The Green, a home discussed by Leonard in his autobiography Beginning Again (1964).[140] In early March 1915, the couple moved again, to nearby Hogarth House, Paradise Road,[141] after which they named their publishing house.[126]

Virginia's first novel, The Voyage Out[120] was published in 1915, followed by another suicide attempt. Despite the introduction of conscription in 1916, Leonard was exempted on medical grounds.[126][142] Leonard and Virginia employed two servants at the recommendation of Roger Fry in 1916; Nellie Boxall would stay with them for eighteen years. Virginia Woolf had regretted that there were no maids in her father's Dictionary of National Biography when she wrote Three Guineas; Boxall would be included in the successor to her father's work, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.[143]

Between 1924 and 1940 the Woolfs returned to Bloomsbury, taking out a ten-year lease at 52 Tavistock Square,[144] from where they ran the Hogarth Press from the basement, where Virginia also had her writing room, and is commemorated with a bust of her in the square (see illustration).[145]

1925 saw the publication of Mrs Dalloway[146] in May followed by her collapse while at Charleston in August. In 1927, her next novel, To the Lighthouse,[41] was published, and the following year she lectured on Women & Fiction at Cambridge University and published Orlando[147] in October.

Her two Cambridge lectures then became the basis for her major essay A Room of One's Own[148] in 1929.[144] Virginia wrote only one drama, Freshwater, based on her great-aunt Julia Margaret Cameron, and produced at her sister's studio on Fitzroy Street in 1935.[149] 1936 saw another collapse of her health following the completion of The Years.[150][144]

The Woolf's final residence in London was at 37 Mecklenburgh Square (1939–1940), destroyed during the Blitz in September 1940; a month later their previous home on Tavistock Square was also destroyed. After that, they made Sussex their permanent home.[151] For descriptions and illustrations of all Virginia Woolf's London homes, see Jean Moorcroft Wilson's book Virginia Woolf, Life and London: A Biography of Place (pub. Cecil Woolf, 1987).[152]

Hogarth Press (1917–1938)

The Woolfs' homes in Richmond
The Woolfs' home at 17 The Green
17 The Green
Hogarth House
Hogarth House
Shelf of Shakespeare plays hand-bound by Virginia Woolf in her bedroom at Monk's House[lower-alpha 18]

Virginia had taken up book-binding as a pastime in October 1901, at the age of 19,[154][155] and the Woolfs had been discussing setting up a publishing house for some time, and at the end of 1916 started making plans. Having discovered that they were not eligible to enroll in the St Bride School of Printing, they started purchasing supplies after seeking advice from the Excelsior Printing Supply Company on Farringdon Road in March 1917, and soon they had a printing press set up on their dining room table at Hogarth House, and the Hogarth Press was born.[155]

Their first joint publication was Two Stories in July 1917, inscribed Publication No. 1, and consisted of two short stories, "The Mark on the Wall"[156] by Virginia Woolf and Three Jews by Leonard Woolf. The work consisted of 32 pages, hand bound and sewn, and illustrated by woodcuts designed by Dora Carrington. The illustrations were a success, leading Virginia to remark that the press was "specially good at printing pictures, and we see that we must make a practice of always having pictures." (13 July 1917) The process took two and a half months with a production run of 150 copies.[157] Other short short stories followed, including Kew Gardens (1919)[158] with a woodblock by Vanessa Bell as frontispiece.[144] Subsequently, Bell added further illustrations, adorning each page of the text.[159]

The press subsequently published Virginia's novels along with works by T.S. Eliot, Laurens van der Post, and others.[160] The Press also commissioned works by contemporary artists, including Dora Carrington and Vanessa Bell.

Woolf believed that women writers needed a "room of their own" to develop and often fantasised about an "Outsider's Society" where women writers would create a virtual private space for themselves via their writings to develop a feminist critique of society.[161] Though Woolf never created the "Outsider's society", the Hogarth Press was the closest approximation as the Woolfs chose to publish books by writers that took unconventional points of view to form a reading community.[161] Initially the press concentrated on small experimental publications, of little interest to large commercial publishers. Until 1930, Woolf often helped her husband print the Hogarth books as the money for employees was not there.[161] Virginia relinquished her interest in 1938, following a third attempted suicide. After it was bombed in September 1940, the press was moved to Letchworth for the remainder of the war.[162]

Both the Woolfs were internationalists and pacifists who believed that promoting understanding between peoples was the best way to avoid another world war and chose quite consciously to publish works by foreign authors of whom the British reading public were unaware.[161] The first non-British author to be published was the Soviet writer Maxim Gorky, the book Reminiscences of Leo Nikolaiovich Tolstoy in 1920, dealing with his friendship with Count Leo Tolstoy.[155]

Memoir Club (1920–1941)

Photo of Mary MacCarthy with her son Michael in 1915. Taken by Lady Ottoline Morrell
Mary MacCarthy and son 1915
Portrait of E M Forster 1917
E. M. Forster 1917
Photo of Duncan Grant talking to John Maynard Keynes in 1912
Duncan Grant (L)
John Maynard Keynes 1912
Portrait of David Garnett, aged about 20
David Garnett c. 1902

1920 saw a postwar reconstitution of the Bloomsbury Group, under the title of the Memoir Club, which as the name suggests focussed on self-writing, in the manner of Proust's A La Recherche, and inspired some of the more influential books of the 20th century. The Group, which had been scattered by the war, was reconvened by Mary ('Molly') MacCarthy who called them "Bloomsberries", and operated under rules derived from the Cambridge Apostles, an elite university debating society that a number of them had been members of. These rules emphasised candour and openness. Among the 125 memoirs presented, Virginia contributed three that were published posthumously in 1976, in the autobiographical anthology Moments of Being.[163] These were 22 Hyde Park Gate (1921), Old Bloomsbury (1922) and Am I a Snob? (1936).[164]

Vita Sackville-West (1922–1941)

Photo of Vita Sackville-West in armchair at Virginia's home at Monk's House, smoking and with dog on her lap
Vita Sackville-West at Monk's House c. 1934

On 14 December 1922[165] Woolf met the writer and gardener Vita Sackville-West,[144] wife of Harold Nicolson. This period was to prove fruitful for both authors, Woolf producing three novels, To the Lighthouse (1927), Orlando (1928), and The Waves (1931) as well as a number of essays, including "Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown" (1924)[166] and "A Letter to a Young Poet" (1932).[167][168] The two women remained friends until Woolf's death in 1941.

Virginia Woolf also remained close to her surviving siblings, Adrian and Vanessa.[169]

Sussex (1911–1941)

Virginia Stephen with Katherine Cox at Asham in 1912
Virginia Stephen (L) with Katherine Cox, Asham 1912

Virginia was needing a country retreat to escape to, and on 24 December 1910, she found a house for rent in Firle, Sussex, near Lewes (see Map). She obtained a lease and took possession of the house the following month.[lower-alpha 19][122][170]

The lease was a short one, and in October, she and Leonard Woolf found Asham House[lower-alpha 20] at Asheham a few miles to the west.[171] Located at the end of a tree-lined road, the house was a strange, beautiful, Regency-Gothic house in a lonely location.[151] She described it as "flat, pale, serene, yellow-washed", without electricity or water and allegedly haunted.[172] She took out a five-year lease[171] jointly with Vanessa in the new year, and they moved into it in February 1912, holding a housewarming party on the 9th.[173][174]

It was at Asham that the Woolfs spent their wedding night later that year. At Asham, she recorded the events of the weekends and holidays they spent there in her Asham Diary, part of which was later published as A Writer's Diary in 1953.[175] In terms of creative writing, The Voyage Out was completed there, and much of Night and Day.[176]

Asham provided Woolf with much-needed relief from the pace of London life, and was where she found a happiness that she expressed in her diary on 5 May 1919 "Oh, but how happy we've been at Asheham! It was a most melodious time. Everything went so freely; – but I can't analyse all the sources of my joy".[177] Asham was also the inspiration for A Haunted House (1921–1944),[178][179][172] and was painted by members of the Bloomsbury Group, including Vanessa Bell and Roger Fry.[180]

Life in Sussex
Photo of Little Talland House, Firle, East Sussex. Leased by Virginia Woolf in 1911
Little Talland House, Firle
Photo of Asham house in 1914
Asham House, Beddingham
The Round House in Lewes
The Round House, Lewes
Monk's House in Rodmell
Monk's House, Rodmell

While at Asham, in 1916 Leonard and Virginia found a farmhouse to let about four miles away, which they thought would be ideal for her sister. Eventually, Vanessa came down to inspect it, and took possession in October of that year, as a summer home for her family. The Charleston Farmhouse was to become the summer gathering place for the literary and artistic circle of the Bloomsbury Group.[181]

After the end of the war, in 1918, the Woolfs were given a year's notice by the landlord, who needed the house. In mid-1919, "in despair", they purchased "a very strange little house" for £300, the Round House in Pipe Passage, Lewes, a converted windmill.[173][174][178] No sooner had they bought the Round House, than Monk's House in nearby Rodmell, came up for auction, a weatherboarded house with oak-beamed rooms, said to be 15th or 16th century. The Woolfs favoured the latter because of its orchard and garden, and sold the Round House to purchase Monk's House for £700.[182][144]

Monk's House also lacked water and electricity, but came with an acre of garden, and had a view across the Ouse towards the hills of the South Downs. Leonard Woolf describes this view (and the amenities)[183] as being unchanged since the days of Chaucer.[184] From 1940, it became their permanent home after their London home was bombed, and Virginia continued to live there until her death. Meanwhile, Vanessa made Charleston her permanent home in 1936.[185]

It was at Monk's House that Virginia completed Between the Acts[186] in early 1941, followed by a further breakdown resulting in her suicide on 28 March 1941, the novel being published posthumously later that year.[144]

The Neo-pagans (1911–1912)

Group of neopagans, Noel Olivier; Maitland Radford; Virginia Woolf; Rupert Brooke, sitting in front of a farm gate on Dartmoor in August 1911
Noël Olivier; Maitland Radford; Virginia Stephen; Rupert Brooke camping on Dartmoor August 1911

During her time in Firle, Virginia became better acquainted with Rupert Brooke and his social circle, nicknamed the Neo-Pagans, pursuing socialism, vegetarianism, exercising outdoors and alternative life styles, including social nudity. They were influenced by the ethos of Bedales, Fabianism and Shelley.

Although she had some reservations, Woolf was involved with their activities for a while, fascinated by their bucolic innocence in contrast to the sceptical intellectualism of Bloomsbury, which earned her the nickname "The Goat" from her brother Adrian.[lower-alpha 21]

While Woolf liked to make much of a weekend she spent with Brooke at the vicarage in Grantchester, including swimming in the pool there, it appears to have been principally a literary assignation.

Mental health

Much examination has been made of Woolf's mental health (e.g., see Mental health bibliography). From the age of 13, following the death of her mother, Woolf suffered periodic mood swings.[188][114] However, as Hermione Lee points out, Woolf was not "mad"; she was merely a woman who suffered from and struggled with illness for much of her life, a woman of "exceptional courage, intelligence and stoicism", who made the best use, and achieved the best understanding she could of that illness.

Her mother's death in 1895, "the greatest disaster that could happen",[189][190] precipitated a crisis for which their family doctor, Dr Seton, prescribed rest, stopping lessons and writing, and regular walks supervised by Stella.[191] Yet just two years later, Stella too was dead, bringing on Virginia's first expressed wish for death at the age of fifteen. This was a scenario she would later recreate in "Time Passes" (To the Lighthouse, 1927).[41][192]

The death of her father in 1904 provoked her most alarming collapse, on 10 May, when she threw herself out a window and she was briefly institutionalised[26] under the care of her father's friend, the eminent psychiatrist George Savage. She spent time recovering at the house of Stella's friend Violet Dickinson, and at her aunt Caroline Emelia Stephen's house in Cambridge,[193] and by January 1905, Savage considered her cured.[113]

Her brother Thoby's death in 1906 marked a "decade of deaths" that ended her childhood and adolescence.

On Savage's recommendation, Virginia spent three short periods in 1910, 1912, and 1913 at Burley House at 15 Cambridge Park, Twickenham (see image), described as "a private nursing home for women with nervous disorder" run by Miss Jean Thomas.[194][195] By the end of February 1910, she was becoming increasingly restless, and Savage suggested being away from London. Vanessa rented 'Moat House', outside Canterbury, in June, but there was no improvement, so Savage sent her to Burley for a "rest cure". This involved partial isolation, deprivation of literature, and force-feeding, and after six weeks she was able to convalesce in Cornwall and Dorset during the autumn.

She loathed the experience; writing to her sister on 28 July,[196] she described how she found the religious atmosphere stifling and the institution ugly, and informed Vanessa that to escape "I shall soon have to jump out of a window".[3] The threat of being sent back would later lead to her contemplating suicide.[197] Despite her protests, Savage would refer her back in 1912 for insomnia and in 1913 for depression.

On emerging from Burley House in September 1913, she sought further opinions from two other physicians on the 13th: Maurice Wright, and Henry Head, who had been Henry James's physician. Both recommended she return to Burley House. Distraught, she returned home and attempted suicide by taking an overdose of 100 grains of veronal (a barbiturate) and nearly dying:[198].

On recovery, she went to Dalingridge Hall, George Duckworth's home in East Grinstead, Sussex, to convalesce on 30 September,[199] returning to Asham on 18 November. She remained unstable over the next two years, with another incident involving veronal that she claimed was an 'accident', and consulted another psychiatrist in April 1914, Maurice Craig, who explained that she was not sufficiently psychotic to be certified or committed to an institution.

The rest of the summer of 1914 went better for her, and they moved to Richmond, but in February 1915, just as The Voyage Out was due to be published, she relapsed once more, and remained in poor health for most of that year.[200] Then she began to recover, following 20 years of ill health.[201][202] Nevertheless, there was a feeling among those around her that she was now permanently changed, and not for the better.[203]

Over the rest of her life, she suffered recurrent bouts of depression. In 1940, a number of factors appeared to overwhelm her. Her biography of Roger Fry[204] had been published in July, and she had been disappointed in its reception. The horrors of war depressed her, and their London homes had been destroyed in the Blitz in September and October. Woolf had completed Between the Acts (published posthumously in 1941)[186] in November, and completing a novel was frequently accompanied by exhaustion.[205] Her health became increasingly a matter of concern, culminating in her decision to end her life on 28 March 1941.[195]

Though this instability would frequently affect her social life, she was able to continue her literary productivity with few interruptions throughout her life. Woolf herself provides not only a vivid picture of her symptoms in her diaries and letters, but also her response to the demons that haunted her and at times made her long for death:[206] "But it is always a question whether I wish to avoid these glooms... These 9 weeks give one a plunge into deep waters... One goes down into the well & nothing protects one from the assault of truth."[207]

Psychiatry had little to offer Woolf, but she recognised that writing was one of the behaviours that enabled her to cope with her illness:[206] "The only way I keep afloat... is by working... Directly I stop working I feel that I am sinking down, down. And as usual, I feel that if I sink further I shall reach the truth."[208] Sinking under water was Woolf's metaphor for both the effects of depression and psychosis— but also for finding truth, and ultimately was her choice of death.[206]

Throughout her life, Woolf struggled, without success, to find meaning in her illness: on the one hand, an impediment, on the other, something she visualised as an essential part of who she was, and a necessary condition of her art.[206] Her experiences informed her work, such as the character of Septimus Warren Smith in Mrs Dalloway (1925),[146] who, like Woolf, was haunted by the dead, and ultimately takes his own life rather than be admitted to a sanitorium.[3]

Leonard Woolf relates how during the 30 years they were married, they consulted many doctors in the Harley Street area, and although they were given a diagnosis of neurasthenia, he felt they had little understanding of the causes or nature. The proposed solution was simple—as long as she lived a quiet life without any physical or mental exertion, she was well. On the other hand, any mental, emotional, or physical strain resulted in a reappearance of her symptoms, beginning with a headache, followed by insomnia and thoughts that started to race. Her remedy was simple: to retire to bed in a darkened room, following which the symptoms slowly subsided.[209]

Modern scholars, including her nephew and biographer, Quentin Bell,[210] have suggested her breakdowns and subsequent recurring depressive periods were influenced by the sexual abuse which she and her sister Vanessa were subjected to by their half-brothers George and Gerald Duckworth (which Woolf recalls in her autobiographical essays "A Sketch of the Past" and "22 Hyde Park Gate") (see Sexual abuse). Biographers point out that when Stella died in 1897, there was no counterbalance to control George's predation, and his nighttime prowling. "The old ladies of Kensington and Belgravia never knew that George Duckworth was not only father and mother, brother and sister to those poor Stephen girls; he was their lover also."[211][3]

It is likely that other factors also played a part. It has been suggested that they include genetic predisposition [212] Virginia's father, Leslie Stephen, suffered from depression, and her half-sister Laura was institutionalised. Many of Virginia's symptoms, including persistent headache, insomnia, irritability, and anxiety, resembled those of her father's.[213] Another factor is the pressure she placed upon herself in her work; for instance, her breakdown of 1913 was at least partly triggered by the need to finish The Voyage Out.[214]

Virginia herself hinted that her illness was related to how she saw the repressed position of women in society when she wrote A Room of One's Own.[3][215][216] in a 1930 letter to Ethel Smyth:

As an experience, madness is terrific I can assure you, and not to be sniffed at; and in its lava I still find most of the things I write about. It shoots out of one everything shaped, final, not in mere driblets, as sanity does. And the six months—not three—that I lay in bed taught me a good deal about what is called oneself.[217]

Thomas Caramagno[218] and others,[219] in discussing her illness, oppose the "neurotic-genius" way of looking at mental illness, where creativity and mental illness are conceptualised as linked rather than antithetical.[220][218] Stephen Trombley describes Woolf as having a confrontational relationship with her doctors, and possibly being a woman who is a "victim of male medicine", referring to the lack of understanding, particularly at the time, about mental illness.[221][222]


Woolf's suicide letter to her husband. (Reading by Juliet Stevenson)[223]

After completing the manuscript of her last novel (posthumously published), Between the Acts (1941),[186] Woolf fell into a depression similar to one which she had earlier experienced. The onset of the Second World War, the destruction of her London home during the Blitz, and the cool reception given to her biography[204] of her late friend Roger Fry all worsened her condition until she was unable to work.[224] When Leonard enlisted in the Home Guard, Virginia disapproved. She held fast to her pacifism and criticised her husband for wearing what she considered to be "the silly uniform of the Home Guard".[225]

After the Second World War began, Woolf's diary indicates that she was obsessed with death, which figured more and more as her mood darkened.[226] On 28 March 1941, Woolf drowned herself by filling her overcoat pockets with stones and walking into the River Ouse near her home.[227] Her body was not found until 18 April.[228] Her husband buried her cremated remains beneath an elm tree in the garden of Monk's House, their home in Rodmell, Sussex.[229]

In her suicide note, addressed to her husband, she wrote:

Dearest, I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can't go through another of those terrible times. And I shan't recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can't concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don't think two people could have been happier till this terrible disease came. I can't fight it any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can't even write this properly. I can't read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that—everybody knows it. 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. V.[230][231]


Portrait of Woolf in 1917 by Roger Fry
A portrait of Woolf by Roger Fry c. 1917
Lytton Strachey with Virginia Woolf 1923
Lytton Strachey and Woolf at Garsington, 1923
Portrait of Virginia Woolf 1927
Virginia Woolf 1927

Woolf is considered to be one of the more important 20th-century novelists.[232] A modernist, she was one of the pioneers of using stream of consciousness as a narrative device, alongside contemporaries such as Marcel Proust,[233][234] Dorothy Richardson and James Joyce.[235][236][237] Woolf's reputation was at its greatest during the 1930s, but declined considerably following the Second World War. The growth of feminist criticism in the 1970s helped re-establish her reputation.[238][195]

Virginia submitted her first article in 1890, to a competition in Tit-Bits. Although it was rejected, this shipboard romance by the 8-year-old would presage her first novel 25 years later, as would contributions to the Hyde Park News, such as the model letter "to show young people the right way to express what is in their hearts", a subtle commentary on her mother's legendary matchmaking.[239][240] She transitioned from juvenilia to professional journalism in 1904 at the age of 22. Violet Dickinson introduced her to Kathleen Lyttelton, the editor of the Women's Supplement of The Guardian, a Church of England newspaper. Invited to submit a 1,500-word article, Virginia sent Lyttelton a review of William Dean Howells' The Son of Royal Langbirth and an essay about her visit to Haworth that year, Haworth, November 1904.[241][3] The review was published anonymously on 4 December, and the essay on the 21st.[242][243] In 1905, Woolf began writing for The Times Literary Supplement.[244]

Woolf would go on to publish novels and essays as a public intellectual to both critical and popular acclaim. Much of her work was self-published through the Hogarth Press. "Virginia Woolf's peculiarities as a fiction writer have tended to obscure her central strength: she is arguably the major lyrical novelist in the English language. Her novels are highly experimental: a narrative, frequently uneventful and commonplace, is refracted—and sometimes almost dissolved—in the characters' receptive consciousness. Intense lyricism and stylistic virtuosity fuse to create a world overabundant with auditory and visual impressions."[245] "The intensity of Virginia Woolf's poetic vision elevates the ordinary, sometimes banal settings"—often wartime environments—"of most of her novels."[245]

Fiction and drama


Her first novel, The Voyage Out,[120] was published in 1915 at the age of 33, by her half-brother's imprint, Gerald Duckworth and Company Ltd. This novel was originally titled Melymbrosia, but Woolf repeatedly changed the draft. An earlier version of The Voyage Out has been reconstructed by Woolf scholar Louise DeSalvo and is now available to the public under the intended title. DeSalvo argues that many of the changes Woolf made in the text were in response to changes in her own life.[246] The novel is set on a ship bound for South America, and a group of young Edwardians onboard and their various mismatched yearnings and misunderstandings. In the novel are hints of themes that would emerge in later work, including the gap between preceding thought and the spoken word that follows, and the lack of concordance between expression and underlying intention, together with how these reveal to us aspects of the nature of love.[247]

"Mrs Dalloway (1925)[146] centres on the efforts of Clarissa Dalloway, a middle-aged society woman, to organise a party, even as her life is paralleled with that of Septimus Warren Smith, a working-class veteran who has returned from the First World War bearing deep psychological scars".[245]

"To the Lighthouse (1927)[41] is set on two days ten years apart. The plot centres on the Ramsay family's anticipation of and reflection upon a visit to a lighthouse and the connected familial tensions. One of the primary themes of the novel is the struggle in the creative process that beset painter Lily Briscoe while she struggles to paint in the midst of the family drama. The novel is also a meditation upon the lives of a nation's inhabitants in the midst of war, and of the people left behind."[245] It also explores the passage of time, and how women are forced by society to allow men to take emotional strength from them.[248]

Orlando: A Biography (1928)[147] is one of Woolf's lightest novels. A parodic biography of a young nobleman who lives for three centuries without ageing much past thirty (but who does abruptly turn into a woman), the book is in part a portrait of Woolf's lover Vita Sackville-West.[249] It was meant to console Vita for the loss of her ancestral home, Knole House, though it is also a satirical treatment of Vita and her work. In Orlando, the techniques of historical biographers are being ridiculed; the character of a pompous biographer is being assumed for it to be mocked.[250]

"The Waves (1931) presents a group of six friends whose reflections, which are closer to recitatives than to interior monologues proper, create a wave-like atmosphere that is more akin to a prose poem than to a plot-centred novel".[245]

Flush: A Biography (1933)[251] is a part-fiction, part-biography of the cocker spaniel owned by Victorian poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, written from the dog's point of view. Woolf was inspired to write this book from the success of the Rudolf Besier play The Barretts of Wimpole Street. In the play, Flush is on stage for much of the action.

The Years (1936),[1] traces the history of the genteel Pargiter family from the 1880s to the mid-1930s. The novel had its origin in a lecture Woolf gave to the National Society for Women's Service in 1931, an edited version of which would later be published as "Professions for Women".[252] Woolf first thought of making this lecture the basis of a new book-length essay on women, this time taking a broader view of their economic and social life, rather than focusing on women as artists, as the first book had. She soon jettisoned the theoretical framework of her "novel-essay" and began to rework the book solely as a fictional narrative, but some of the non-fiction material she first intended for this book was later used in Three Guineas (1938).

"Her last work, Between the Acts (1941),[186] sums up and magnifies Woolf's chief preoccupations: the transformation of life through art, sexual ambivalence, and meditation on the themes of flux of time and life, presented simultaneously as corrosion and rejuvenation—all set in a highly imaginative and symbolic narrative encompassing almost all of English history."[245] This book is the most lyrical of all her works, not only in feeling but in style, being chiefly written in verse.[253] While Woolf's work can be understood as consistently in dialogue with the Bloomsbury Group, particularly its tendency (informed by G. E. Moore, among others) towards doctrinaire rationalism, it is not a simple recapitulation of the coterie's ideals.[10]


Woolf's fiction has been studied for its insight into many themes including war, shell shock, witchcraft, and the role of social class in contemporary modern British society.[254] In the postwar Mrs Dalloway (1925),[146] Woolf addresses the moral dilemma of war and its effects[255][256] and provides an authentic voice for soldiers returning from the First World War, suffering from shell shock, in the person of Septimus Smith.[257] In A Room of One's Own (1929) Woolf equates historical accusations of witchcraft with creativity and genius among women[258] "When, however, one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils...then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet, of some mute and inglorious Jane Austen".[259] Throughout her work Woolf tried to evaluate the degree to which her privileged background framed the lens through which she viewed class.[260][182] She both examined her own position as someone who would be considered an elitist snob, but attacked the class structure of Britain as she found it. In her 1936 essay Am I a Snob?,[261] she examined her values and those of the privileged circle she existed in. She concluded she was, and subsequent critics and supporters have tried to deal with the dilemma of being both elite and a social critic.[262][263][264]

The sea is a recurring motif in Woolf's work. Noting Woolf's early memory of listening to waves break in Cornwall, Katharine Smyth writes in The Paris Review that "the radiance [of] cresting water would be consecrated again and again in her writing, saturating not only essays, diaries, and letters but also Jacob's Room, The Waves, and To the Lighthouse."[265] Patrizia A. Muscogiuri explains that "seascapes, sailing, diving and the sea itself are aspects of nature and of human beings' relationship with it which frequently inspired Virginia Woolf's writing."[266] This trope is deeply embedded in her texts' structure and grammar; James Antoniou notes in Sydney Morning Herald how "Woolf made a virtue of the semicolon, the shape and function of which resembles the wave, her most famous motif."[267]

Despite the considerable conceptual difficulties, given Woolf's idiosyncratic use of language,[268] her works have been translated into over 50 languages.[254][269] Some writers, such as the Belgian Marguerite Yourcenar, had rather tense encounters with her, while others, such as the Argentinian Jorge Luis Borges, produced versions that were highly controversial.[268][195]


Virginia Woolf researched the life of her great-aunt, the photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, publishing her findings in an essay titled "Pattledom" (1925),[270] and later in her introduction to her 1926 edition of Cameron's photographs.[271][272] She had begun work on a play based on an episode in Cameron's life in 1923, but abandoned it. Finally it was performed on 18 January 1935 at the studio of her sister, Vanessa Bell on Fitzroy Street in 1935.[273] Woolf directed it herself, and the cast were mainly members of the Bloomsbury Group, including herself. Freshwater is a short three act comedy satirising the Victorian era, only performed once in Woolf's lifetime.[149] Beneath the comedic elements, there is an exploration of both generational change and artistic freedom. Both Cameron and Woolf fought against the class and gender dynamics of Victorianism[274] and the play shows links to both To the Lighthouse and A Room of One's Own that would follow.[272]


Woolf wrote a body of autobiographical work and more than 500 essays and reviews,[168] some of which, like A Room of One's Own (1929) were of book length. Not all were published in her lifetime. Shortly after her death, Leonard Woolf produced an edited edition of unpublished essays titled The Moment and other Essays,[275] published by the Hogarth Press in 1947. Many of these were originally lectures that she gave,[276] and several more volumes of essays followed, such as The Captain's Death Bed: and other essays (1950).[277]

A Room of One's Own

Among Woolf's non-fiction works, one of the best known is A Room of One's Own (1929),[148] a book-length essay. Considered a key work of feminist literary criticism, it was written following two lectures she delivered on "Women and Fiction" at Cambridge University the previous year. In it, she examines the historical disempowerment women have faced in many spheres, including social, educational and financial. One of her more famous dicta is contained within the book "A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction". Much of her argument ("to show you how I arrived at this opinion about the room and the money") is developed through the "unsolved problems" of women and fiction writing to arrive at her conclusion, although she claimed that was only "an opinion upon one minor point".[278] In doing so, she states a good deal about the nature of women and fiction, employing a quasi-fictional style as she examines where women writers failed because of lack of resources and opportunities, examining along the way the experiences of the Brontës, George Eliot and George Sand, as well as the fictional character of Shakespeare's sister, equipped with the same genius but not position. She contrasted these women who accepted a deferential status with Jane Austen, who wrote entirely as a woman.[279]


Michel Lackey argues that a major influence on Woolf, from 1912 onward, was Russian literature and Woolf adopted many of its aesthetic conventions.[280] The style of Fyodor Dostoyevsky with his depiction of a fluid mind in operation helped to influence Woolf's writings about a "discontinuous writing process", though Woolf objected to Dostoyevsky's obsession with "psychological extremity" and the "tumultuous flux of emotions" in his characters together with his right-wing, monarchist politics as Dostoyevsky was an ardent supporter of the autocracy of the Russian Empire.[280] In contrast to her objections to Dostoyevsky's "exaggerated emotional pitch", Woolf found much to admire in the work of Anton Chekhov and Leo Tolstoy.[280] Woolf admired Chekhov for his stories of ordinary people living their lives, doing banal things and plots that had no neat endings.[280] From Tolstoy, Woolf drew lessons about how a novelist should depict a character's psychological state and the interior tension within.[280] Lackey notes that, from Ivan Turgenev, Woolf drew the lessons that there are multiple "I's" when writing a novel, and the novelist needed to balance those multiple versions of him- or herself to balance the "mundane facts" of a story vs. the writer's overarching vision, which required a "total passion" for art.[280]

The American writer Henry David Thoreau also influenced Woolf. In a 1917 essay, she praised Thoreau for his statement "The millions are awake enough for physical labor, but only one in hundreds of millions is awake enough to a poetic or divine life. To be awake is to be alive." They both aimed to capture 'the moment'––as Walter Pater says, "to burn always with this hard, gem-like flame."[281] [282] Woolf praised Thoreau for his "simplicity" in finding "a way for setting free the delicate and complicated machinery of the soul".[282] Like Thoreau, Woolf believed that it was silence that set the mind free to really contemplate and understand the world.[282] Both authors believed in a certain transcendental, mystical approach to life and writing, where even banal things could be capable of generating deep emotions if one had enough silence and the presence of mind to appreciate them.[282] Woolf and Thoreau were both concerned with the difficulty of human relationships in the modern age.[282]

Woolf's preface to Orlando credits Daniel Defoe, Sir Thomas Browne, Laurence Sterne, Sir Walter Scott, Lord Macaulay, Emily Brontë, Thomas de Quincey, and Walter Pater as influences.[147] Among her contemporaries, Woolf was influenced by Marcel Proust, writing to Roger Fry, "Oh if I could write like that!"[283]


In her lifetime, Woolf was outspoken on many topics that were considered controversial, some of which are now considered progressive, others regressive.[284] She was an ardent feminist at a time when women's rights were barely recognised, and anti-colonialist, anti-imperialist and a pacifist when chauvinism was popular. On the other hand, she has been criticised for views on class and race in her private writings and published works. Like many of her contemporaries, some of her writing is now considered offensive. As a result, she is considered polarising, a revolutionary feminist and socialist hero or a purveyor of hate speech.[284][285]

Works such as A Room of One's Own (1929)[148] and Three Guineas (1938)[286] are frequently taught as icons of feminist literature in courses that would be very critical of some of her views expressed elsewhere.[287] She has also been the recipient of considerable homophobic and misogynist criticism.[288]

Humanist views

Virginia Woolf was born into a non-religious family and is regarded, along with her fellow Bloomsberries E. M. Forster and G. E. Moore, as a humanist. Both her parents were prominent agnostic atheists. Her father, Leslie Stephen, had become famous in polite society for his writings which expressed and publicised reasons to doubt the veracity of religion. Stephen was also President of the West London Ethical Society, an early humanist organisation, and helped to found the Union of Ethical Societies in 1896. Woolf's mother, Julia Stephen, wrote the book Agnostic Women (1880), which argued that agnosticism (defined here as something more like atheism) could be a highly moral approach to life.

Woolf was a critic of Christianity. In a letter to Ethel Smyth, she gave a scathing denunciation of the religion, seeing it as self-righteous "egotism" and stating "my Jew [Leonard] has more religion in one toenail—more human love, in one hair".[289] Woolf stated in her private letters that she thought of herself as an atheist.[290]

She thought there were no Gods; no one was to blame; and so she evolved this atheist's religion of doing good for the sake of goodness.
—Woolf characterises Clarissa Dalloway, the title character of Mrs Dalloway[291]


Hermione Lee cites a number of extracts from Woolf's writings that many, including Lee, would consider offensive, and these criticisms can be traced back as far as those of Wyndham Lewis and Q. D. Leavis in the 1920s and 1930s.[285] Other authors provide more nuanced contextual interpretations, and stress the complexity of her character and the apparent inherent contradictions in analysing her apparent flaws.[287] She could certainly be off-hand, rude and even cruel in her dealings with other authors, translators and biographers, such as her treatment of Ruth Gruber.[citation needed] Some authors, including David Daiches, Brenda Silver, Alison Light and other postcolonial feminists, dismiss her (and modernist authors in general) as privileged, elitist, classist, racist, and antisemitic.[292]

Woolf's tendentious expressions, including prejudicial feelings against disabled people, have often been the topic of academic criticism:[285]

The first quotation is from a diary entry of September 1920 and runs: "The fact is the lower classes are detestable." The remainder follow the first in reproducing stereotypes standard to upper-class and upper-middle class life in the early 20th century: "imbeciles should certainly be killed"; "Jews" are greasy; a "crowd" is both an ontological "mass" and is, again, "detestable"; "Germans" are akin to vermin; some "baboon faced intellectuals" mix with "sad green dressed negroes and negresses, looking like chimpanzees" at a peace conference; Kensington High St. revolts one's stomach with its innumerable "women of incredible mediocrity, drab as dishwater".[287]


Often accused of antisemitism,[293] the treatment of Judaism and Jews by Woolf is far from straightforward.[294] She was happily married to an irreligious Jewish man (Leonard Woolf) who had no connection with or knowledge of his people while she generally characterised Jewish characters with negative stereotypes. For instance, she described some of the Jewish characters in her work in terms that suggested they were physically repulsive or dirty. On the other hand, she could criticise her own views: "How I hated marrying a Jew — how I hated their nasal voices and their oriental jewellery, and their noses and their wattles — what a snob I was: for they have immense vitality, and I think I like that quality best of all" (Letter to Ethel Smyth 1930).[295][195][296] These attitudes have been construed to reflect, not so much antisemitism, but social status; she married outside her social class. Leonard, "a penniless Jew from Putney", lacked the material status of the Stephens and their circle.[293]

While travelling on a cruise to Portugal, she protested at finding "a great many Portuguese Jews on board, and other repulsive objects, but we keep clear of them".[297] Furthermore, she wrote in her diary: "I do not like the Jewish voice; I do not like the Jewish laugh." Her 1938 short story, written during Hitler's rule, "The Duchess and the Jeweller" (originally titled "The Duchess and the Jew") has been considered antisemitic.[298]

Some believe that Woolf and her husband Leonard came to despise and fear the 1930s' fascism and antisemitism. Her 1938 book Three Guineas[286] was an indictment of fascism and what Woolf described as a recurring propensity among patriarchal societies to enforce repressive societal mores by violence.[299] And yet, her 1938 story "The Duchess and the Jeweller" was so deep in its hateful depiction of Jews that Harper's Bazaar asked her to modify it before publication; she reluctantly complied.[300]


The Bloomsbury Group held very progressive views regarding sexuality and rejected the austere strictness of Victorian society. The majority of its members were homosexual or bisexual.[301]

Woolf had several affairs with women, the most notable being with Vita Sackville-West. The two women developed a deep connection; Vita was arguably one of the few people in Virginia's adult life that she was truly close to.[302]

[Virginia Woolf] told Ethel that she only really loved three people: Leonard, Vanessa, and myself, which annoyed Ethel but pleased me – Vita Sackville-West's letter to husband Harold Nicolson, dated 28 September 1939

During their relationship, both women saw the peak of their literary careers, with the titular protagonist of Woolf's acclaimed Orlando: A Biography being inspired by Sackville-West. The pair remained lovers for a decade and stayed close friends for the rest of Woolf's life.[303][304] Woolf had said to Sackville-West she disliked masculinity.[305]

[Virginia Woolf] dislikes the possessiveness and love of domination in men. In fact she dislikes the quality of masculinity ; says that women stimulate her imagination, by their grace & their art of life – Vita Sackville-West's diary, dated 26 September 1928

Among her other notable affairs were those with Sibyl Colefax, Lady Ottoline Morrell, and Mary Hutchinson.[304] Some surmise that she may have fallen in love with Madge Symonds, the wife of one of her uncles.[306] Madge Symonds was described as one of Woolf's early loves in Sackville-West's diary.[307] She also fell in love with Violet Dickinson, although there is some confusion as to whether the two consummated their relationship.[308]

In regards to relationships with men, Woolf was averse to sex with them, blaming the sexual abuse perpetrated upon her and her sister by her half-brothers when they were children and teens. This is one of the reasons she initially declined marriage proposals from her future husband, Leonard. She even went as far as to tell him that she was not attracted to him, but that she did love him and finally agreed to marriage.[304] Woolf preferred female lovers to male lovers, for the most part, based on her aversion to sex with men. This aversion to relations with men influenced her writing especially when considering her sexual abuse as a child.[309]

I sometimes think that if I married you, I could have everything—and then—is it the sexual side of it that comes between us? As I told you brutally the other day, I feel no physical attraction in you. – Letter to Leonard from Virginia dated May 1, 1912[310]

Leonard became the love of her life and, even though their sexual relationship was questionable, they loved each other deeply and formed a strong and supportive marriage that led to the formation of their publishing house as well as several of her writings. Neither was faithful to the other sexually, but they were faithful in their love and respect for each other.[311]

Modern scholarship and interpretations

Though at least one biography of Virginia Woolf appeared in her lifetime, the first authoritative study of her life was published in 1972 by her nephew Quentin Bell. Hermione Lee's 1996 biography Virginia Woolf[224] provides a thorough and authoritative examination of Woolf's life and work, which she discussed in an interview in 1997.[312] In 2001, Louise DeSalvo and Mitchell A. Leaska edited The Letters of Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf. Julia Briggs's Virginia Woolf: An Inner Life (2005) focuses on Woolf's writing, including her novels and her commentary on the creative process, to illuminate her life. The sociologist Pierre Bourdieu also uses Woolf's literature to understand and analyse gender domination. Woolf biographer Gillian Gill notes that Woolf's traumatic experience of sexual abuse by her half-brothers during her childhood influenced her advocacy of protection of vulnerable children from similar experiences.[313] Biljana Dojčinović has discussed the issues surrounding translations of Woolf to Serbian as a "border-crossing".[314]

Virginia Woolf and her mother

The intense scrutiny of Virginia Woolf's literary output (see Bibliography) has led to speculation as to her mother's influence, including psychoanalytic studies of mother and daughter.[315][316][317][318] Woolf states that, "my first memory, and in fact it is the most important of all my memories"[319] is of her mother. Her memories of her mother are memories of an obsession,[320][321] starting with her first major breakdown on her mother's death in 1895, the loss having a profound lifelong effect.[322] In many ways, her mother's profound influence on Virginia Woolf is conveyed in the latter's recollections, "there she is; beautiful, emphatic ... closer than any of the living are, lighting our random lives as with a burning torch, infinitely noble and delightful to her children".[189]

Woolf described her mother as an "invisible presence" in her life, and Ellen Rosenman argues that the mother-daughter relationship is a constant in Woolf's writing.[323] She describes how Woolf's modernism needs to be viewed in relationship to her ambivalence towards her Victorian mother, the centre of the former's female identity, and her voyage to her own sense of autonomy. To Woolf, "Saint Julia" was both a martyr whose perfectionism was intimidating and a source of deprivation, by her absences real and virtual and premature death.[324] Julia's influence and memory pervades Woolf's life and work. "She has haunted me", she wrote.[95]

Historical feminism

According to the 2007 book Feminism: From Mary Wollstonecraft to Betty Friedan by Bhaskar A. Shukla, "Recently, studies of Virginia Woolf have focused on feminist and lesbian themes in her work, such as in the 1997 collection of critical essays, Virginia Woolf: Lesbian Readings, edited by Eileen Barrett and Patricia Cramer."[245] In 1928, Woolf took a grassroots approach to informing and inspiring feminism. She addressed undergraduate women at the ODTAA Society at Girton College, Cambridge, and the Arts Society at Newnham College, with two papers that eventually became A Room of One's Own (1929).[148]

Woolf's best-known nonfiction works, A Room of One's Own (1929)[148] and Three Guineas (1938),[286] examine the difficulties that female writers and intellectuals faced because men held disproportionate legal and economic power, as well as the future of women in education and society.[325] In The Second Sex (1949), Simone de Beauvoir counts, of all women who ever lived, only three female writers—Emily Brontë, Woolf and "sometimes" Katherine Mansfield— have explored "the given".[326]

In popular culture

Virginia Woolf portrayed on Romanian postage stamp in 2007
Virginia Woolf on 2007 Romanian postage stamp
  • Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a 1962 play by Edward Albee. It examines the structure of the marriage of an American middle-aged academic couple, Martha and George. Mike Nichols directed a film version in 1966, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Taylor won the 1966 Academy Award for Best Actress for the role.
  • Me! I'm Afraid of Virginia Woolf, a 1978 TV play, references the title of the Edward Albee play and features an English literature teacher who has a poster of her. It was written by Alan Bennett and directed by Stephen Frears.
  • The artwork The Dinner Party (1979) features a place setting for Woolf.[327]
  • The Bechdel test, a measure of the representation of women in fiction, was first published in the 1985 comic Dykes to Watch Out For is credited by the author, Alison Bechdel to friend Liz Wallace and the writings of Virginia Woolf. After the test became more widely discussed in the 2000s, a number of variants and tests inspired by it emerged.
  • American indie rock band Modest Mouse took their band name from a line in Woolf's short story, The Mark on the Wall[328]
  • The album, Rites of Passage by American folk rock duo the Indigo Girls, released on 12 May 1992, contains the song "Virginia Woolf" written by Emily Saliers.
  • The 1996 album Poetic Justice, by British musician Steve Harley, contains a tribute to Woolf, specifically her most adventurous novel, in its closing track: "Riding the Waves (for Virginia Woolf)".[citation needed]
  • Michael Cunningham's 1998 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Hours focused on three generations of women affected by Woolf's novel Mrs Dalloway. In 2002, a film version of the novel was released, starring Nicole Kidman as Woolf. Kidman won the 2003 Academy Award for her portrayal. In 2022, an opera of The Hours by composer Kevin Puts and librettist Greg Pierce premiered at the Metropolitan Opera to acclaim.
  • Susan Sellers's novel Vanessa and Virginia (2008) explores the close sibling relationship between Woolf and her sister, Vanessa Bell. It was adapted for the stage by Elizabeth Wright in 2010 and first performed by Moving Stories Theatre Company.
  • "What the Water Gave Me", a 2011 song by the band Florence and The Machine, was inspired by Woolf's suicide.
  • Priya Parmar's 2014 novel Vanessa and Her Sister also examined the Stephen sisters' relationship during the early years of their association with what became known as the Bloomsbury Group.[329]
  • An exhibition on Virginia Woolf was held at the National Portrait Gallery from July to October 2014.[330]
  • In the 2014 novel The House at the End of Hope Street,[331] Woolf is featured as one of the women who has lived in the titular house.
  • Virginia is portrayed by both Lydia Leonard and Catherine McCormack in the BBC's three-part drama series Life in Squares (2015).[332]
  • On 25 January 2018, Google showed a Google doodle celebrating her 136th birthday.[333]
  • In many Barnes & Noble stores, Woolf is featured in Gary Kelly's Author Mural Panels, an imprint of the Barnes & Noble Author brand that also features other notable authors like Hurston, Tagore, and Kafka.
  • The 2018 film Vita and Virginia depicts the relationship between Vita Sackville-West and Woolf, portrayed by Gemma Arterton and Elizabeth Debicki respectively.
  • The 2020 novel Trio by William Boyd follows the life of Elfrida Wing, an alcoholic writer interested in the suicide of Woolf.
  • In the Australian sitcom, Kath & Kim, Kath plays the role of Virginia in the Fountain Lakes Players musical production celebrating the life of Virginia Woolf.


Sally Potter adapted Orlando (1928) for the screen in 1992. The film Orlando starred Tilda Swinton. Woolf's play Freshwater (1935)[149] is the basis for a 1994 chamber opera, Freshwater, by Andy Vores. The final segment of the 2018 London Unplugged is adapted from her short story Kew Gardens. Septimus and Clarissa, a stage adaptation of Mrs Dalloway was created and produced by the New York-based ensemble Ripe Time in 2011 at the Baruch Performing Arts Center. It was adapted by Ellen McLaughlin, and directed and devised by Rachel Dickstein. It was nominated for a 2012 Drama League award for Outstanding Production, a Drama Desk nomination for Outstanding Score (Gina Leishman) and a Joe A. Calloway Award nomination for outstanding direction (Rachel Dickstein.)


Plaque describing Virginia's time at King's College, on the Virginia Woolf Building there
Plaque honouring Virginia Woolf on the building bearing her name, King's College, London, Kingsway
Bronze cast of Stephen Tomlin's bust of Virginia Woolf (1931) in Tavistock Square
Woolf's bust in Tavistock Square, London, by Stephen Tomlin, 1931. Erected by the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain, 2004.

Virginia Woolf is known for her contributions to 20th-century literature and her essays, as well as the influence she has had on literary, particularly feminist criticism. A number of authors have stated that their work was influenced by her, including Margaret Atwood, Michael Cunningham,[lower-alpha 22] Gabriel García Márquez,[lower-alpha 23] and Toni Morrison.[lower-alpha 24] Her iconic image[337] is instantly recognisable from the Beresford portrait of her at twenty (at the top of this page) to the Beck and Macgregor portrait in her mother's dress in Vogue at 44 (see image) or Man Ray's cover of Time magazine (see image) at 55.[338] More postcards of Woolf are sold by the National Portrait Gallery, London than of any other person.[339] Her image is ubiquitous, and can be found on products ranging from tea towels to T-shirts.[338]

Virginia Woolf is studied around the world, with organisations devoted to her, such as the Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain,[340] and The Virginia Woolf Society of Japan. In addition, trusts—such as the Asham Trust—encourage writers in her honour.[177] Although she had no descendants, a number of her extended family are notable.[341]

Monuments and memorials

Statue of Virginia Woolf in Richmond created by Laury Dizengremel

In 2013, Woolf was honoured by her alma mater of King's College London with the opening of the Virginia Woolf Building on Kingsway, with a plaque commemorating her time there and her contributions (see image),[342][343] together with this exhibit depicting her accompanied by a quotation "London itself perpetually attracts, stimulates, gives me a play & a story & a poem" from her 1926 diary.[344] Busts of Virginia Woolf have been erected at her home in Rodmell, Sussex and at Tavistock Square, London where she lived between 1924 and 1939.

In 2014, she was one of the inaugural honorees in the Rainbow Honor Walk, a walk of fame in San Francisco 's Castro neighbourhood noting LGBTQ people who have "made significant contributions in their fields".[345]

Woolf Works, a women's co-working space in Singapore, opened in 2014 and was named after her in tribute to the essay A Room of One's Own;[346] it also has many other things named after it (see the essay's article). A campaign was launched in 2018 by Aurora Metro Arts and Media to erect a statue of Woolf in Richmond, where she lived for 10 years. The statue shows her on a bench overlooking the river Thames.[347] In November 2022 the statue, created by sculptor Laury Dizengremel, was unveiled.[348] It is the first full-size statue of Woolf.[349]

Selected publications

  See (Kirkpatrick Clarke), (VWS 2018), (Carter 2002)


Short stories





Essay collections


Autobiographical writing

Diaries and notebooks


Photograph albums

  1. Album 1 MS Thr 557 (1863–1938)
  2. Album 2 MS Thr 559 (1909–1922)
  3. Album 3 MS Thr 560 (1890–1933)
  4. Album 4 MS Thr 561 (1890–1947)
  5. Album 5 MS Thr 562 (1892–1938)
  6. Album 6 MS Thr 563 (1850–1900)



  1. Leslie Stephen treasured this photograph, saying it "makes my heart tremble"[9]
  2. According to Helena Swanwick, sister of Walter Sickert
  3. Quention Bell speculates that their relationship formed the background to their mutual friend Henry James' Altar of the Dead[16]
  4. Woolf provides insight into her early life in her autobiographical essays, including Reminiscences (1908),[20] 22 Hyde Park Gate (1921),[21] and A Sketch of the Past (1940).[22] Other essays that provide insight into this period include Leslie Stephen (1932).[23] Leslie Stephen was originally published in The Times on 28 November 1932 and republished posthumously in 1950 in The Captain's death bed: and other essays, and eventually, in the Collected Essays Volume 5[24]
  5. The line separating the additional floors of 1886 can be clearly seen.[38]
  6. There was no furniture upstairs and the cold water tap did not function
  7. (As of 2018) The house still stands, though much altered, on Albert Road, off Talland Road
  8. A notice was posted to the effect that the St Ives Nursing Association had hired "a trained nurse ... under the direction of a Committee of Ladies to attend upon the SICK POOR of St Ives free of cost and irrespective of Creed" and that "gifts of old linen" should be sent to Mrs E Hain or Mrs Leslie Stephen, of Talland House and Hyde Park Gate. St Ives, Weekly Summary, Visitors' List and Advertiser 2 September 1893.[43] The phrase "irrespective of Creed" echoes her axiom "Pity has no creed" in Agnostic Women 1880 (see Quotations)
  9. Virginia recreated this scene in To the Lighthouse[41][3]
  10. King's College began providing lectures for women in 1871, and formed the Ladies' Department in 1885. In 1900 women were allowed to prepare for degrees. Later it became Queen Elizabeth College[68]
  11. The Stephen sisters attended the May Ball in 1900 and 1901,[73] where they had to be chaperoned by their cousin, Katharine Stephen, then librarian at Newnham College, Cambridge, a women's college[74]
  12. 3 May 1927 to Vita Sackville-West[95]
  13. James Kenneth Stephen was the son of James Fitzjames Stephen, Leslie Stephen's older brother
  14. Lady Margaret was the second daughter of Henry Herbert, 4th Earl of Carnarvon.
  15. Much later, in the 1960s, Leonard Woolf lists those people he considered as being "Old Bloomsbury" as: Vanessa and Clive Bell, Virginia and Leonard Woolf, Adrian and Karin Stephen, Lytton Strachey, Maynard Keynes, Duncan Grant, E. M. Forster, Sydney Saxon-Turner, Roger Fry, Desmond and Molly MacCarthy and later David Garnett and Julian, Quentin and Angelica Bell. Others add Ottoline Morrell, Dora Carrington and James and Alix Strachey. The "core" group are considered to be he Stephens and Thoby's closest Cambridge friends, Leonard Woolf, Clive Bell, Lytton Strachey and Saxon Sydney-Turner.[105][106]
  16. Katherine Laird ("Ka") Cox (1887–1938): The orphaned daughter of a wealthy stockbroker, Ka attended Newnham College and was the second treasurer of the Cambridge Fabian Society, and became both friend and nurse to Virginia Woolf.[110][111][112]
  17. Demolished in 1936 to make way for the Pharmacy School[125][126] A commemorative plaque on the school now marks the site (see image)[127]
  18. It has been suggested that Woolf bound books to help cope with her depression, as is hinted at in her writing: "A great part of every day is not lived consciously. One walks, eats, sees things, deals with what has to be done; the broken vacuum cleaner; ... cooking dinner; bookbinding."[153]
  19. Virginia was somewhat disparaging about the exterior of Little Talland House, describing it as an "eyesore" (Letter to Violet Dickinson 29 January 1911) and "inconceivably ugly, done up in patches of post-impressionist colour" (Letters, no. 561, April 1911). However she and Vanessa decorated the interior, "staining the floors the colours of the Atlantic in a storm" (Letters, no. 552, 24 January 1911)[170]
  20. Sometimes spelled "Asheham". Demolished 1994[151]
  21. "Goat" was also a term of ridicule that George Duckworth used towards Virginia, "he always called me 'the poor goat' "(Letter to Vanessa 13 May 1921)[187]
  22. "Like my hero Virginia Woolf, I do lack confidence. I always find that the novel I'm finishing, even if it's turned out fairly well, is not the novel I had in my mind."[334]
  23. "after having read Ulysses in English as well as a very good French translation, I can see that the original Spanish translation was very bad. But I did learn something that was to be very useful to me in my future writing—the technique of the interior monologue. I later found this in Virginia Woolf, and I like the way she uses it better than Joyce."[335]
  24. "I wrote on Woolf and Faulkner. I read a lot of Faulkner then. You might not know this, but in the '50s, American literature was new. It was renegade. English literature was English. So there were these avant-garde professors making American literature a big deal. That tickles me now."[336]
  25. Originally published in 1976, the discovery in 1980 of a 77-page typescript acquired by the British Library, containing 27 pages of new material necessitated a new edition in 1985. In particular, 18 pages of new material was inserted between pp. 107–125 of the first edition. Page 107 of that edition resumes as page 125 in the second edition, so that page references to the first edition in the literature, after p. 107 are found 18–19 pages later in the second edition.[350] All page references to Sketches are to the second edition, otherwise to the first edition of Moments of Being. This added 22 new pages, and changed the pagination for the Memoir Club essays that followed by an extra 22 pages. Pagination also varies between printings of the 2nd. edition. Pages here refer to the 1985 Harvest (North American) edition


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Books and theses

Biography: Virginia Woolf

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Audiovisual media

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Bibliography notes

  1. Maurice Beck and Helen Macgregor, who ran a studio in Marylebone, were chief photographers for British Vogue.[Bibliography 2]
  2. The Roundhouse on Pipe Passage is at the west end of central Lewes. Asham House was in what became an industrial site on a west side road of the A26 south of Beddingham. Charleston Farmhouse is on a sideroad south of the A27 between Firle and Alciston

Bibliography references

External links