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Virginia Woolf

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Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf (January 25, 1882March 28, 1941) was a British author and feminist. Between the world wars, Woolf was a significant figure in London literary society and a member of the Bloomsbury Group.

Contents

Life and work

Born Adeline Virginia Stephen in London, Woolf was brought up and educated in a classically Victorian household at 22 Hyde Park Gate. In 1895, following the death of her mother, she had the first of several nervous breakdowns. She later indicated in an autobiographical account, "Moments of Being," that she and her sister Vanessa Bell had been sexually abused by their half-brothers, George and Gerald Duckworth. Following the death of her father (Sir Leslie Stephen, a well-known editor and literary critic) in 1904, she and her sister, Vanessa, moved to a home in Bloomsbury, forming the initial kernel for the intellectual circle known as the Bloomsbury group. While nowhere near a simple recapitulation of the coterie's ideals, Woolf's work can be understood as consistently in dialogue with Bloomsbury, particularly its tendency (informed by G.E. Moore, among others) towards doctrinaire rationalism.

She began writing professionally in 1905, initially for the Times Literary Supplement. In 1912 she married Leonard Woolf, a civil servant and political theorist. Her first novel, The Voyage Out, was published in 1915. This novel was originally titled "Melymbrosia," but due to criticism Virginia Woolf received about the political nature of the book, she changed the novel and its title. She went on to publish novels and essays as a public intellectual to both critical and popular success. Much of her work was self-published through the Hogarth Press. She is hailed as one of the greatest novelists of the twentieth century and one of the foremost Modernists, though she disdained some artists in this category, such as James Joyce.

Woolf is considered one of the greatest innovators in the English language. In her works she experimented with stream-of-consciousness, the underlying psychological as well as emotional motives of characters, and the various possibilities of fractured narrative and chronology. She has, in the words of E.M. Forster, pushed the English language "a little further against the dark," and her literary achievements and creativity are influential even today.

Woolf's reputation declined sharply during the post-WW2 period, but her eminence was re-established with the surge of Feminist criticism in the 1970s. After a few more ideologically based altercations, it seems that consenus communis has been reached re her stature as a novelist: Virginia Woolf is probably not among the greatest, but she certainly is in the category of the 20th century great imaginative prose writers. Reaction against her work has had much to do with the change of sensibility and literary modes dominant in the postwar era?Woolf's novels, in this view, epitomized the narrow world of the upper-middle class English intelligentsia peopled with delicate, but ultimately trivial and self-centred, introspection-obsessed individuals. One should not overlook the conspicuous absence (or scarcity) of sexual element in representation of her female characters's soliloquizing selves: a weakness all too visible due to the stream of consciousness technique, devised to disclose workings of protagonists's inner minds- but, as far as the revealed psychic content was concerned, Woolf's women might have lived in a Victorian novel. Worse yet- her work was judged to be lacking in universality and depth, without power to communicate anything of emotional or ethical relevance to the disillusioned common reader, weary of the 1920s aesthetes who seemed to belong to an era definitely closed and buried. Virginia Woolf's peculiarities as a fiction writer have tended to obscure her central strength: Woolf 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's receptive consiousnesses; intense lyricism and stylistic virtuosity fuse to create a world overabundant with auditory and visual impressions; Woolf is at her best in rendering self-soliloquizing existences whose perpetual interor dialogue frequently irradiates Joycean epiphanies on the universals of human condition. The intensity of Virginia Woolf's poetic vision of life elevates ordinary, sometimes banal misenscene of the greater part (with the exception of "Orlando" and "Between the Acts") of her noves: "Mrs. Dalloway" centers around Clarissa Dalloway, a middle aged society woman's efforts to organize a party; "To the Lighthouse" is a story on the Ramsay family holiday and the family members' interlocking tensions resolved in a visit to the lighthouse; also, one of the themes is the struggle in the creative process that beset painter Lily Briscoe; "The Waves" present a group of six friends whose reflections (closer to recitatives than to the interior monologues proper) create a wave-like atmosphere closer to the prose poem than to the plot-centred novel. Her last and most ambitious work, "Between the Acts" sums and magnifies Woolf's chief preoccupations: transformation of life through the 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 entire English history.

On March 28, 1941, Woolf filled her pockets with stones, and drowned herself in the River Ouse, near her home in Rodmell. She left a suicide note for her husband: "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 can't concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness... I can't fight it any longer, I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work" (The Letters of Virginia Woolf, vol. VI, p. 481).

Hermione Lee's Virginia Woolf provides an authoritative examination of Woolf's life, updating the earlier biography by Woolf's own nephew, Quentin Bell.

Modern scholarship

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. Louise A. DeSalvo offers treatment of the incestuous sexual abuse Woolf suffered as a young woman in her book Virginia Woolf: The Impact of Childhood Sexual Abuse on her Life and World. Her fiction is also studied for its insight into shell shock, war, class, and modern British society. Her best-known nonfiction work, A Room of One's Own and Three Guineas, discusses the largely failed role of women in the literary canon and the future of women in education and society.

In 2002, The Hours, a film loosely based on Woolf's life and her novel Mrs. Dalloway, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. It did not win, but Nicole Kidman was awarded the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of Woolf in the movie. The film was adapted from Michael Cunningham's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1998 novel of the same name. The Hours was Woolf's working title for Mrs. Dalloway. Many Virginia Woolf scholars are highly critical of the portrayal of Woolf and her works in the film, and neither the film nor the novel should be considered as an accurate account or literary criticism of Mrs. Dalloway.

See also

Bibliography

Fiction

Fiction/Non-Fiction cross-over

Non-Fiction

  • The Common Reader (1925)
  • A Room of One's Own (1929)
  • The Second Common Reader (1933)
  • Three Guineas (1938)
  • Roger Fry: A Biography (1940)
  • The Death of the Moth and Other Essays (1942)
  • The Moment and Other Essays (1948)
  • Moments of Being
  • Modern Fiction (1919)

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