Honors English 10, 6th Hour
24 April 2018
From Whimpering Pup to Howling Woolf
"Think how I was brought up! No school; mooning about alone among my father's books; never any chance to pick up all that goes on in schools—throwing balls; ragging; slang; vulgarities; scenes; jealousies!" (qtd. from Liuekkonen)
Feminist. Writer. Critic. Who could these be describing? Who on this planet holds these titles? Susan B. Anthony? Mary Wollstonecraft? Sigmund Freud? No, no, and definitely no. Why, it is none other than Adeline Virginia Woolf— or just Virginia Woolf for short— the beloved feminist writer of the 1900s. As the famous author of works such as Mrs. Dalloway and A Room of One's Own — two of her many iconic books— she gained the reputation of being an extremely skilled writer. When finding pictures of Woolf before her death, she can easily be recognized from her common side profile, and white dress (Beresford). With tea, The Beatles, and Elizabeth I, Great Britain was the home of Woolf for all her life, where she would reside with her friends and colleagues in the Bloomsbury Group. Through her words, Woolf has been able to influence feminists, everyday people, and writers; both large and small.
Before explaining what Woolf has done for the world, one must get acquainted with the writer and her backstory. In 1882, London widow Julia Duckworth gave birth to a child —a baby girl named Adeline Virginia Stephen— with her new husband, Leslie Stephen the writing critic. Both parents seemed to have a history of literature in their families; Julia Duckworth was part of the Duckworth publishing family, and Stephen a critic, with his old wife being the daughter of William Makepeace Thackeray, many writer friends, and the maker of the Dictionary of National Biography (Liuekkonen). Although Woolf was born into a book-centric household, she never went to school, due to her gender. To compensate for this, Woolf explored her father's collection of books to gain an education of her own. Eventually, this reading would lead to Virginia Woolf's intelligence as an adult. Still, her life was not all happiness and reading dad's books; when she was only six years old, her half-brother sexually assaulted the young Woolf to adulthood (Ward). Not only that, but Woolf had to deal with many mentally and emotionally draining obstacles in her life, like the death of her mother, the sexual assault, and doctors giving inefficient treatments. Eventually these would cause what Tiffiny Wolf calls "...a lifelong series of episodes of mental disturbances" (Wolf). Later, these traumatic events would leak their poison into Virginia Woolf's adult life.
After becoming an adult, Woolf's identity was beginning to form into what she is today. Because of all the anguish Woolf experienced, her psychological state was weakened, causing the episodes mentioned before. Due to this, Woolf committed suicide at the age of 59 years old from the strain on her mind. Before her depressing demise, Virginia Woolf was able to work on many successful projects with fellow writers and tasks outside of her friend group. One of those projects was the Hogarth Press, a popular British publishing company (Rahn; Liuekkonen). Before that, she was a part of the Bloomsbury group, a small party of artists, writers, and liberal thinkers living in a house in —not surprisingly— a place called Bloomsbury (Liuekkonen). Of course, most people associate Woolf with her books and novels, such as To the Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway.
Out of all the concepts Woolf left a mark on, feminism probably has the largest mark on it. For example, in her book A Room of One' s Own, Woolf describes the difficulty women must endure to make a living in society economically through the fictional character of Judith Shakespeare, the imaginary sister of William Shakespeare ("A Room..."). In Three Guineas —another decent example— Woolf complains about the gender patriarchy, and men in general. Today, when looking at many modern feminists' views, it is clear where they may have gotten their ideas from (Pujanes). In yet another work done by Virginia Woolf, Orlando, the main character transforms from being a man to a woman, and seems to become almost immortal, causing the reader to question the difference between men and women ("Orlando"). Basically, Virginia Woolf could be described as the first modern day feminist.
Years beyond Woolf's life, there are still people that become inspired by her words and philosophy. Specifically, other writers average, everyday people, and classifications for art and literature. Michael Cunningham, creator of the Mrs. Dalloway-inspired novel, The Hours, credits Woolf's book as an inspiration for choosing his career. Ironically, Cunningham was not much of a reader, and only read the piece to impress a girl he had a crush on in high school (Heitman). In modernism, Woolf became one of the figureheads of the genre, but also seemed to fuel the creation of another style: postmodernism. In Panthea Reid's article about Woolf's life and work, Reid explains that Woolf "...anticipates a postmodern awareness of the evanescence of boundaries and categories" (Reid). Outside of writing, Nicolson Sackville-West —the son of Vita Sackville-West, Virginia's lesbian lover— as a young boy played with Virginia Woolf, like catching butterflies. When talking with her, Woolf would ask the young boy extremely explicit questions, like "...the quality of the sun that had awakened him, and whether he had first put on his right or left sock while dressing" (Heitman). From these, Sackville-West gathered Woolf was trying to teach him to be more watchful of details around him (Heitman). While an odd way to teach somebody to be more attentive, maybe it could work on others.
Not surprisingly, Virginia Woolf's spheres of influence spread not only through specific people and artistic categories, but through well-known associations and clubs. In all the organizations Woolf aligned with, she was one of the founding members of these groups: the Bloomsbury group and the Hogarth Press. As mentioned before, the Bloomsbury group (or set) was a small gathering of thinkers and artisans, while the Hogarth Press was a publishing company started up by Virginia and Leonard Woolf (Rahn; Liuekkonen). In the Bloomsbury group, Woolf was able to discuss political and social beliefs with other likeminded individuals, giving the group its radical style of literature for the time. In the Hogarth Press, Woolf and her husband, Leonard Woolf, multiple unknown written works were published, from random pieces by undiscovered writers, to translations of the famous neurologist Sigmund Freud's observations (Rahn; "Seventy Years..."). In general, Woolf seemed to have a lot of prestige over these circles, seeing how she helped make them.
Feminism, people, written works, and different sets meant to protect the previous topics; between them all, they have one trait in common: all were given refinement by Virginia Woolf. Just based on Woolf's past and all the trials she has gone through, the fact she was able to become a successful writer is a miracle on its own. Plus, becoming a critic of writing just emphasizes more how skilled of a writer she is. Around Woolf's time, women were not treated as equally as they are today; usually it was bad in jobs and the economy, which Woolf criticized in many of her books. Even so, Woolf planted her seed of influence, and later grew into a large, literature tree.
Beresford, George C. A picture of young Virginia Woolf. Encyclopædia Britannica, Hulton Archive/Getty Images, www.britannica.com/biography/Virginia-Woolf
Heitman, Danny. “Virginia Woolf Was More Than Just a Women's Writer.” National Endowment for the Humanities, 2015, www.neh.gov/humanities/2015/mayjune/feature/virginia-woolf-was-more-just-womens-writer. Accessed 29 April 2018.
Liukkonen, Petri. “Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) - in Full Adeline Virginia Woolf, Original Surname Stephen.” Books and Writers, 2008, web.archive.org/web/20150128025206/http://www.kirjasto.sci.fi:80/vwoolf.htm. Accessed 29 April 2018.
“Orlando” SparkNotes, SparkNotes, www.sparknotes.com/lit/orlando/themes/. Accessed 29 April 2018.
Pujanes, Kristel Marie. “Book Review: Three Guineas by Virginia Woolf.” The Bad Bread, 8 Nov. 2013, thebadbread.com/2013/11/08/book-review-three-guineas-by-virginia-woolf/. Accessed 29 April 2018.
Rahn, Josh. “The Bloomsbury Group.” The Literature Network, 2011, www.online-literature.com/periods/bloomsbury.php. Accessed 29 April 2018.
Reid, Panthea. “Virginia Woolf.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. 21 March 2018 www.britannica.com/biography/Virginia-Woolf#ref260665. Accessed 29 April 2018.
"A Room of One's Own." British Library, 1929, www.bl.uk/works/a-room-of-ones-own. Accessed 29 April 2018.
“Seventy Years at the Hogarth Press: The Press of Virginia and Leonard Woolf” University of Delaware Library, 12 Dec. 2010, www.lib.udel.edu/ud/spec/exhibits/hogarth/. Accessed 29 April 2018.
Ward, Emma. “Virginia Woolf: The Impact of Childhood Sexual Abuse on Her Life & Work.” Literary Ladies Guide, 20 Nov. 2017, www.literaryladiesguide.com/book-description/virginia-wolf-childhood-sexual-abuse/. Accessed 29 April 2018
Wolf, Tiffiny. “The Impact of Angels, Phantoms, and Illness on Virginia Woolf.” Wake Review Literary Magazine Club, 2018, clubs.waketech.edu/wake-review/magazine/creative-writing/non-fiction/the-impact-of-angels-phantoms-and-illness-on-virginia-woolf-tiffiny-wolf/. Accessed 29 April 2018.