Here’s another of my mini author biography pages, which were originally written for the Sixth Sense Sixth Form Newspaper. The full edition of this February version is available through this link, here. Enjoy!
Virginia Woolf, one of the most reputable writers of the twentieth century, is renowned for her controversial and experimental ideas. More than anything else, though, she is remembered for the hardships that she faced in life, and the mental illness that she carried with her, leading to her eventual suicide at the age of fifty-nine.
Born Adeline Virginia Stephen, Woolf grew up in Kensington, London. Her father, Leslie Stephen, was a notable writer himself, known as a historian, author and critic, as well as being the founding editor of the Dictionary of National Biography, a work that later influenced Woolf whilst composing her biographical pieces. Julia Stephens was also an inspiring influence; after she moved to England from her birthplace in British India, she became a model for widely reputable Pre-Raphaelite painters such as Edward Burne-Jones.
3 Things that You Didn’t Know About the Real Virginia Woolf
#1 – Woolf’s first attempt to commit suicide was when she was only twenty-two. She threw herself from a window, but it just so happened that it was not high enough to cause any serious damage.
#2 – During one of her phases of insanity, Woolf was convinced that birds spoke to each other in Greek, and that King Edward VII was shouting curses from behind various pieces of shrubbery.
#3 – Woolf, being far from heterosexuality, once considered marrying writer, Lytton Strachey, purely because he was known to be homosexual and Woolf saw him as someone who could be her brother.
Particularly in modern times, Woolf’s works have been examined with a focus on feminist approaches. Her non-fiction works, such as A Room of One’s Own (1929) and Three Guineas (1938), in particular, consider the position of women in society. Woolf wrote about the difficulties that female writers experienced, as they were seen to be inferior by critics and generally at a legal and economic disadvantage to male authors. In fact, it is from the first of these texts that one of Woolf’s most famous quotes of all time originated: “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”.
A Mental Illness
Woolf’s illness was labelled in 1992 as a “manic-depressive illness”. Aside from being a homosexual feminist living in a patriarchal society, she felt trapped inside of herself. However, having experienced incestuous sexual abuse as a child, and, even in her later life, was subject to much abuse, her illness was understandable. Meanwhile, her husband, Leonard Woolf, has often been accused of encouraging her insanity, some even believing him to be responsible for her eventual suicide.
An Abrupt Ending
Woolf fell into a deep phase of depression at the beginning of the 1940s. Her home in London had been destroyed by the Blitz of World War II and she had given up hope. She wrote one last note to her husband, Leonard, making statements such as “I can’t read” and “I know that I am spoiling your life”, before she drowned herself, filling her pockets with stones and walking into the River Ouse near her family home. Woolf died, but her legacy still lives on.