I first encountered Virginia Woolf’s writings in a 1968 night school class at Northwestern University. I was 20; working full-time in a dead-end job, the only virtue of which was that it paid for tuition and books for any college course I took. Enter Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and To the Lighthouse (1927). The reading list also included George Eliot’s Middlemarch. These two women proved to be powerful change-agents. Smart. Self-educated. Complex. At odds with their time. Like looking in a mirror.
For biographical information and an introduction to her world and life, I’d check out Virginia Woolf – Wikipedia. Her 59 years on the planet spanned from Victorian England (1882) to the first years of WWII (1941). Imagine! Victorian England. WWI. Women’s suffrage. The Great Depression. England between the wars. Automobiles. Telephones. Airplanes. The beginnings of psychoanalysis. New frontiers in literature. She and her husband, Leonard, bought a printing press and started Hogarth Press in their dining room; self-publishing their writings. Her essays and book reviews were well received. She taught at Morley College for 3 years.
Sadly, she battled with depression (probably bi-polar disorder) all of her life; most likely due to childhood sexual abuse; and committed suicide in 1941. I think it is vital to see her suicide in context, especially the context of recurring PTSD. She had already lived through the bombings of the first World War; the German Blitz of WWII had been underway in London nightly for five months. Their London home was bombed. England expected to be invaded. Her husband, Leonard, was a Jew and stories were coming to England about the fate of Jews in Europe. I can only imagine her overwhelm and dread.
In Her Own Words… (1)
“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”
“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” From A Room of One’s Own
“So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say.” From A Room of One’s Own
“As long as she thinks of a man, nobody objects to a woman thinking.” From Orlando, 1928
“The outsider will say, ‘in fact, as a woman, I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman my country is the whole world.’ ”From Three Guineas, 1938
“The history of men’s opposition to women’s emancipation is more interesting perhaps than the story of that emancipation itself.” From A Room of One’s Own
“Why are women… so much more interesting to men than men are to women?” From A Room of One’s Own
“Women have served all these centuries as looking glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size.” From A Room of One’s Own
“If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people.” From The Moment and Other Essays, 1948
“No need to hurry. No need to sparkle. No need to be anybody but oneself.” From Three Guineas
“I have a deeply hidden and inarticulate desire for something beyond the daily life.” From Moments of Being, 1985
“I will not be ‘famous’, ‘great’. I will go on adventuring, changing, opening my mind and my eyes, refusing to be stamped and stereotyped. The thing is to free one’s self: to let it find its dimensions, not be impeded.” From A Writer’s Diary
“By hook or by crook, I hope that you will possess yourselves of money enough to travel and to idle, to contemplate the future or the past of the world, to dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream.” From A Room of One’s Own
“What is the meaning of life? That was all- a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years, the great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead, there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one.” From To the Lighthouse
“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.” From Mrs. Dalloway
“I enjoy almost everything. Yet I have some restless searcher in me. Why is there not a discovery in life? Something one can lay hands on and say “This is it”? My depression is a harassed feeling. I’m looking: but that’s not it — that’s not it. What is it? And shall I die before I find it?” From A Writer’s Diary
Other Works by Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf Documentary
Virginia Woolf’s ‘Mrs Dalloway’
- Bell, Quentin. Virginia Woolf: A Biography. New York, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972.
- Dunn, Jane. A Very Close Conspiracy: Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf. Boston: Little, Brown, 1990.
- Gordon, Lyndall. Virginia Woolf: A Writer’s Life. New York: Norton, 1984; 1991.
- Leaska, Mitchell. Granite and Rainbow: The Hidden Life of Virginia Woolf. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1998.
- Lee, Hermione. Virginia Woolf. New York: Knopf, 1997.
- Reid, Panthea. Art and Affection: A Life of Virginia Woolf. New York: Oxford UP, 1996.