Today would have been the 136th birthday of feminist icon, Virginia Woolf.
Born in the 20th century to well-connected parents, Woolf had opportunity knocking from the literary and artistic circles of life from a young age. She showed a great interest in writing from a young age, and was described in her childhood as being an ‘exuberant’.
Despite this characterization, Woolf did not have an easy youth. She was sexually assaulted by two of her half siblings, and lost her mother to rheumatic fever at the age of thirteen. The loss of her mother led to Woolf’s first emotional breakdown. Still, she went on to receive a four-year education at King’s College in London in the late 1890’s, where she became inspired by the feminists she studied with and under. Only a few years after completing her education, Woolf became introduced to and joined the Bloomsbury group, who were an association of eccentrically passionate English writers and artists. One of her fellow Bloomsbury members, Leonard Woolf, became Virginia’s husband 1912. The two were said to have been passionately in love.
A few years into their marriage, Woolf began writing her first novel “The Voyage Out”. A few years after that novel was released, and largely due to discriminatory attitudes in publishing towards women writers, the Woolf’s set up their own printing press in their home, from which both Leonard and Virginia published an expanse of works. Woolf had received publicity for her first few novels, but it was her fourth, titled “Mrs. Dalloway” that revealed to readers Virginia Woolf’s incredible progressive ideals concerning mental illness, feminism, and homosexuality that was absolutely raved about by its readers. This novel is still well recognized and acclaimed today as it was a huge leap in the representation of women’s views in the early 20th century. A rather taboo subject, even as their rights began to be gained.
Her other novel that truly took the world by a storm was “To the Lighthouse” because of her use of stream of consciousness. Which is similar to a long, unstructured soliloquy, most commonly recognized as an element used frequently in Shakespeare’s plays. In regard to her standing in the feminist movements of the early 1900’s, her compilation of essays, “A Room of One’s Own”, gives her opinion. A Room examines women’s role in literature, and argued that a woman needed independence, both financially and physically, in order to have the agency required to philosophize and compose freely.
Throughout Woolf’s entire career, she gave lectures and wrote, from her gender-conscious position, about the world and its happenings. The elegance she showed in presenting her innovative works was revolutionary for women all over the globe. Though her decline of mental health near the end of World War 2 did lead to her suicide, Woolf’s legacy lives on through her work. Her novels continue to be celebrated and she rightfully holds a position as a great inspiration to women across the globe.
Happy birthday, Virginia!