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The Life of Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf born in London in 1882 by Julia Princep and Leslie Stephen as Adeline Virginia Stephen, lived as lettrist, an essayist, a short story writer, a novelist and even as a publisher. Both of her parents had each been previously married and widowed, and so consequently, she lived in a household with siblings as products of three marriages. Her mother was initially married to Herbert Duckworth and had three children with him: George, Stella and Gerald. While her father was previously married to Minny Thackeray, and had a daughter with her: Laura.

Julia and Leslie had four more children together: Vanessa, Thoby Virginia and Adrian. As Leslie Stephen was a critic, editor and biographer, the children in the household were much exposed to Victorian literature. In fact Leslie’s friends and connections included William Thackeray (his father-in-law from his first marriage), Julia Margaret Cameron, Henry James, James Russell Lowell, and George Henry Lewes, who were great influences on Virginia’s early exposure to literature. This was even more complemented by the immense library at their house on 22 Hyde Park Gate in Kensington, where she was educated.

Yes, unlike her brothers who went to the university, she received her education at home, together with her sister Vanessa. She was not at all happy with this arrangement. In a letter to Vita Sackville-West, she said: “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 in Liukkonen and Pesonen par 3). Woolf’s early life was characterized by several emotional breakdowns.

The first incident was when her mother suddenly died and just scantly two years later, her half-sister Stella, too. In 1904, his father also died because of stomach cancer, and that led to Virginia’s most alarming collapse which resulted to a brief institutionalization. After the death of her father, she was subjected to be under the control of her older stepbrother George Duckworth. This older stepbrother sexually abused her, while her sister Vanessa was also sexually abused by another stepbrother, Gerald Duckworth.

In her work “Sketch of the Past” (1939), she described the moment of sexual abuse: “I can remember the feel of his hands going under my clothes; going firmly and steadily lower and lower, I remember how I hoped that he would stop; how I stiffened and wriggled as his hand approached my private parts. But he did not stop. ” (qtd. in Liukkonen and Pesonen par 3). Shortly after, her sister Vanessa and his brother Adrian decided to sell the house in 22 Hyde Park Gate and they moved at 46 Gordon Square in Bloomsbury.

In that year, 1904, she started to work at Mortley College as a tutor. Simultaneously, she also wrote book reviews for the Times Literary Movement. In 1905, the Bloomsbury Group was formed, which started with discussions of literary and artistic issues made with friends and relatives. The group included her sister Vanessa, Clive Bell (who became her sister’s husband), Duncan Grant, E. M. Forster, Roger Fry, Lytton Strachey, John Maynard Keynes, David Garnett, and Leonard Woolf (who eventually became Virginia’s husband). Woolf was an active advocate for women’s suffrage.

In fact, she became a member of the People’s Suffrage Federation. She also became a member of the radical organization Women’s Co-operative Guild, which was headed by Margaret Llewelyn Davies. In 1912, as mentioned earlier, Virginia got married to the writer and political theorist Leonard Woolf who was of Jewish descent. While Virginia had anti-Jewish attitudes, she loved her husband dearly. The year after their marriage, Virginia had another severe mental breakdown, and her loving husband, patiently nursed her until she recovered.

In 1915, after she recovered, “The Voyage Out”, her very first novel, was published. By the year 1917, the Hogarth Press was founded by her and her husband. In the next years, it is there where her novels were published, along with the works by Laurens van der Post, T. S. Eliot and other writers. In 1919, she published her novel “Night and Day” which dealt with women’s suffrage and a realistic story concerning her two friends, Mary and Katherine. “Jacob’s Room” was published in 1922, which is a novel about Jacob Flanders’ story.

Jacob Flanders participated in the World Ward I as a soldier and the story was based upon the life and death of Virginia’s brother Thoby, who died at the age 26 because of an illness. By the year 1925, the novel “Mrs. Dalloway” appeared. It was a novel with a story of little action, but with movements from flashbacks and then back to the present and then back again. It is a novel woven from the insights of a number of people in just a single day. “To the Lighthouse” came out in 1927 which has tripartite structure with it’s focal figure, Mrs.

‘ Ramsay, was based on Julia Princep, Virginia’s mother. Besides that, other figures from the book were also based from the memories of the Woolf family. One of the fundamental beliefs of the Bloomsbury group is that of discouraging sexual exclusivity. So in 1922, Virginia began a lesbian relationship with Vita Sackville-West (Harold Nicolson’s wife), a writer and a gardener. Their sexual relationship lasted throughout the span of 1920s and in 1928, Virginia Woolf published “Orlando”, which she dedicated to Vita Sackville-West.

The fantastical biography dealt with the theme of sexual ambiguity. The novel was regarded by Nigel Nicolson as “the longest and most charming love letter in literature. ” (qtd in Koymasky). After the affair ended, the two women still remained friends. In 1929, she released the novel “A Room of One’s Own”, where her most famous statement came from, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction” (qtd in Liukkonen and Pesonen par 12). This became one of the most important early books in feminism.

It explored the independence of women in economic terms and tackled the consequences of a society that’s dominated by the male species. She reinforced her stance on feminism in her work published in 1938, “Three Guineas, where she encouraged every women to take reign on their lives and make their own mark in their history and in literature. Besides being a novelist, as was mentioned in the early part of this paper, Virginia Woolf was also an essayist. And in between writing novels, from 1905 she was able to write and publish around 500 essays in collections and periodicals.

Her essays have a dialogic style, the her readers feel as if they are directly addressed because of the conversational tone of her works. A significant number of her works are autobiographical in nature. While she has been literary productive through the years, she had recurring bout of depression throughout. In the outbreak of World War II, her mental instability aggravated and on March 28, 1941, she fully-loaded her overcoat pockets with stones and drowned herself in the River Ouse which was near their home in Rodmell, Sussex. Her husband was in the garden at that time, all along thinking that his wife was at the house.

But when his husband went home for lunch that day, he did not find her anywhere in the house or garden and he felt that he would certainly find her down the river. Across the fields and down the river he ran in search for her and immediately after arriving there, he saw her walking-stick lying on the riverbank, but she was nowhere in sight. He searched her for sometime and when it was unsuccessful, she went home and reported the incident to the police. Three weeks after, Virginia Woolf was found floating by the river by some children. In her suicide note addressed to her husband, she said:

“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 I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier ’til this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can’t even write this properly.

I can’t read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that — everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer. I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been. V. ” (Phyllis 243). Despite her unfortunate ending, Virginia Woolf left behind her a legacy and feminist ideals that paved the way for modern feminism.

She wrote to prove to everyone that women are not lesser beings, that female writers are not inferior as they were stereotyped. She established herself as an example to everyone, liberating them, letting them know that they can be more than what they were brought up to be and they can go against what the society dictates them to be at their time. She wrote because she wanted the world to know that women can write, and even more than that, that women are intellectual beings as well. She encourages every woman, to be independent and to create their own space in this world. Mrs. Dalloway

The question is, why did Woolf write the novel Mrs. Dalloway? According to John Mepham: “Before she wrote Mrs. Dalloway, Woolf had written some short stories about Clarissa Dalloway. She wanted to write about this party hostess because she was interested in “party consciousness” (Mepham par 2). And Cunningham further writes: “At this moment, there are infinite possibilities, whole hours ahead. She can feel it inside her… There’s “an all but indescribable second self, or rather a parallel, purer self” (qtd in Lombardi, “The Hours: A Descent of Woolf’s Mrs. ‘ Dalloway” par 6). Mrs.

Dalloway is a novel that happens in just a single day in June, albeit it has flashbacks from the past of the characters that makes the present day a lot more meaningful and packed than any other ordinary day. The central figure, the protagonist Clarissa Dalloway, is the wife of a politician, Richard Dalloway. The story begins when in the morning, Clarissa decides to buy the flowers herself for the party that she was hosting that evening. She goes around her London neighborhood and along the course of her day, she remembers snippets of her life, and she begins to wonder of her choice of husband.

Her musings are made more complicated by Peter Walsh, a former suitor and friend, who paid her a visit when she got home. Peter never really got over her rejection of him when he proposed marriage, even years and years after the incident. Clarissa also remembers how strongly she felt for Sally Seton, whom she was strongly attracted to back in her younger years. Even after 34 years, she could still vividly remember how special she feels the kiss they shared was. Woolf wrote: “She and Sally fell a little behind.

Then came the most exquisite moment of her whole life passing a stone urn with flowers in it Sally stopped; picked a flower; kissed her on the lips. The whole world might have turned upside down! The others disappeared; there she was alone with Sally. And she felt that she had been given a present, wrapped up, and told just to keep it, not to look at it – a diamond, something infinitely precious, wrapped up, which, as they walked (up and down, up and down), she uncovered, or the radiance burnt through, the revelation, the religious feeling!

” (Woolf 36) This scenario reveals to us how Mrs. Dalloway is similar to its author, Virginia Woolf. Woolf as has been written earlier on, had a lesbian affair with another writer, Vita Sackville-West, characterized by an interesting sexual relationship that went on for several years. The story shows how both Clarissa and Sally are already married with their respective husbands, but even after decades, Clarissa still feels strongly for her. The parallelism between Mrs. Dalloway and Woolf does not end there though.

Another character in the story, Septimus Smith, whom Clarissa never personally met, played a vital role in highlighting two of the themes of the novel — mental illness and death by suicide. Septimus Smith, a World War I veteran, who’s suffering from “shell shock” and having hallucinations and bouts of depression is similar to Woolf’s condition and relapses of bipolar disorder. In fact, when Septimus committed suicide by throwing his self out of the window, it actually depicts Woolf’s attempt for suicide too by exactly the same means.

Although Woolf was not successful in that attempt though, she eventually was able to complete the suicide act by drowning herself in a river. In the party she was hosting, Mrs. Dalloway learned of the death of Septimus and she admired him for the act, for having the courage to preserve his own happiness. In every sense of it, the story shows how Woolf was thinking and feeling by translating them into Clarissa’s thoughts and feelings. They were almost the same, almost like one. Regarding Virginia Woolf’s aesthetics in writing this novel, John Crawford said: “Among Mrs.

Woolf’s contemporaries, there are not a few who have brought to the traditional forms of fiction, and the stated modes of writing, idioms which cannot but enlarge the resources of speech and the uses of narrative. Virginia Woolf is almost alone, however, in the intricate yet clear art of her composition. ” (Crawford par. 2) It was intricate, in the sense that, she was able to interweave a narrative with voices of different characters, and giving the readers a feeling of being suspended in time while reader the narrative, but at the same time moving back in time while the story still goes on with the day.

Mrs. Dalloway is one of the most admired works of Virginia Woolf. A lot of reviews, criticisms, and analyses were drawn out from this novel. Esther Lombardi said: “In the end, we can discuss the impact this novel has made upon society, upon writers since 1925, and upon our consciousness. The critical material collected with this novel discusses many of the controversies and ambiguities that surround and pervade the novel, but they also make us understand something of the dialogue that has been inspired by Virginia Woolf: her life, works, and perhaps particularly by Mrs.Dalloway. ” (“The Mrs. ‘ Dalloway Reader” par 7).

Works Cited: Crawford, John W. “The Perfect Hostess”. The New York Times. n. d. 1 Aug, 2009 <http://74. 125. 153. 132/search? q=cache:NNDJWwuB3VkJ:www. nytimes. com/ books/97/06/08/reviews/woolf-dalloway. html+review+on+mrs+dalloway&cd= 4&hl=tl&ct=clnk&gl=ph> Koymasky, Matt and Andrej. “Famous GTLB – Virginia Woolf”. n. d. 9 September, 2008 http://andrejkoymasky. com/liv/fam/biow3/wool2. html Liukkonen, Petri and Pesonen, Ari. “Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)”.

Books and Writers. 2008. 1 Aug 2009. <http://www. kirjasto. htm> Lombardi, Esther. “The Hours: A Descent of Woolf’s Mrs’ Dalloway”. n. d. 1 Aug, 2009 <http://classiclit. about. com/od/woolfvirginia/a/aa_mrsdalloway_2. htm> —. “The Mrs’ Dalloway Reader”. n. d. 1 Aug, 2009 http://classiclit. about. com/od/mrsdalloway/fr/aafpr_mrsdallow. htm Mepham, John. “Mrs Dalloway”. The Literary Encyclopedia. 7 July 2001. 1 August 2009 <http://www. litencyc. com/php/sworks. php? rec=true&UID=3462> Phyllis, Rose. “Woman of Letters: A Life of Virginia Woolf”. Routledge, 1986. Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. London: Hogarth Press, 1925.

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