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Woolf, Virginia

Childhood and Education
Virginia Woolf was born in London on 25th January 1882 into a family with strong literary and artistic roots. Her father, Leslie Stephen, was a leading literary author, critic, biographer and historian; her mother, Julia Jackson, was a popular model for artists of the Pre-Raphaelite movement and a philanthropist. Woolf’s literary and artistic abilities were clear from an early age, as seen in her writing for Hyde Park Gate News, the family newspaper produced by herself, her sister, Vanessa, and brother Thoby. With three siblings, and four step-siblings from Stephen and Jackson’s previous marriages, Woolf grew up within a large family.

Adult Life and Relationships
Throughout her life, Woolf was closest to her older sister, Vanessa, who would later become Vanessa Bell, renowned painter and active member of the ‘Bloomsbury Set’ – a close social group of English literary individuals, thinkers, philosophers and artists. Among them was the writer and publisher Leonard Woolf, who would later become Virginia’s husband. In 1917, Virginia and her husband set up a publishing company, Hogarth Press, which published work by their friends within the Bloomsbury Set, including Woolf’s own essay Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown, in which she examines the state of modern fiction.

Also through the Bloomsbury Set, Virginia encountered Vita Sackville-West, a successful poet and novelist. She and Woolf quickly became romantically involved. Their relationship ended in 1928, but they remained close friends until Virginia’s death in 1941. Sackville-West’s influence on Woolf is most apparent in her novel Orlando: A Biography, whose titular character is heavily based on Sackville-West.

Artist and Feminist
Woolf was as much an essayist as she was a novelist. While her fiction predominantly explores and criticises the role of social class and the impact and devastation of war, her essays discuss the quality of modern fiction and the struggles faced by female writers in the early twentieth century. Her most famous and critically acclaimed works remain her novels Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and To the Lighthouse (1927), and her essay, A Room of One’s Own (1929). It is in Woolf’s 1927 novel, To the Lighthouse, that her feminist agenda and challenging of ideals can be most clearly seen.

Illness, Depression and Suicide
Woolf battled with depression throughout her whole life, sparked by the death of her mother when Woolf was just 13. By the age of just 22, Woolf had also lost her father and her half-sister, Stella Duckworth, causing her to have a nervous breakdown. On 28th March 1941, Woolf committed suicide by drowning, walking into the River Ouse with her pockets filled with stones. Woolf left her husband Leonard a suicide letter in which she spoke of their happiness and her gratitude for his lifelong love and support.

Literary Legacy
Woolf is now considered one of the leading influencers in the modernist literary movement, and a key figure in the literary social scene of the early twentieth century. Following the rise of feminist literary criticism since the 1960s, Woolf’s work has become increasingly popular, with many identifying her as one of the first and most influential feminist writers of the twentieth century. While Woolf’s controversial personal life and relationships, and her personal tragedy and suicide, often precede her, it is her experimental novels and forceful essays for which she should be remembered.
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Adeline Virginia Stephen (Virginia Woolf) born on 25th January to Julia Jackson and Leslie Stephen

Woolf also had social connections through her extended family, including her aunt, Julia Margaret Cameron, the famous portrait photographer.

Virginia’s mother died

This event, which sparked Woolf’s first mental breakdown, was the first of many personal tragedies suffered by Woolf, including the death of her half-sister, Stella, in 1897, and the death of her brother Thoby in 1906.

Virginia’s father died

After her father’s death, Woolf was briefly institutionalised following a series of mental breakdowns.

First meeting of the Bloomsbury Set

The siblings sold the Hyde Park Gate family home and settled in a residence in the Bloomsbury area of London, which would become the favoured setting for the Bloomsbury Set’s social gatherings.

Find out more about the Bloomsbury Set


Virginia Stephen married publisher and author Leonard Woolf

Despite a happy marriage, Stephen and Woolf did not have the easiest beginnings, with Stephen telling Woolf in a letter in May 1912, ‘I feel no physical attraction in you. There are moments – when you kissed me the other day was one – when I feel no more than a rock’!

World War I

The effect of both world wars can be felt throughout Woolf’s body of work.

The Voyage Out published

Woolf’s first novel, The Voyage Out, was published

Publishing company set up

Virginia and Leonard Woolf established their publishing company, Hogarth Press.

Mrs Dalloway published


To the Lighthouse published


Orlando: A Biography published


A Room of One’s Own published


The Waves published

Although one of Woolf’s lesser-known works, this book is an interesting read that challenges the reader with its stream-of-consciousness narrative style, and rewards with its beautiful descriptions of childhood and its exploration of the self.

The Years published

Although ironically now one of Woolf’s lesser-known novels, The Years was the most successful of Woolf’s novels during her lifetime, and incidentally the last to be published in her lifetime.

Three Guineas published

Her essay offers a fascinating insight into the writer’s views on war and her commitment to pacifism.

World War II

The Second World War appears to have been more damaging to Woolf’s life than the First World War. Following the publication of her death, the British Press listed the destruction of Woolf’s London homes as a contributing factor in the depression that haunted the writer’s final years.
March 1941

Virginia Woolf committed suicide at the age of 59

Woolf’s body was not initially found. Three weeks after entering the river near her home, her body was washed up and discovered by children from the area.
July 1941

Between the Acts published posthumously by Hogarth Press