Virginia Woolf

Woolf, Virginia (Stephen)

Virginia (Stephen) Woolf, 1882–1941, English novelist and essayist; daughter of Sir Leslie Stephen. A successful innovator in the form of the novel, she is considered a significant force in 20th-century fiction. She was educated at home from the resources of her father's huge library. In 1912 she married Leonard Woolf, a critic and writer on economics, with whom she set up the Hogarth Press in 1917. Their home became a gathering place for a circle of artists, critics, and writers known as the Bloomsbury group. As a novelist Woolf's primary concern was to represent the flow of ordinary experience. Her emphasis was not on plot or characterization but on a character's consciousness, his thoughts and feelings, which she brilliantly illuminated by the stream of consciousness technique. She did not limit herself to one consciousness, however, but slipped from mind to mind, particularly in The Waves, probably her most experimental novel. Her prose style is poetic, heavily symbolic, and filled with superb visual images.

Woolf's early works, The Voyage Out (1915) and Night and Day (1919), were traditional in method, but she became increasingly innovative in Jacob's Room (1922), Mrs. Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), and The Waves (1931). Other experimental novels are Orlando (1928), The Years (1937), and Between the Acts (1941). She was a master of the critical essay, and some of her finest pieces are included in The Common Reader (1925), The Second Common Reader (1933), The Death of the Moth and Other Essays (1942), and The Moment and Other Essays (1948). A Room of One's Own (1929) and Three Guineas (1938) are feminist tracts. Her biography of Roger Fry (1940) is a careful study of a friend. Some of her short stories from Monday or Tuesday (1921) appear with others in A Haunted House (1944). Virginia Woolf suffered mental breakdowns in 1895 and 1915; she drowned herself in 1941 because she feared another breakdown from which she might not recover. Most of her posthumously published works were edited by her husband.


See her Writer's Diary, ed. by L. Woolf (1953) and Correspondence with Lytton Strachey, ed. by L. Woolf and J. Strachey (1956); diary, ed. by A. O. Bell (4 vol., 1979–83); letters, ed. by N. Nicolson and J. Trautmann (6 vol., 1977–82); essays, ed. by A. McNeillie and S. N. Clarke (6 vol., 1989–2000); biographies by Q. Bell (2 vol., 1972), P. Rose (1978), L. Gordon (1985), M. Rosenthal (1987), J. King (1995), P. Reid (1996), H. Lee (1997), N. Nicolson (2000), and J. Briggs (2005); studies by E. M. Forster (1942), J. Bennett (2d ed. 1964), R. Freedman (1980), and J. Marcus, ed. (1983). See also the autobiography of her husband, Leonard Sidney Woolf (5 vol., 1960–69).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2015, The Columbia University Press.

Virginia Woolf: Selected full-text books and articles

Reading Virginia Woolf By Julia Briggs Edinburgh University Press, 2006
Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse By Harold Bloom Chelsea House, 1988
Librarian’s tip: This is a book of literary criticism
Virginia Woolf's Novels and the Literary Past By Jane De Gay Edinburgh University Press, 2006
Virginia Woolf, the Intellectual, and the Public Sphere By Melba Cuddy-Keane Cambridge University Press, 2003
Outsiders Together: Virginia and Leonard Woolf By Natania Rosenfeld Princeton University Press, 2000
Virginia Woolf: Centennial Essays By Elaine K. Ginsberg; Laura Moss Gottlieb Whitston, 1983
Virginia Woolf: The Critical Heritage By Robin Majumdar; Allen McLaurin Routledge, 1997
To the Lighthouse By Virginia Woolf Harcourt, Brace & World, 1955
FREE! The Voyage Out By Virginia Woolf Blue Ribbon Books, 1920
Glass Roof: Virginia Woolf as Novelist By James Hafley University of California Press, 1954
Stanford in Turmoil: Campus Unrest, 1966-1972 By Richard W. Lyman Stanford General Books, 2009
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