On this day in 1882 Virginia Woolf was born, Adeline Virginia Stephen.
One of the foremost modernists of the 20th century, and considered a major innovator in the English language, Woolf’s works have been translated into over 50 languages. Woolf was closely connected to the literary and artistic heavyweights of the day. Her mother was the niece of Julia Margaret Cameron, and was photographed by her, as well as serving as a model for Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood painter, Edward Burne-Jones. Her father was a founding editor of the Dictionary of National Biography and his first father-in-law (before he married Virginia’s mother) was William Thackeray. Her sister Vanessa, a painter, married Clive Bell; both of whom were members of the Bloomsbury Group, the collection of interwar intellectuals that Woolf also belonged to. In 1917, Woolf founded the Hogarth Press in conjunction with her husband Leonard Woolf, which published her novels as well as T.S.Eliot, Laurens van der Post and commissioned works by contemporary artists including Dora Carrington and Vanessa Bell.
Virginia Woolf bibliography highlights (all published by Oxford World’s Classics):
Mrs Dalloway (1925)
Mrs Dalloway offers the reader an impression of a single June day in London in 1923. Clarissa Dalloway, the wife of a Conservative member of parliament, is preparing to give an evening party, while the shell-shocked Septimus Warren Smith hears the birds in Regent’s Park chattering in Greek. There seems to be nothing, except perhaps London, to link Clarissa and Septimus. She is middle-aged and prosperous, with a sheltered happy life behind her; Smith is young, poor, and driven to hatred of himself and the whole human race. Yet both share a terror of existence, and sense the pull of death.
To the Lighthouse (1927)
Inspired by the lost bliss of her childhood summers in Cornwall, Virginia Woolf produced one of the masterworks of English literature in To the Lighthouse. It concerns the Ramsay family and their summer guests on the Isle of Skye before and after the First World War. As children play and adults paint, talk, muse and explore, relationships shift and mutate. A captivating fusion of elegy, autobiography, socio-political critique and visionary thrust, it is the most accomplished of all Woolf’s novels. On completing it, she thought she had exorcised the ghosts of her imposing parents, but she had also brought form to a book every bit as vivid and intense as the work of Lily Briscoe, the indomitable artist at the centre of the novel.
Orlando tells the tale of an extraordinary individual who lives through centuries of English history, first as a man, then as a woman; of his/her encounters with queens, kings, novelists, playwrights, and poets, and of his/her struggle to find fame and immortality not through actions, but through the written word. At its heart are the life and works of Woolf’s friend and lover, Vita Sackville-West, and Knole, the historic home of the Sackvilles. But as well as being a love letter to Vita, Orlando also mocks the conventions of biography and history, teases the pretensions of contemporary men of letters, and wryly examines sexual double standards.
A Room of One’s Own/ Three Guineas (1929/1938)
In A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas, Virginia Woolf considers with energy and wit the implications of the historical exclusion of women from education and from economic independence. In A Room of One’s Own, she examines the work of past women writers, and looks ahead to a time when women’s creativity will not be hampered by poverty, or by oppression. In Three Guineas, however, Woolf argues that women’s historical exclusion offers them the chance to form a political and cultural identity which could challenge the drive towards fascism and war.
The Waves (1931)
Woolf described this work on the title-page of the first draft as `the life of anybody’. The Waves traces the lives and interactions of seven friends in an exploratory and sensuous narrative. The Waves was conceived, brooded on, and written during a highly political phase in Woolf’s career, when she was speaking on issues of gender and of class. This was also the period when her love affair with Vita Sackville-West was at its most intense. The work is often described as if it were the product of a secluded, disembodied sensibility. Yet its writing is supremely engaged and engaging, providing an experience which the reader is unlikely to forget.
Other Woolf titles in the Oxford World Classics series:
The Voyage Out (1915)
Night and Day (1919)
Jacob’s Room (1922)
Between the Acts (1941)
The Mark on the Wall and other short fiction