Today in women’s issues we will look at the British author Virginia Woolf who was one of the most celebrated writers of her time. She was born in London in 1882. She was a member of the elitist Bloomsbury Group—or Bloomsbury Set which was an influential group of associated English writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists.” Actually it was her presence that gave the group its status.
The early years
Virginia grew up around strong intellectual people. Her father was a notable historian, author, critic and mountaineer. Her mother, Julia, was a beauty born in British India. She was the first cousin of the temperance leader Lady Henry Somerset.
Virginia Woolf was raised in an enriched environment filled with influential relatives and friends who were members of the Victorian literary society. It was no surprise that she destined to write. The daughters were educated in the english literature but did not have the opportunity to go to Cambridge like the boys. Virginia Woolf resented that she was not given the opportunity to have a formal education at Cambridge University like her brothers.
Her work “To The Lighthouse” is enriched with her happiest memories of the landscape she cherished during her childhood memories of summer vacations in St. Ives in Cornwall.
From a very young age it was noted that Virginia was not mentally stable. Her first nervous breakdown occurred when her mother died and her sister Stella died two years latter. Virginia Woolf was just thirteen when she was confronted with her mother’s death.
Still she was able to take degree level courses which brought her into contact with the Victorian women advocates for women in higher education.
However, her father’s death in 1904 played havoc with her unstable mental health and she was hospitalized for awhile. According her the writings of her nephew she was also sexually abused by her half brothers growing up and this also led to her depression and bipolar disorder. Throughout her life she would be plagued with these serious mood swings.
Virginia married Leonard Woolf in 1912 and although he was a ‘penniless Jew” she was extremely happy with their marriage. Together they founded Hogarth Press which not only published her work but that of the great T.S. Eliot and others of notable standing at the time.
Lesbian affair and contribution to English literature
In 1922 Virginia Woolf had a lesbian affair with Vita Sackville-West. Though the affair was short lasting they remained friends until Virginia Woolf’s suicide in 1941.
According to Wikipedia, “Woolf is considered a major innovator in the English language. In her works she experimented with stream-of-consciousness and the underlying psychological as well as emotional motives of characters. Woolf's reputation declined sharply after World War II, but her importance was re-established with the growth of feminist criticism in the 1970s.[2”
Please refer to Wikipedia for more of the written works of Virginia Woolf: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia_Woolf
Views on Judaism and Christianity
Virginia Woolf’s views on Judiasm were often conflicting and led some people to believe she was an anti-semite even though she married a Jew. It is possible that the rising influence of anti-seminism of the 1920s and 1930s influenced her thought. However, She wrote in her diary: "I do not like the Jewish voice; I do not like the Jewish laugh."
Then, in a 1930 letter to the composer Ethel Smyth, quoted in Nigel Nicolson's biography Virginia Woolf, she recollects her boasts of Leonard's Jewishness confirming her snobbish tendencies, "How I hated marrying a Jew- What a snob I was, for they have immense vitality."
Nevertheless she also denounced Christianity by defending the Jews, “In another letter to Smyth, Woolf gives a scathing denunciation of Christianity, seeing it as self-righteous "egotism" and stating "my Jew has more religion in one toenail—more human love, in one hair."... Woolf and her husband Leonard hated and feared 1930s fascism with its antisemitism even before knowing they were on Hitler's blacklist. Her 1938 book Three Guineas was an indictment of fascism.”
Virginia Wool took her own life by drowning in 1941. “In her last note to her husband she wrote:
Dearest, 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…”
Virginai Woolf explored feminism in her own life and her work in the very rigid Victorian era and onward in the early 20th century. She also wrote about the disportionate power men held in society, state, and finances.
What caused her mental Illness?
Her mental illness has been written about extensively, the famous book, “Who is Afraid of Virginia Woolf the author explores the husband as the underlying reason behind her mental illness. Others writers such as Irene Coates defend the husband and portrays him as a guiding light of support for Virginia. Still others blame the sexual abuse Virginia Woolf experienced in childhood and the treatment she received from her male doctors as the underlying cause.
What we do know is that we lost a beautiful female voice too soon in life and she will always be remembered.