Virginia (Stephen) Woolf

Woolf, Virginia (Stephen), 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 Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.