British author who made an original contribution to the form of the novel - also distinguished feminist essayist, critic in The Times Literary Supplement, and a central figure of Bloomsbury group. Woolf's books were published by Hogart Press, which she founded with her husband, the critic and writer Leonard Woolf. Originally their printing machine was small enough to fit on a kitchen table, but their publications later included T.S. Eliot's Waste Land (1922), fiction by Maksim Gorky, E.M. Forster, and Katherine Mansfield, and the complete twenty-four-volume translation of the works of Sigmund Freud.
"Have you any notion how many books are written about women in the course of one year? Have you any notion how many are written by men? Are you aware that you are, perhaps, the most discussed animal in the universe?"
Virginia Woolf was born in London, as the daughter of Julia Jackson Duckworth, a member of the Duckworth publishing family, and Leslie Stephen, a literary critic, a friend of Meredith, Henry James, Tennyson, Matthew Arnold, and George Eliot, and the founder of the Dictionary of National Biography. Leslie Stephen's first wife had been the daughter of the novelist William Makepeace Thackeray. His daughter Laura from the first marriage was institutionalized because of mental retardation. In a memoir dated 1907 she wrote of her parents, "Beautiful often, even to our eyes, were their gestures, their glances of pure and unutterable delight in each other."
Woolf was educated at home by her father, and grew up at the family home at Hyde Park Gate. In mddle age she described this period in a letter to Vita Sackville-West: "Think how I was brought up! No school; mooning about alone among my father's books; never any chance to pick up all that goes on in schools—throwing balls; ragging; slang; vulgarities; scenes; jealousies!" Woolf's youth was shadowed by series of emotional shocks - her half-brother Gerald Duckworth sexually abused her and her mother died when she was in her early teens. Stella Duckworth, her half sister, took her mother's place, but died a scant two years later. Leslie Stephen, her father, suffered a slow death from cancer. When her brother Toby died in 1906, she had a prolonged mental breakdown.
Following the death of her father in 1904, Woolf moved with her sister Vanessa and two brothers to the house in Bloomsbury, which would become central to activities of the Bloomsbury group. "And part of the charm of those Thursday evenings was that they were astonishingly abstract. It was not only that Moore's book [Principia Ethica, 1903] had set us all discussing philosophy, art, religion; it was that the atmosphere - if in spite of Hawtrey I may use that word - was abstract in the extreme. The young men I have named had no 'manners' in the Hyde Park Gate sense. They criticized our arguments as severely as their own. They never seemed to notice how we were dressed or if we were nice looking or not." (from Moments of Being, ed. by Jeanne Schulkind, 1976) Vanessa agreed to marry the critic of art and literature Clive Bell. Virginia's economic situation improved she she inherited £2,500 from an aunt.
From 1905 Woolf began to write for the Times Literary Supplement. In 1912 she married the political theorist Leonard Woolf, who had returned from serving as an administarator in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Woolf published her first book, THE VOYAGE OUT, in 1915. In 1919 appeared NIGHT AND DAY, a realistic novel set in London, contrasting the lives of two friends, Katherine and Mary. JACOB'S ROOM (1922) was based upon the life and death of her brother Toby.
With TO THE LIGHTHOUSE (1927) and THE WAVES (1931)Woolf established herself as one of the leading writers of modernism. On the publication of To the Lighthouse, Lytton Strachey wrote: "It is really most unfortunate that she rules out copulation - not the ghost of it visible - so that her presentation of things becomes little more... than an arabesque - an exquisite arabesque, of course." The Waves is perhaps Woolf's most difficult novel. It follows in soliloquies the lives of six persons from childhood to old age. Louis Kronenberger noted in The New York Times that Woolf was not really corncerned with people, but "the poetic symbols, of life--the changing seasons, day and night, bread and wine, fire and cold, time and space, birth and death and change."
In these works Woolf developed innovative literary techniques in order to reveal women's experience and find an alternative to the male-dominated views of reality. In her essay 'Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown' Woolf argued that John Galsworthy, H.G. Wells and other realistic English novelist dealt in surfaces but to get underneath these surfaces one must use less restricted presentation of life, and such devices as stream of consciousness and interior monologue and abandon linear narrative.