Today in Literary History – January 25, 1882 – Virginia Woolf is born

Virginia Woolf, the novelist and essayist was born in London on January 25, 1882 as Adeline Virginia Stephen. She was born into the wealthy and very literary family. She and her sister Vanessa were educated at home by their parents (somewhat haphazardly it seems) and the sisters were encouraged to follow their own literary tastes and efforts.

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The Stephen household was generally filled with eminent writers and intellectuals. The Stephens household also held its demons. Both Virginia and Vanessa were sexually abused by their older half-brothers. Woolf’s parents both died when she was young.

After Woolf married writer Leonard Woolf (who she described as “a penniless Jew) the pair set up their own literary salon in their home in the Bloomsbury neighbourhood of London. The so-called Bloomsbury Group became one of the most influential literary and academic coteries in the early years of the 20th century. John Maynard Keynes, E. M. Forster and Lytton Strachey, were among the founding members.

Virginia and Leonard also started their own publishing house, Hogarth Press, which published experimental fiction and poetry in deluxe editions. The Press published books by Virginia, Leonard and Vanessa as well as T.S. Eliot and Vita Sackville-West.

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Woolf herself published “modernist” novels that often used stream of conscious narrative (Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, Orlando) and essays, most famously A Room of One’s Own, which has become a classic of feminist literature.

Despite her great productivity,Woolf herself was plagued throughout her life by serious mental illness and suffered several breakdowns and periods of hallucinations and delirium. Woolf took her own life by drowning in 1941 at the age of fifty-nine.

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