Virginia Woolf

(1882 – 1941)

Virginia WoolfBiographical Sketch

Adeline Virginia Woolf (born Adeline Virginia Stephen; London, England, January 25, 1882 – River Ouse near Lewes, East Sussex, England, March 28, 1941) was an English writer, and one of the foremost modernists of the twentieth century.

During the interwar period, Woolf was a significant figure in London literary society and a central figure in the influential Bloomsbury Group of intellectuals, which also included, inter alia, Lytton Strachey, Clive Bell, Rupert Brooke, Duncan Grant, Virginia’s husband Leonard Woolf, economist John Maynard Keynes, and Roger Fry. The ethos of the Bloomsbury group encouraged a liberal approach to sexuality, and in 1922 she met the writer and gardener Vita Sackville-West, wife of Harold Nicolson. In 1928, Woolf presented Sackville-West with Orlando, a fantastical biography in which the eponymous hero’s life spans three centuries and both sexes. Nigel Nicolson, Vita Sackville-West’s son, wrote that “The effect of Vita on Virginia is all contained in Orlando, the longest and most charming love letter in literature.” After their affair ended, the two women remained friends until Woolf’s death in 1941.

Woolf’s most famous works include the novels Mrs Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927) and Orlando (1928), and the book-length essay A Room of One’s Own (1929), with its famous dictum, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” Raised in a home where, due to her father’s eminence as an editor, critic and biographer and his connection to William Thackeray, writers such as Henry JamesGeorge Eliot‘s long time partner George Henry Lewes, and Virginia’s honorary godfather, the poet James Russell Lowell were among the visitors to the house, 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. Her novels are highly experimental: a narrative, frequently uneventful and commonplace, is refracted – and sometimes almost dissolved – in the characters’ receptive consciousness. Intense lyricism and stylistic virtuosity fuse to create a world overabundant with auditory and visual impressions. Woolf’s works have been translated into over 50 languages, by writers such as Jorge Luis Borges and Marguerite Yourcenar.

After completing the manuscript of her last (posthumously published) novel, Between the Acts, Woolf fell into a depression similar to that which she had already experienced several times in her youth. On 28 March 1941, Woolf put on her overcoat, filled its pockets with stones, and walked into the River Ouse near her home and drowned herself.

Read more about Virginia Woolf on Wikipedia.



Novels and Novellas
  • The Voyage Out (1915)
  • Night and Day (1919)
  • Jacob’s Room (1922)
  • Mrs Dalloway (1925)
  • To the Lighthouse (1927)
  • Orlando (1928)
  • The Waves (1931)
  • Flush: A Biography (1933)
  • The Years (1937)
  • Between the Acts (1941)
Short Story Collections
  • Kew Gardens (1919)
  • Monday or Tuesday (1921)
  • A Haunted House and Other Short Stories (1944)
  • Mrs Dalloway’s Party (1973)
  • The Complete Shorter Fiction (1985)
  • Carlyle’s House and Other Sketches (2003)
  • Freshwater: A Comedy (1923)
Diaries, Letters and Travelogues
  • A Writer’s Diary (1953)
  • Moments of Being (1976)
  • The Letters of Virginia Woolf (1975–1980)
    – Six volumes, spanning the years 1888 – 1941.
  • The Diary of Virginia Woolf (1977-1984)
    – Five volumes, spanning the years 1915 – 1941.
  • Passionate Apprentice: The Early Journals, 1897 – 1909 (1990)
  • A Moment’s Liberty (1990)
  • Paper Darts: The Illustrated Letters of Virginia Woolf (1991)
  • Travels With Virginia Woolf (1993)
  • Congenial Spirits: The Selected Letters (1993)
  • The Platform of Time (2008)
Other Nonfiction
  • Modern Fiction (1919)
  • The Common Reader (1925)
  • A Room of One’s Own (1929)
  • On Being Ill (1930)
  • The London Scene (1931)
  • The Common Reader: Second Series (1932)
  • Three Guineas (1938)
  • Roger Fry: A Biography (1940)
  • The Death of the Moth and Other Essays (1942)
  • The Moment and Other Essays (1947)
  • The Captain’s Death Bed And Other Essays (1950)
  • Granite and Rainbow (1958)
  • Books and Portraits (1978)
  • Women And Writing (1979)
  • Collected Essays (1989-2000)
    – Six volumes, spanning the years 1904 – 1941.
Online editions of Virginia Woolf’s works:


A Selection of Quotes

A Room of One’s Own

“Chastity … has, even now, a religious importance in a woman’s life, and has so wrapped itself round with nerves and instincts that to cut it free and bring it to the light of day demands courage of the rarest.”

“If woman had no existence save in the fiction written by men, one would imagine her a person of the utmost importance (…); as great as a man, some think even greater. But this is woman in fiction. In fact, as Professor Trevelyan points out [in his History of England], she was locked up, beaten and flung about the room.

“Women and fiction remain, so far as I am concerned, unsolved problems.”

“II told you in the course of this paper that Shakespeare had a sister; but do not look for her in Sir Sidney Lee‘s life of the poet. She died young – alas, she never wrote a word. She lies buried where the omnibuses now stop, opposite the Elephant and Castle. Now my belief is that this poet who never wrote a word and was buried at the crossroads still lives. She lives in you and in me, and in many other women who are not here tonight, for they are washing up the dishes and putting the children to bed. But she lives; for great poets do not die; they are continuing presences; they need only the opportunity to walk among us in the flesh.”

“Women have sat indoors all these millions of years, so that by this time the very walls are permeated by their creative force, which has, indeed, so overcharged the capacity of bricks and mortar that it must needs harness itself to pens and brushes and business and politics.”

“When, however, one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even of a very remarkable man who had a mother, then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet, of some mute and inglorious Jane Austen, some Emily Bronte who dashed her brains out on the moor or mopped and mowed about the highways crazed with the torture that her gift had put her to. Indeed, I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.

“The history of men’s opposition to women’s emancipation is more interesting perhaps than the story of that emancipation itself.”

“Women have served all these centuries as looking glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size.”

“Anything may happen when womanhood has ceased to be a protected occupation.”

“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”


“He who robs us of our dreams robs us of our life.”

“As long as she thinks of a man, nobody objects to a woman thinking.”

“A woman knows very well that, though a wit sends her his poems, praises her judgment, solicits her criticism, and drinks her tea, this by no means signifies that he respects her opinions, admires her understanding, or will refuse, though the rapier is denied him, to run through the body with his pen.”

The Waves

“I want some one to sit beside after the day’s pursuit and all its anguish, after its listening, its waitings, and its suspicions. After quarreling and reconciliation I need privacy – to be alone with you, to set this hubbub in order. For I am as neat as a cat in my habits.”

“How much better is silence; the coffee cup, the table. How much better to sit by myself like the solitary sea-bird that opens its wings on the stake. Let me sit here for ever with bare things, this coffee cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves, myself being myself.”

Night and Day

“When you consider things like the stars, our affairs don’t seem to matter very much, do they?”

The Second Common Reader

“Few people ask from books what books can give us. Most commonly we come to books with blurred and divided minds, asking of fiction that it shall be true, of poetry that it shall be false, of biography that it shall be flattering, of history that it shall enforce our own prejudices. If we could banish all such preconceptions when we read, that would be an admirable beginning.”

Attributed to Woolf in the movie “The Hours,” based on the book by Michael Cunningham:

“You cannot find peace by avoiding life.”

Find more quotes by Virginia Woolf on Wikiquote and Goodreads.