Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf “Virginia Woolf – A Life of Struggle and Affliction” The literary critic Queenie Leavis, who had been born into the British lower middle class and reared three children while writing and editing and teaching, thought Virginia Woolf a preposterous representative of real women’s lives: “There is no reason to suppose Mrs. Woolf would know which end of the cradle to stir.” Yet no one was more aware of the price of unworldliness than Virginia Woolf. Her imaginative voyages into the waveringly lighted depths of “Mrs. Dalloway” and “To the Lighthouse” were partly owed to a freedom from the literal daily need of voyaging out – to the shop or the office or even the nursery. Her husband, Leonard Woolf, believed that without the aid of her inheritance his wife would probably not have written a novel at all. For money guaranteed not just time but intellectual liberty.

“I’m the only woman in England free to write what I like,” she exulted in her diary in 1925, after the publication of “Mrs. Dalloway” by the Hogarth Press, which she and Leonard had set up to free her from the demands of publishers and editors. What she liked to write turned out to be, of course, books that gave voice to much that had gone unheard in the previous history of writing things down: the dartings and weavings of the human mind in the fleet elaborations of thought itself (Malcomi, 4). “Mrs. Dalloway” is a finespun tribute to the complexities of social interaction on a single day in London in 1923, ending with a shallow society hostess’s glittering party; it is also one of the Patton 2 written about the effects of World War I. Virginia Woolf was not without politics or fierce worldly concerns (4-5). The diaries and letters spanning both world wars are filled with bulletins arguments, terrors of distant armies and next-door bombs and the precariousness of the entire civilization of which she knew herself to be a late, probably too exquisite bloom. Her art is less direct.

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In her novels the resonance of great events sounds from deep within individual lives. More than any other writer, Woolf has shown us how the most far-off tragedies become a part of the way we think about our daily expectations, our friends, the colors of a park, the weather, the possibility of going on or the decision not to. The old image of Virginia Woolf the snob has largely given way to various loftier characterizations: Virginia Woolf the literary priestess, or the Queen of ever-titillating Bloomsbury, or – most influentially – the vital feminist whose requisite “room of her own” came to seem the very workshop in which such books as “The Second Sex” and “The Feminine Mystique” were later produced (Reinhart, 27). Recently, however, Woolf has been granted a too modern female pantheon: the victim. The discovered molestations of her childhood, the bouts of madness that led to her suicide, seem now to commend rather than to qualify her right to speak for women. But Woolf’s personal example is in the strength and the steady professionalism that kept her constantly at work – the overambitious failures as sweated over as the lyric triumphs. For all her fragility as a woman, she was a writer of gargantuan appetite, and she knew full well how much she intended to enclose in her fine but prodigious, spreading, unbreakable webs.

“Happier today than I was yesterday,” she wrote in her diary in January 1920, “having this afternoon arrived at some idea of new form for a new novel (Reinhart, 36). Suppose one thing of another .. only not for 10 pages but for 200 or so – doesn’t that give the looseness and Patton 3 lightness I want; doesn’t that get closer and yet keep form and speed, and enclose everything, everything?” She not only said that she was depressed, but that she was going ‘mad’ again, and beginning to hear voices. She could not concentrate, and believed she could not read or write. She was hopeless and self-critical, and to the end maintained that her suicide was justified and that she would not recover.

Her suicide was planned and determined, and despite a possible failed attempt a week earlier cannot be seen as an impulsive gesture that went wrong. When she wrote at the end of her life that she was going mad ‘again’, she spoke the truth and from lengthy experience. She had her first breakdown at the age of thirteen, and others when she was twenty-two, twenty-eight, and thirty. From 1913 to 1915, from the age of thirty-one to thirty-three, she was ill so often and for so long that permanent insanity was feared (Malcomi, 12). These attacks were severe, requiring medical treatment and bed rest. During the rest of her life she had wilder mood swings.

All this, especially the lengthy illnesses of 1913/14 and 1915, is well documented; in particular, typical phases of mania and depression are described in textbook-like detail. When elated, her husband describes her incessant talking, the content becoming increasingly incoherent as she worsens in the next day or two, until, acutely manic, there is only a ‘mere jumble of dissociated words.’ Equally convincingly he describes her thought processes when depressed: she believes that she is not ill, that her condition is her own fault, and is unable to accept reassurance or to be argued out of her beliefs. The symptoms of elation and depression are convincingly described, and their severity made clear. Over the years we can trace the phasic nature of her illness, with irregular attacks ranging from the mild and doubtful to the severe and prolonged. This is a convincing life history of manic depressive psychosis, culminating in suicide at Patton 4 the age of 59, and including a suicidal attempt in her thirties which was almost successful.

Because no specific treatments were available during her life the illness can be observed running its natural course; such severe and lengthy attacks would be rare today. Her medical history otherwise can be followed in detail in her diaries. She had much minor ill-health between 1915 and her death in 1941. Some of this is attributable to mild mood swings, either up or down, perhaps overzealously managed by her husband and doctors with bedrest and curtailment of her social life. She suffered from frequent lengthy and disabling headaches, migrainous in character, accompanied by depressive symptoms and by palpitations (Malcomi, 10). Flu- like illnesses and dysmenorrhoea are frequent.

The doctors who attended her and her family were the most distinguished of the time, especially the psychiatrists, but despite their eminence had no effective treatment to offer at the time, and seem prejudiced and unhelpful to modern eyes, although their textbooks show they were able to make an accurate diagnosis. There is an impressive family history of affective illness. Her brother Thoby died young but was an emotionally disturbed child. Her sister Vanessa had an episode of depression in her thirties after a miscarriage. The attack lasted some two years, and was regarded by the family as similar to Virginia’s depressions. Her brother Adrian also suffered from episodes of nervousness and depression.

Her father was a gloomy pessimistic man who had two mild attacks of depression. His father – her grandfather – had three serious depressions which affected his career. Her first cousin on her father’s side developed severe mania in his twenties and died within a few years in an asylum (13-14). For generations her family history is filled with gloomy men and eccentric Patton 5 family was also very creative, not only in literature. Her father founded and wrote much of the Dictionary of National Biography.

Many of her relatives were friends of Thomas Carlyle:see Virginia Woolf and Thomas Carlyle. Virginia resembled her father in many ways, and had a lose but ambivalent relationship with him. Her siblings were creative in other ways. Her sister was a painter, and her brother one of the first English psychoanalysts. Her personality was a mixture of shyness and ebullience. She was remembered by friends not as a gloomy depressed person but as a brilliant conversationalist, laughing, joking, gossiping, and often indulging in malicious flights of fantasy at the expense of her friends.

She was loved by children, given to interrogating others in her search for material, and often rude and snobbish. She was awkward out of her social class, and had an odd eccentric appearance which made people stare at her in the street (Reinhart, 26-27). As a child she was sexually abused , but the is difficult to establish. At worst she may have been sexually harassed and abused from the age of 12 to 21 by her stepbrother George Duckworth, 16 years her senior, and sexually explored as early as six by her other stepbrother. It is likely that her sisters and stepsister were also sexually abused. In later life, probably as a result, she was sexually frigid in her marriage. She had several homosexual flirtations in adult life, some intense, but probably not involving physical relations.

It is unlikely that the sexual abuse and her manic-depressive illness are related. However tempting it may be to relate the two, it must be more likely that, whatever her upbringing, her family history and genetic make-up were the determining factors in her mood swings rather than her unhappy childhood. More relevant in her childhood experience is the long history of bereavements that punctuated her adolescence and precipitated her first depressions. Early losses are known to be related to adult depression. Her life and illness accords with recent work on Patton ? Bibliography Rienhart, Ruth.

“Virginia Woolf – Rediscovered.” The New York Times. 12 May 1991, late ed. : C1. 12 May 1991. Malcomi, Richard. “Virginia Woolf’s Psychiatric History: Summary and Site Guide.” Compuserve Modern Feminist Literature Guide.

(1999) 24 Aug. 1999. oolf-psych/sum.htm Rienhart, Ruth. “Virginia Woolf – Rediscovered.” The New York Times. 12 May 1991, late ed. : C1.

12 May 1991. Malcomi, Richard. “Virginia Woolf’s Psychiatric History: Summary and Site Guide.” Compuserve Modern Feminist Literature Guide. (1999) 24 Aug. 1999. oolf-psych/sum.htm.

Virginia Woolf

s Mrs. Dalloway & The Woman Question: It wascommon for women writers to address the so-called woman question in their works
during the 19th and 20th centuries. This is true of one of the well-known
authors, Virginia Woolf, whose life spanned from the end of the Victorian to the
start of the modern era. She was born in 1882 to Leslie Stephen, a man of
prominence during the Victorian era, and she was primarily self-educated in his
vast library.
* Copyright Inc. *
Paper Title:
Virginia Woolfs Mrs. Dalloway & The Woman Question
It was common for women writers to address the so-called woman question in
their works during the 19th and 20th centuries. This is true of one of the
well-known authors, Virginia Woolf, whose life spanned from the end of the
Victorian to the start of the modern era. She was born in 1882 to Leslie
Stephen, a man of prominence during the Victorian era, and she was primarily
self-educated in his vast library. Woolf was one of the artists that helped
start the famous Bloomsbury Group where many writers gathered to discuss their
belief in the importance of the arts in society at the time. In 1912 she married
Leonard Woolf, a member of the group as well as a remarkable supporter of her
writing ability. She published many novels and essays pertaining to womens
issues, one being Mrs. Dalloway in 1925. Following that, she published two
well-acclaimed works, To the Lighthouse and A Room of Ones Own. She developed a
distinctive style that includes stream of consciousness and a poetic rhythm in a
prose form. She fought against traditional Aristotelian plot and created an
experimental style. She, in an essay on Modern fiction, wrote:
The writer seems constrained, not by his own free will but by some powerful
and unscrupulous tyrant who has him in thrall, to provide plot, to provide
comedy, tragedy, love interest, and an air of probability embalming the whole so
impeccable that if all his figures were to come to life they would find
themselves dressed down to the last button of their coats in the latest fashion
of the hour. The tyrant is obeyed; the novel is done to a turn. But sometimes,
more and more often as time goes by, we suspect a momentary doubt, a spasm of
rebellion, as the pages fill themselves in this customary way. Is life like
this? Must novels be like this?
Woolf was admired for her contributions to literary criticism. However, she
fell victim to a lifetime of mental illness and thus committed suicide in 1941.

Although Woolf is not alive today, her works are still highly acclaimed and
helped define feminism in the 20th century.

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During the 19th century womens roles where strongly defined by their
marriage. The idea was that women stay dependent on a man: first as a daughter
then as a wife. They fell into a self-effacing role that entailed almost
complete subordination to their husband, children, or even guest and friends.

Coventry Patmore conveys the popular sentiment of the time in his poem Angel in
the House. Patmore describes woman as a flower, delicate and meek, and sings
praises for these simple and delicate features. As much is said by what is not
written about the characteristics of a woman, such as her intellect or her
political insight. Interestingly Woolf later attacks the concept of the angel in
the house through her essay Professions for Women. After describing the angel as
immensely charming and utterly unselfish she claims to have
encountered the for-mentioned creature while writing a review for a novel by a
popular male author of that time. In order to review honestly without conceding
to the better graces fit for a woman of the time, she caught her by the
throat and did her best to kill the angel. Afterward Woolf claims, Killing
the Angel in the House was part of the occupation of a woman writer.

Women were to be the moral overseers of men. The man, who faced the secular
vulgarities of the world, was to have his moral anchor as woman. Sarah Stickney
Ellis, a popular essayist and educator of the mid 19th century wrote that in
womens hands the high and holy duty of cherishing and protecting the minor
morals of life, from whence springs all that is elevated in purpose and glorious
action. Women were to be the lighthouse unto man, whom without would be
dashed upon the rocks of sedition.

Women of the 19th and early 20th century were often impeded from a scholastic
education. They usually depended upon friends or themselves for any education
beyond the domestic type. As stated earlier, even Woolf received her education
in her fathers elaborate library collection. Many women believed that if
education was equal to that of a man they could realize accomplishments equal to
man. Mary Wollstonecraft pleaded the case in her Vindication of the Rights of
Women attempting to convince, by proving women equal to men, that women deserve
an equal education. She argues, If a woman be allowed to have an immortal
soul, she must have, as the employment of life, an understanding to improve.

Womens roles beyond the home were almost non-existent except for factory
worker, seamstress or nun. Women were little more than domestic attendants and
child bearers in most cases. Many women including Florence Nightingale lamented
on the lack of opportunity for women. She writes, The intercourse of man and
womanhow frivolous, how unworthy it is! Can we call that a true vocation of
womanher high career? Virginia Woolf herself, in A Room of Ones Own,
encourages women to move away from the space defined by men and begin anew in a
time of great opportunity for women. She also stated in her essay Professions
for Women that, the cheapness of writing paper is, of course, the reason why
women have succeeded as writers before they have succeeded in the other
professions, noting that women writers are not necessarily given the same
respect as men, but that it is easier to come by than other careers.

Woolf was a proponent of the concept of the androgyny of the mind. She
believed that the perfect mind could see issues through male and female eyes. A
mind that had the ability to empathize with the opposite sex was advanced beyond
that of those that could only see one point of view. She argues her point when
she writes:
I went on amateurishly to sketch a plan of the soul so that in each of us two
powers preside, one male, one female; and in the mans brain, the man
predominates over the woman, and in the womans brain, the woman predominated
over the man. The normal and comfortable state of being is that when the two
live in harmony together, spiritually cooperating. If one is a man, still the
woman part of the brain must have effect; and a woman also must have intercourse
with the man in her.

The struggle for women’s equality in Great Britain started long before the
turn of the twentieth century. The ideal woman at the turn of the century was to
maintain a composed facade, a delicate and demure manner, and distaste for all
things violent. Since early times women have been uniquely viewed as a creative
source of human life. Historically, however, they have been considered not only
intellectually inferior to men but also a major source of temptation and evil.

Woolf confronts several of these issues in her novel Mrs. Dalloway just as many
other women writers did in literature at the time.

Through the development of the characters, Woolf touches on education,
marriage and the sense of moral virtue expected of a woman. For instance, take
the passage when Clarissa referred to herself saying:
Not that she thought herself clever, or much out of the ordinary. How she had
got through life on the few twigs of knowledge Fraulein Daniels gave them she
could not think. She knew nothing; no language, no history; she scarcely read a
book now, except memoirs in bed.

She realizes that she lacks a good education and later credits Sally as the
soul that sheds light on her sheltered life at Bourton. Peters character, a
previous suitor to Clarissa, reveals the educational standing of women at the
He hadnt blamed her for minding the fact, since in those days a girl
brought up as she was, knew nothing; but it was her manner that annoyed him;
timid; hard; something arrogant; unimaginative; prudish. The death of the

Peter clearly knew that Clarissa was missing out on the many wonders that
life offered. However, it was unheard of for a woman to receive the education
equal to that of a man.

Clarissa recognizes her duty as a woman when she refers to herself as flowers
of darkness during a time when she feels abandoned by Richard. While Clarissa
was aware that she was to be the fruitful flower in the marriage, she also
realizes that something was missing. However, she knows that life could be worse
without Richard her husband, who was the foundation of it all. Richard is
a conservative man of the Victorian era unlike Peter, much more a product of
modern times. Peter cannot help but lament Clarissas marriage to Richard
saying, theres nothing in the world so bad for some women as marriage and
having a Conservative husband, like the admirable Richard. Peter is willing
to give Clarissa a life of freedom with him and realizes that his demands
upon her were absurd. He expects things of Clarissa that she, as a woman of
the Victorian day, is not willing to accept. This point is most powerfully
depicted in the parallel between Clarissa and the young shell shocked Septimus.

It is in the juxtaposition of these two characters that one comes to recognize
the bleak situation in which Clarissa stands. Septimus eventual suicide is
analogous to Clarissas choice to marry Richard. Even when Clarissa steps out
onto the balcony to ponder Septimus suicide it seems that her choice to be
happy is a sort of suicide. She felt somehow very like himthe young man
who had killed himself. She felt glad that he had done it; thrown it away.

Peter later verbalizes a womans dependency on a man and notes that women
attach themselves to places; and their fathersa womans always proud of
her father. This pride and attachment is eventually transferred to the
husband. While Clarissa at one point felt this attachment, she comes to feel
entrapped in her marriage to Richard when she states:
With twice his wits, she had to see things through his eyesone of the
tragedies of married life. With a mind of her own, she must always be quoting
Richardas if one couldnt know to a tittle what Richard thought by reading
the Morning Post of a morning! These parties for example were all for him, or
for her idea of him.

Clarissa sees that she has no say for herself and is at Richards beckon
call at the cost of any self identity. To tolerate this distaste for marriage
she fills her life with parties, something she truly loves, to get her through
this suffering.

As we are a doomed race, chained to a sinking ship as the whole thing is a
bad joke, let us, at any rate, do our part; mitigate the sufferings of our
fellow-prisoners; decorate the dungeon with flowers and air-cushions; be as
decent as we possibly can.

Upholding her duty as a consummate hostess, Clarissa claims her only gift is
knowing people almost in instinct. Since it was not expected of women to work,
they filled their lives with other unnecessary duties, such as that of parties.

Clarissa was doomed to be the perfect hostess which Peter referred to as
something maternal on many an occasion. She acted as if she did not fancy
the idea of this perfect mannered hostess as a young woman, but quickly resigned
to the social instinct when she was betrothed to Richard. Peter knew, had
Clarissa led a life with him, she would be leading the life of a capable
woman going about her business.

Clarissa first experiences androgyny of the mind when she feels something
lacking in her life which began as this feeling that was warm which broke up
surfaces and rippled the cold contact of man and woman, or of women together,
Clarissa dimly perceived that she had felt what a man feels. While she knew it
was only momentarily, it was enough to bring this sudden revelation to her life.

Clarissa later has a truly intimate moment with Sally on the porch at Bourton.

Clarissa had always noticed a purity in Sally, however, it was when Sally
kissed Clarissa that she felt the emotions a man would feel flow through her
body and:
She felt that she had been given a present, wrapped up, and told just to keep
it, not to look at ita diamond, something infinitely precious, wrapped up,
which, as they walked (up and down, up and down), she uncovered, or the radiance
burnt through, the revelation, the religious feeling!
Looking at the affects of aging, the psychological impacts of World War I,
the role of friendships, how people view the past and the complexity of human
emotions, Woolf makes the reader question what really is important in our lives.

The descriptions put you in the world of Mrs. Dalloway and by using stream of
consciousness she is able to capture the perspective of many characters in the
book. She illustrates a seemingly insignificant June day in the life portrait
centered on Clarissa Dalloway, a wife of a wealthy politician, to depict the
issues at hand with women in 1920s London. As she immerses us in each inner
life, Woolf offers exquisite, painful images of the past to the present with the
desires overwhelmed by society’s demands. The feelings that emerge behind such
mundane events as buying flowers, the social alliances, the exchanges with
shopkeepers, the fact of death — that give Mrs. Dalloway a sense of richness
Woolf stands as a chief figure of modernism in England. Interestingly, to keep
with the issues of the time, the book carries the name of the key character. As
Woolf introduces the character, Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers
herself, the identity is that of her husbands, not of her own. It isnt
until the second paragraph that Woolf gives the nameClarissa. By building the
character without a sense of self-identity, Woolf establishes a firm ground
based on the women question of that time. While the novel may seem hard to
follow the artistic stream of consciousness Woolf exercises truly depicts the
times in a way that will only capture a reader over the course of the book.

Virginia Woolf, Modern Fiction, 7th ed., The Norton Anthology (W.W. Norton
& Company, Inc., 2000) 2151.


Woolf, Professions For Women, 2215.

Sarah Stickney Ellis, The Women of England: their social duties and domestic
habits, 7th ed., The Norton Anthology (W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2000)

Mary Wollstonecraft, The Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 7th ed., The
Norton Anthology (W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2000) 188.

Florence Nightingale, Cassandra, 7th ed., The Norton Anthology (W.W. Norton
& Company, Inc., 2000) 1928.

Woolf, A Room of Ones Own, 2205.

Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway with a foreward by Maureen Howard, (Harthcourt,
1925) 8.

Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway, 59.

Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway, 186.

Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway, 77.

Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway, 77
Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway, 35.



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