Historical Figures

Virginia Woolf, feminist writer

Adeline Virginia Alexandra Stephen known as Virginia Woolf (1882 – 1941) was an English woman of letters and feminist, best known for her works Mrs Dalloway and To the Lighthouse .

A youth marked by drama

Daughter of Julia Stephen Duckworth and Sir Leslie Stephen, Adeline Virginia Alexandra Stephen was born in London on January 25, 1882. Her two parents having already been married, the family included eight children from three different marriages; Virginia is the seventh. She was educated at home by her parents, in a literary and intellectual atmosphere; her father was a writer and publisher, her mother was involved in the cultural life of Victorian society, and the house had an extensive library. The family spends all their summers in Cornwall and Virginia develops many childhood memories there that will serve as a source of inspiration for her novels.

In 1895, when Virginia was thirteen, her mother died of the flu. Two years later, her half-sister Stella also died. These two successive dramas plunge the young girl into a first nervous breakdown. Despite everything, she studied Greek, Latin, German and history in the women's department of King's College London. In 1900, she began writing for the Times Literary Supplement. . In 1904, the death of her father caused her such deep depression that she had to be briefly interned. Subsequently, she will experience many mood swings and depressions, perhaps also due to sexual abuse committed by two of her half-brothers; she will be interned several times.

The Voyage Out

After Leslie Stephen's death, Virginia and two of her siblings sold the family home to settle in Bloomsbury, central London. There they met writers and artists Lytton Strachey, Clive Bell, Saxon Sydney-Turner, Duncan Grant and Leonard Woolf, with whom they formed a circle of intellectuals known as the Bloomsbury Group. In 1912, Virginia married Leonard Woolf, with whom she had very strong ties. In 1915, his first novel, The Voyage Out, was published; thereafter, she continued to publish essays and novels which explored feminist and lesbian themes and found success with the public and critics. In 1917, Leonard and she created the Hogarth Press, a publishing house that would publish most of Virginia's works.

In 1922, within the Bloomsbury group, Virginia met Vita Sackville-West, a poet and novelist with whom she began a long affair. Vita inspires Virginia for Orlando , an imaginary biography where the hero, androgynous, changes sex. On several occasions, she draws inspiration from her relatives for her novels. In 1925, she published Mrs Dalloway; in 1927, To the Lighthouse .

"I'm sure I'm going to go crazy"

In 1941, after completing the manuscript of his last novel, Between the Acts , Virginia Woolf plunges again into a deep depression. On March 28, 1941, it filled its pockets with stone and threw itself into the River Ouse (in Sussex). Before her suicide, she leaves a note for her husband:

"I'm sure I'm going to go crazy:I feel that we won't be able to endure one more of these terrible times. I feel that I will not recover this time. I start to hear voices and can't concentrate. So I do what seems like the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness… I can no longer fight, I know that I am ruining your life, that without me you could work. […]”

Virginia Woolf is considered one of the greatest novelists of the XX th century; numerous essays, songs and films pay homage to him.


“I don't believe in the value of separate existences. None of us is complete on our own. »

“Each of us has his past locked away inside him like the pages of an old book that he knows by heart, but whose title his friends will only be able to read. »

"Write what you want to write, that's all that matters, and no one can predict whether it will matter for centuries or for days. But to sacrifice a hair from the head of your vision, a shade of its color, out of deference to some schoolmaster with a silver cup in his hand, or some professor armed with a measuring tape, is to commit the most abject betrayals. »