Brenna Crain

A Short Biography

Virginia Woolf was borne Adeline Virginia Stephen on Jan 25th, 1882 to Leslie and Julia Stephen. She was a youthful and exorbitant child, (she was called the “demon bowler” during cricket games with siblings), despite the anxiety/depression she saw in her author/editor father. Leslie Stephen was consumed with anxiety over most aspects of life, family and work and desperately tried to hide his emotions from his family. Julia Stephen was the epitome of a late-Victorian woman of the upper middle class, beautiful and deeply devoted to her family. Virginia’s parents saw her talent very early on in her life and her father touted she would be an “author in time.” She and her siblings wrote a family news edition called The Hyde Park Gate News in which family, friends, and current events were topics.

Virginia studied at home under the tutelage of her father. Writing in her diary, studying Greek and Latin and many books her father recommended, Virginia began to search out her methods of writing. Essay and prose of the Elizabethan era and Victorian fiction were highly focused on. She eventually was able to attend classes regarding history, Greek and Latin with Dr. George Warr at King’s College and Clara Pater, sister of critic Walter Pater. These classes were still considered “inferior” by Virginia to her brothers’ extensive college educations.

Virginia’s early childhood and mental health would be forever altered with the death of her mother, Julia in May 1895. Virginia was very close to her mother and experienced the first of many mental breakdowns that would occur during her life. After her father’s death in February 1904, the family traveled extensively, however, upon their return Virginia overcome with the stress of being in a house of so much death, began to hear voices accompanied by severe headaches. This nervous breakdown is marked as the steppingstone of Virginia’s psychological instability throughout her life. Though her family had a history of mental illness, Virginia saw her father’s death as not only the death of her biological father, but the literary mentor and father whom she adored and look to for guidance in her developing literary talent. Many critics would say in later years that Virginia used her father as a basis for characters in many of her novels.

Virginia began teaching, with no pay, at Morley College English Literature and History to working class men and women. While teaching Virginia wrote reviews and articles for several publications including The Guardian and The Cornhill Magazine. Virginia would not know the struggles of a financially bankrupt author due to an inheritance received by an aunt. This lack of concern for financial security allowed Virginia the freedom to explore her writing at her own pace while exploring her own “self.”

On August 10th, 1912, Virginia marries Leonard Woolf at St. Pancras Town Hall with little, if any, family in attendance. Virginia made several attempts at suicide early on in their marriage but, in general, her physical and mental health had stabilized by late 1915 to early 1916. Virginia and Leonard busied themselves with a printing press acquired in 1917 and the printing and typesetting became a hobby of sorts for Virginia. This distraction enabled Virginia to continue writing extensively during the next 8 years.

Virginia wrote amidst declining health over the next ten years until World War II and Hitler’s impending march towards occupying England. While this never occurred, the barrage of air raids, destruction, and deaths of friends and family took their toll on Virginia. It has not been proven if this was the exact reason of her suicide in March 1941 however, most historians quote these events as the straw that broke her final reserve of mental stability.

Contributions to the Literary Tradition of Literary Criticism

Virginia Woolf can be identified as contributing to the Literary Tradition of Literary Criticism from a feminist point of view. As defined by Richter in The Critical Traditions, “feminist criticism does not include all literary criticism written by women [or] written by feminists [but is rather] concerned for how being a woman affects both reading and writing: How men write about women; how women read both men’s and women’s writing; how the sexes differ in their use of language and the roots of their creativity” (CT, 1345).

Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own explores the degradation and ridicule felt by women under the scrutiny of male scholars and teachers by presenting Shakespeare’s hypothetical sister who, although extremely talented, has no means, method, or opportunity to explore her talent. Without direction, her talent is squandered and ultimately, unfulfilled, she commits suicide. Beyond the almost direct correlation to Virginia’s own life, Shakespeare’s sister struggles with many of the same issues Virginia dealt with in her literary career.

Virginia’s search for an individual voice, unhampered by male influence, and completely rooted in her own idea of self, became the focus of many literary meditations within her diaries and novels.

Helpful Links

The International Virginia Woolf Society

Japan's Virginia Woolf 2000.


The Virginia Woolf Society of Great Britain



Return to previous page