75 Years of Virginia Woolf.

Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf in ‘The Hours’. Image credit: European History at Loyola.

As a reader, I’ve never been much for Virginia Woolf nor have I read her books. As a writer, however, I must commend on her genius ways on writing, especially her famous nonlinear prose style notably in her novels, Mrs Dalloway and To The Lighthouse.

March 2016 began as the National Nutrition Month and now, its healthy eating theme has coincided with the seventy-fifth (75th) anniversary of Virginia Woolf’s passing in 1941. As Woolf herself has said before:

One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.
Virginia Woolf had the privilege of being born and raised in an English household in 1882 by free-thinking parents. Her parents were father, Sir Leslie Stephen, was an author and historian, and mother, Julia Prinsep Stephen, was a nurse who happened to write a book on the profession, and had later on served as a model for several Pre-Raphaelite painters. Woolf had three proper siblings and four half-siblings — a result of both her parents having been married and widowed before finally marrying each other. All eight children had lived under one roof in Kensington.

Early Life.

In her early years, she had begun writing and had her first novel, The Voyage Out, published in 1915. As mentioned above, her nonlinear, free-form prose style became an inspiration to her peers. While growing up, Woolf had spent her summers in St. Ives, a beach town at the very southwestern tip of England, at her parents’ summer home called Talland House. The summer home looked out over the Porthminster Bay with a view of the Godrevy Lighthouse, which had inspired her writing. In her later memoirs, Woolf had a great and fond recollection of St. Ives and incorporated these scenes into her modernist novel, To The Lighthouse in 1927. However, she was also known for her mood swings and bouts of deep depression. It was this very reason that drove her to suicide at the age of 59 in 1941.

Deep, Dark Depression.

Virginia Woolf’s deep and dark depressive moments didn’t sink in until she was six years old when her half-brothers George and Gerald Duckworth had sexually abused her. This unwelcomed act, coupled with the early death of her mother at age 49, only made things worse for Woolf. The impact of early adolescence and the huge loss of her mother sent Woolf spiralling into a nervous breakdown. However, things eventually spun out of control when her half-sister, Stella, died, followed by her father later on in 1904.

Married Life.

In 1912, she and Leonard Woolf got married. Leonard was also a writer as well as a member of the Bloomsbury Group, a circle of intellectuals and artists who became famous in 1910 for their Dreadnought hoax, a practical joke where the group members had dressed up as a delegation of Ethiopian royals and successfully persuaded the English Royal Navy to show them their warship, the HMS Dreadnought. Woolf herself was drawn into the hoax where she disguised herself as a bearded man. Despite the outrageousness of the act, Leonard had taken a fancy to Virginia and fallen in love with her.

Her fourth novel, Mrs Dalloway, was released in 1925 to rave reviews, and covered interior monologues, issues of feminism, mental illness and homosexuality in post-World War I in England. Eventually, the novel was turned into a movie in 1997 and became the subject of a Michael Cunningham novel and film, The Hours in 2002.

Upon reaching her mid-forties, Virginia Woolf had established herself as an intellectual as well as an innovative thinker and writer. Her astonishing ability to balance dream-like scenes with deep and tense plot lines had earned her incredible respect from her peers and the public alike. Yet, despite her outward success as an author, she continued to regularly suffer from bouts of depression and succumbed to her dramatic mood swings.

Unwarranted Death.

Woolf’s husband, Leonard, had always been by her side and was quite aware of the signs that pointed to his wife’s eventual and internal demise. He saw that she had sunk into a bottomless pit while she worked on what would be her final piece, Between the Acts, which was published posthumously. As a Jew, Leonard was concerned about his safety as he was in danger of being captured by the Nazis, and the couple’s London home was destroyed during the Blitz. These insurmountable moments had been the last straw that broke the camel’s back; they became the motivation for Woolf to don her overcoat, walk out into the River Ouse and fill her pockets with stones.

On March 28, 1941, Virginia Woolf waded into the water and let the stream take her. The authorities discovered her body three weeks later. Her popularity may have plunged after World War II, but her stories rang tried and true, over and over, for readers during the feminist movement of the 1970s.

Seventy-five (75) years on, Virginia Woolf remained one of the most well-known authors of the twenty-first (21st) century.

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