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Wandering into the room of Virginia Woolf

by Aparajita Jaiswal

June 1, 2021

Reckoned as a feminist icon and literary genius, Adeline Virginia Woolf is best known for her novel “ Mrs Dalloway”, “To the lighthouse” and essay “ A Room of one’s own”. She was born in an affluent family with literary inclinations shaping her childhood and proclivity for reading and writing. Woolf began to write professionally in 1900 encouraged by her father Leslie Stephen. Her writing style is almost poetic, stream of consciousness of characters binding together the narrative. Like so many writers and artists she wasn’t famous during her lifetime and even several decades after her death. Her popularity rose to newer heights during the 1970s feminist criticism movement.  

She was a part of Bloomsbury group- a group of English writers, artists and philosophers in the early 20th century which was the hub of art, affairs and intellectual discussions. As Dorothy Parker quipped, “They painted in circles, lived in squares, and loved in triangles”. Viriginia Woolf is also known for her old school romance with her husband decorated with love letters and cute pet names, they called each Mandrill and Mongoose.

Virginia was a champion of women equality and independence during her time and lived a life which was unconventional and revolutionary in a sense. One of her most famous longer essays “ A Room of One’s Own” was derived from two lectures she gave at Cambridge University. She talks about “ A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”. She famously gave an analogy of Shakespeare’s sister who, equipped with the same genius could not be equally famous given the position of her gender. Virginia also talked about Bronte sisters, George Eliot and other women writers who wrote under pen names because that was the only way to move forward in the hallways of the literary world.

Yet beneath this shy yet social beautiful writer is a sad woman who was sexually abused as a child and battled mental illness throughout her life. She had a mental breakdown on the death of her mother in 1895. It was the first of many more to come. Institutionalized many times, she attempted suicide and finally one morning in 1941, she filled her pocket with stones and drowned in a nearby river.

Leaving behind a legacy of novels, diaries and letters, her life remains an enigma, much like her death. But Virginia, through her sad rebellion and constant musings, fills us with hope. Hope in the strength of good ideas to come forward, irrespective of gender and social circumstances and for us to be forbearers of a future more equitable than the past. 

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