Virginia Woolf

In 1926 Virginia Woolf contributed an introduction to Victorian Photographs of Famous Men & Fair Women by Julia Margaret Cameron. This publication may be seen as a springboard from which to approach Woolf’s life: Virginia saw herself as descending from a distinctive male and female inheritance; Cameron was the famous Victorian photographer and Woolf’s aunt; Woolf’s friend Roger Fry also contributed an introduction and leads us to the Bloomsbury Group; and the book was published by the Hogarth Press which Virginia had started with her husband Leonard in 1917.

Adeline Virginia Stephen was born on 25 January 1882 in London. Her father, Leslie Stephen (1832-1904), was a man of letters (and first editor of the Dictionary of National Biography) who came from a family distinguished for public service (part of the ‘intellectual aristocracy’ of Victorian England). Her mother, Julia (1846-95), from whom Virginia inherited her looks, was the daughter and niece of the six beautiful Pattle sisters (Julia Margaret Cameron was the seventh: not beautiful but the only one remembered today). Both parents had been married before: her father to the daughter of the novelist, Thackeray, by whom he had a daughter Laura (1870-1945) who was intellectually backward; and her mother to a barrister, Herbert Duckworth (1833-70), by whom she had three children, George (1868-1934), Stella (1869-97), and Gerald (1870-1937). Julia and Leslie Stephen had four children: Vanessa (1879-1961), Thoby (1880-1906), Virginia, and Adrian (1883-1948). All eight children lived with the parents and a number of servants at 22 Hyde Park Gate, Kensington.

Long summer holidays were spent at Talland House in St Ives, Cornwall, and St Ives played a large part in Virginia’s imagination. It was the setting for her novel To the Lighthouse, despite its ostensibly being placed on the Isle of Skye. London and/or St Ives provided the principal settings of most of her novels.

In 1895 her mother died unexpectedly, and Virginia suffered her first mental breakdown. Her half-sister Stella took over the running of the household as well as coping with Leslie’s demands for sympathy and emotional support. Stella married Jack Hills in 1897, but she too died suddenly on her return from her honeymoon. The household burden then fell upon Vanessa.

Virginia was allowed uncensored access to her father’s extensive library, and from an early age determined to be a writer. Her education was sketchy and she never went to school. Vanessa trained to become a painter. Their two brothers were sent to preparatory and public schools, and then to Cambridge. There Thoby made friends with Leonard Woolf, Clive Bell, Saxon Sydney-Turner, Lytton Strachey, and Maynard Keynes. This was the nucleus of the Bloomsbury Group.

continue reading about Virginia Woolfe from source by S.N.Clarke & VWSGB


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