Internet surfers who used Google on Thursday may be wondering about the dark-haired woman whose illustrated image adorned the top of the search engine page. Her name was Virginia Woolf, and the fact that she is remembered more than seven decades after her suicide is testament to her talent.
Woolf penned thoughtful prose in a loose and readable stream of consciousness style. Introspective characters who experience mundane events in extraordinary and non-linear ways are a recurring theme in novels such as Orlando, Mrs. Dalloway, Jacob’s Room, The Waves, and To the Lighthouse. Woolf’s nonfiction works, including Three Guineas and her extended essay A Room of One’s Own, explore the perils and pitfalls of writing while female in a world where men held overwhelming economic and legal power.
An LGBT-friendly feminist ahead of her time
Despite the fact that Virginia’s father forbade her to attend college, Woolf delivered impassioned and informative speeches to female undergraduates at Cambridge, Girton College, and the Newnham College Arts Society. Notes for her 1928 speeches were collected and published as A Room of One’s Own the following year. The feminist essay wonders what would have happened if Shakespeare had a sister and proposes the notion that for a female to succeed as a writer, she must have money as well as a room to call her own.
A thinly veiled lesbian theme runs through A Room of One’s Own, especially in the section wherein Woolf outlines the writing of a character named Mary Carmichael.
“Then may I tell you that the very next words I read were these – ‘Chloe liked Olivia…’ Do not start. Do not blush. Let us admit in the privacy of our own society that these things sometimes happen. Sometimes women do like women.”
Apparently, Virginia Woolf liked women very much. According to scholars at the University of Illinois at Springfield, Woolf participated in a number of “erotically charged and sometimes sexual relationships” with women over the course of her lifetime. The most notable of these lesbian affairs involved well-bred aristocrat Vita Sackville-West who became the inspiration for Woolf’s 1928 novel, Orlando.
Literary career cut short by sadness
Virginia’s novels and essays were well received during her lifetime, but depression and despair prevailed in the end. In 1940, German fighter pilots bombed Woolf’s house to smithereens during the Blitz of World War II, and the author never quite got over it.
On March 28, 1941, Virginia composed a loving suicide note and donned an overcoat. After filling the pockets with heavy stones, Virginia Woolf walked into a river and drowned. She was 59 years old.