How is everyone doing? I am excited to be linking up with book club this month since I totally flaked on February’s “Love Story” theme. This month, we were asked to pick a biography of someone we have been meaning to learn more about. My first choice was Anderson Cooper. He fascinates me. Sadly, there are no written biographies past written interviews. I decided to go with my second choice, Virginia Woolf. VW is one of my daughter’s favorite authors and hearing how great she was, convinced me to learn more. I have seen 9and loved ) The Hours in which Nicole Kidman won the Academy Award. That only gives a tiny glimpse in to the life that is Virginia Woolf.
There were several books to choose from. I selected Virginia Woolf: A biography by Quentin Bell, her nephew. This book was marked as having the most inside secrets since this was written by someone within her family circle. Ohh! Inside gossip! Say no more! I quickly ordered a used copy since it is out of print.
The beginning of the book goes through several generations on her father’s side. At first I found the lineage boring but it was necessary in learning where she “came from”. Born Adeline Virginia Stephen on January 25, 1882, Virginia would grow up to be an English writer and once of the foremost modernists of the twentieth century. The men on her father’s side were all successful writers and scholars. While, the women on her mother’s side were stunningly beautiful posing as models for Victorian era painters or becoming successful painters and photographers themselves.
Virginia he found a love for books at an early age and began writing when she was 6 for a neighborhood newspaper she started with her older sister, Vanessa. The two girls had a very close bond throughout her life. Virginia was a very shy girl. She felt so awkward in public that looking someone the eye while walking street would make her face burn red. Virginia was a modern woman of the late Victorian Era rebelling against the formality of a society she was born into . And she was, from the start, a troubled soul.
When her mother died in 1895, she and her sister Vanessa were sexually abused by their half brother. This went on for many years. It is believed these two key points, along with the death of her half sister, Stella two years later, began the start of her mental break leading to her first breakdown. She was quoted once stating “Her mother’s death was the greatest disaster that could happen”. She was 13 at the time.
After her father’s death in 1904, Virginia first attempted suicide. It’s said she was “mad all summer”. Her next breakdown was after her brother’s death in 1906. Virginia had a beautiful, intellectually gifted mind. She was quite sane and very outspoken. Her “madness” was provoked only by life-altering events such as, death of a family member, her marriage to writer Leonard Woolf in 1912 or the publication of a novel.
She would eventually succeed in taking her life during one of these episodes on March 28, 1941. She wrote a love letter to Leonard, walked to the river, filled her pockets with rocks and drowned herself. Her legacy lives on today in the mental health profession as her behaviors have been studied time and time again. Researchers and specialists discuss her family history of mental health, her abuse, feminism views and even her being a lesbian having an open affair even while married Leonard.
I love learning about this woman very much. Quentin Bell did a great job of going into great detail of how life in the Victorian Era was for a female vs. a male. He went into depth of her life with close friends and her family. At the time, the best form of communication was by letter as the phone was not common in the home yet. Somehow, a lot of these letters survived. Could you imagine the clutter? I cringe…. but that is where a lot of this information comes from plus from Virginia’s own writings or other references. The letters are the best part in my opinion. I can imagine VW in her studio writing her letters to her friends and waiting for a reply to come.
If you are in to historical fiction and LOVE the Victorian Era like I do, then I think you will really like this biography. I would love to travel back in time to one of her sane periods and have tea with Virginia and her sister Vanessa. I think we would get along very well.
If you could pick anyone to learn more about, who would it be and why?