Literary Criticism on Virginia Woolf


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Virginia Woolf: Literary Criticism

Virginia Woolf Literary Criticism: Introduction

By all means, Virginia Woolf was one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. Her writing style was unique and way ahead of her time. Most of her novels reflected pieces from her personal life and struggles of existence. Many people usually know that she was the founder of stream of consciousness writing. Also, another most memorable thing was her suicide and mental illnesses. She was born in the most terrible century, which was full of wars and deaths. She witnessed both the first and the second World Wars, and she was tired of her mental illness and the bad situations that the world constantly witnessed. The wars' impacts on her were severe, and in her suicide note, she clearly stated that she was tired of mental illness, and she could not fight it anymore because the world's situation gave no hope for her. Then, she tied a rock to herself, jump into the river, and drowned. This happened in 1941, just a year later, the II. W.W broke out; she killed herself because her political thoughts were against fascist ideologies, and when she saw these regimes gained power, perhaps, she lost her hope for the world. After all, this paper focuses on Virginia Woolf's artistic identity, biographical context, and her novel's literary criticism. As mentioned, she was the founder of stream consciousness writing, and her novels are examples of it. Her novel's narratives and characters are quite unusual, along with her writing technique, and some of them carry autobiographical importance.

Body Paragraphs

First of all, Virginia was born in 1882, London, England. She had a close relationship with her father, and Leslie Stephan was her first editor for her early writings (Reid para. 2). Her mother, Julia Jackson, had many friends who were artists at the time. In other words, she grew up in an environment that was surrounded by artists and people that were interested in art. She was lucky to have a supportive family, and her father's encouragement shaped her artistic identity. Also, she grew up in a big family, and she had seven siblings, including four children from her father's former marriage.

The first turning point of her life was her mother's death; she was thirteen at the time and suffered from her first depression. Then, she lost her older sister, who was 28, and her father in 1904. With his death, Virginia suffered from her second major depression and lived its impacts for the rest of her life. While she was recovering, her older half-sister supervised them move to the bohemian Bloomsbury section of London (Reid para. 4). Also, in 1904, she met her husband Leonard Woolf in Bloomsbury, and then he went on a colonial mission to return five years later.

In later periods of her life, one can see the impacts of bourgeois Bloomsbury society on her because she was in a circle that was surrounded by artists. They talked about art, politics, and women's rights. Also, the Bloomsbury circle was stigmatized as a homosexual group by British society. However, the group's effects on Virginia were important because, during the years between 1920-1930, she wrote her most successful novels, including Jacob’s Room (1922), Monday or Tuesday (1922), Mrs. Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), Orlando: A Biography (1928), A Room of One's Own (1929), and Waves (1931).

These novels were her masterpieces of stream-of-consciousness writing technique and made her one of the most important modernist writers of their time. After all, these novels carried pieces from her personal life, childhood, and experiences. One should examine these novels by biographical and thematic contexts because some of these novels directly reflected her childhood or family members. For instance, To the Lighthouse was written to honor her mother's death on her thirty-year anniversary. It was inspired by her summer journeys to the Cornwall coast with her family (Reid para. 4). The book concentrated on Mrs. Ramsay's death and its afterward impacts on her children.

In another example, Orlando: A Biography was inspired by her affair with Vita Sackville-West after they ended their relationship. More specifically, in the middle parts of the book, Orlando goes to Istanbul as an ambassador, and there he transforms into a woman; this part is related to Sackville because after she ended her relationship with Virginia, she married an ambassador, and they went to Istanbul. In Mrs. Dollaway, one can see Sackville's impacts on her because the main character Mrs. Dollaway used to have a short time affair with another woman where she confronts her at the end chapter.

Moreover, in Waves, a reader witnesses a group of young people's life cycle; the book starts with their childhood and ends with their older ages. The book carries biographical context because, as mentioned earlier, Virginia had seven siblings; therefore, the book's characters represent them. After all, several more books include biographical context among her novels because she was driven and inspired by her life and people around her. In her childhood memories, one can see the existential struggles she had to find herself. Meanwhile, she lost people who were important to her.

However, when her novels are examined through thematic context, one can find interesting facts about them. Daniel Albright states that in her writings, self-consciousness vanishes into a state of vast irrationality, and the mind does not grasp reality; it merges into it (5). As mentioned above, Virginia wrote novels that are the representatives of the stream-consciousness technique. It concentrated on what happens at the moment. For instance, in one chapter Mrs. Dollaway is observing things at her house, and in the following chapter, a reader witnesses Mr. Dollaway's experiences that happen at the exact moment. For instance, in Mrs. Dollaway, everything happens in a day, and the readers experience a day from their daily lives. Eventually, time and moment are the most important components of her novels.

When it comes to Virginia Woolf novels, a reader should prepare herself to read complex, detail-oriented narratives. According to Dorothy Bevis, Mrs. Woolf does not believe that life or spirit or reality are made up of a form of fiction that has its plot, comedy, love interest, and air of probability to the place that its characters find themselves (6). One can address that her characters struggle to find their self-identity, and they are well qualified to observe others and nature. More specifically, nature is a significant theme in her novels because her characters are inspired by nature and closely observe it. For instance, in Orlando, after he becomes a woman, she escapes with gypsies. She is fascinated by nature and the beauties that come along with it, such as wind, sky, trees. Thus, gypsies exclude her from their community because they do not worship nature as it is dangerous. However, from beginning to end, nature carries major importance for Orlando because it is a part of his life and everyone's in society.

Furthermore, Orlando novel was way ahead of its time because the main character was a transgender woman. More specifically, the novel starts in the 18th century, Victorian period, and with Orlando's transformation timeline jumps to the 20th century; as a woman, she faces the gender inequalities in society. For example, Orlando is very interested in writing, especially poems, and as a man, his artistic identity is valued by society. However, as a woman, nobody respects her as an artist, and they believe that women cannot write because they are not educated as much as men. Therefore, one can see Virginia's basis feminist arguments in Orlando,

In 1929, Virginia published A Room of One’s Own, which was created by her short essays about women's rights, feminism, politics, and women's place in society. Today, A Room of One’s Own is considered the first wave feminist manifesto. In her book, she states that a room of one's own is the most important accomplishment for a woman because it represents independence. When it is examined through biographical context, Virginia was having financial problems at the time, and when her aunt passed away and she was inherited by yearly salary. This helped her overcome financial problems because all she needed a pen, paper, and a room of her own. Throughout the book, she addressed the need for women to become economically independent and the troubles which women have been systematically denied access to culture and intellectual liberty (Plain& Gill 71).

Virginia Woolf Literary Criticism: Conclusion

Consequently, this paper focuses on Virginia Woolf’s artistic identity, biographical context, and her novel's literary criticism. By all means, she was one of the most important modernist writers of the 20th century in terms of stream consciousness writing and her feminist ideology. When one examines her novels, she should consider the biographical and thematic context of the work because many of her novels were inspired by her life, childhood, and experiences. Through, thematic analysis of her works, one can find exciting narratives, and characters who are described at the moment, and detail-oriented descriptions of the environment because nature is an essential theme of her novels. After all, along with her writing technique, her novel's narratives and characters are pretty unusual, and some of them carry autobiographical importance.


Albright, Daniel. “Virginia Woolf as Autobiographer.” The Kenyon Review, vol. 6, no. 4, 1984, pp. 1–17. JSTOR, Accessed 12 May 2021.

Bevis, Dorothy. "The Waves: A Fusion of Symbol, Style, and Thought in Virginia Woolf." Twentieth-Century Literature, vol. 2, no. 1, 1956, pp. 5–20. JSTOR, Accessed 12 May 2021.

Plain, Gill, and Susan Sellers. A History of Feminist Literary Criticism. Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Reid, Panthea. “Virginia Woolf.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 24 Mar. 2021.

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Zendaya Kane
Zendaya Kane
Content Lead at Tamara Research. Major in Advertising, loves working.

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