Virginia Woolf was born in the second half of XIX century, in 1882, in London. Her family was a well-off family. When she was only 13 her mother died and she started suffering from depression. The situation even got worse when also her father died and above all when the first world war broke out her anxiety and her depression were more and more present in her life. In spite of this she never stopped writing.
She lived in London, in an area called Bloomsbury and she met once a week some of the most important intellectual and artists in London in her home, and this group meeting at her home was known as Bloomsbury group. It was during one of this meeting that she met her future husband Leonard Woolf (a publisher). They fall in love and they got married. Their marriage was an happy marriage in spite of her mental situation.
Because of her frequent depression she for the first time attempted suicide in 1913. Fortunately she was saved, but when also the second world war broke out her mental fragility became really a problem. As well as writing she was involved in the feminist action. She actually participated to the movement for women rights and she asked with other feminists of the period, the right to women to vote. But unfortunately her depression increased with the passing of time. In 1941 she committed suicide: she thrown herself in a river (the Ouse river) next her home.
She was a prolific writer and in her life she wrote many novels, some short stories and some critical essays, one of which is very important and it is also famous because it is a mile stone in the fight for women for their rights. This essay is “The room of one’s own”. It is a collection of essays that was written down after a series of conferences she was had in a college for women, that were about the women’s role in the society among the centuries. And so she not only analyses the situation of women in the century but she also tried to give a social shape to these essays. One of the most important essay in the book is about women and literature and she wondered why so few women in the story of literature are became famous writers. And in trying to give this answer she imagined that Shakespeare had a sister who had the same talent of Shakespeare. She said what could happened to this woman very talented, very good at writing. First of all her parents tell off her because she wasted her time writing instead of cleaning the house, instead of doing all the tasks that, in that time, were tasks of a woman. So she probably could written in secret. She didn’t go to school and so probably she would have escaped from home because her father wanted her married a man she didn’t wanted and she went to London. And at the end she killed herself. Woolf said that the problem of women is that they never had a room of one’s own: a place where they can do what they wanted. They have never had the opportunity to became famous like a man. This is the most critical essay written by Virginia Woolf.
There are many novels and probably the most important is “Mrs Dalloway” that is similar in its setting to the “Ulysses” of Joyce because also “Mrs Dalloway” is set only in one place which is London and everything happened in 12 hours. In “Mrs Dalloway” Virginia Woolf uses a new technique that includes the stream of consciousness technique and the interior monologue because she wanted to represent the continuous flow of thoughts in the mind of the protagonist. Mrs Dalloway is an elegant woman, rich (she is the wife of a conservative member of the Parliament) and she have had in the past a young man who loved her but she refused him because he wanted her shared everything with him but she was used to a different relationship with man. The plot is not really a plot full of events. The story of “Mrs Dalloway” is, in these 12 hours, interwoven with the story of other characters. During the day she organised a party she will having at home that evening. One of the characters is her previous lover Peter Walsh and another character that is very important in the story is Septimus Warren Smith. Septimus and Clarissa Dalloway never met in the novel. Septimus is a soldier who has just come back after the second world war and who had been ruined by the shock of the war. This young man is married with a young Italian woman who take care of him. Septimus is actually a patience of a famous nerve psychologist who is one of the Clarissa’s friend.
Septimus committed suicide jumping out of the window and when Clarissa is having a party the doctor tell about what happened to one of his patience (Septimus).
What is new is the technique used by Woolf and the interior monologue that she used. The interior monologue of Virginia Woolf tried to reproduce the mental activity of Clarissa but in a very different way from Joyce because he wrote the flowing of thoughts without punctuation, logical order, syntax. In Virginia Woolf interior monologue is still linked to the logical ordered of syntax, there are still punctuation marks but however she tried to reproduce the mental activity of her characters.
Other important novels are “To the lighthouse” and “Orlando”. “To the lighthouse” is very complex, much more than “Mrs Dalloway” and it is the story of a journey. It talks about family who had a house near a lighthouse.
In “Orlando” the beginning of the novel is set in the Elizabethan England, so during the Elizabethan time. It is the story of Orlando who is a nobleman and however it is also an allegoric, an unrealistic novel because Orlando eventually turns into a woman.
According to Virginia Woolf the novel had to describe, to explore the mental experience of the characters and also the complex consciousness of men because she tried to give a faithful analysis of human nature. What became important for her in her novels was what she called “the moments of being”. These “moments of being” described by Virginia Woolf are similar to Joyce epiphany (a sudden spiritual manifestation that derived from an external event that provoke in the characters this sudden spiritual revelation). Virginia Woolf described the moments of being as moments of almost intensity, of a great perception of vision that at these moments strike the mind of the characters and she said that these moments of being are normally part of our life. But differently from Joyce, she doesn’t talk about something external which can called the epiphany as Joyce did. In these moments the characters can perceive something of great intensity, of great power of vision. These “moments of being” are used also in the interior monologue.
Like Joyce she eliminates the traditional plot and the reality looses his importance. So reality is not important, because of inner life of the characters. Reality is only important because of its influence in the inner life of the characters. She also used time in a different way because she tried to compress the mental process into what she called “minimum time units”. This means that time is compressed: of course it doesn’t follow the normal chronological order and it mixes past, present and future. She also used two methods that are:
• The time montage, in which the subject, the characters can remained fixed in space but their consciousness, their mental activity moved in time;
• The space montage, in which time remain fixed, it is rarefied, and it is the special element that changes.