Virginia Woolf always wanted to go beyond external reality, exploring man's inner mental experience (memories, sudden thoughts , hidden feelings), in the continuous "stream of consciousness " of our mind. She abandoned traditional plot, time sequence , since, in our incessant interior monologue, we shift back and forth in time, from present to past. Silent mental activity is more important Han visible real events.
Virginia Woolf was born in 1882 in London. Her father was Sir Leslie Stephen, a well known essayist and editor ; her mother , Julia Jackson , was a beautiful and sensitive woman, who also belonged to the aristocratic world. Virginia was the third of the four Stephen children, who also numbered Vanessa; Thoby and Adrian. They all received their elementary education at home, from their parents, or from Swiss and French governesses. But later Thoby and Adrian were sent to Cambridge, while the two sisters , in accordance with the Victorian prejudices, were denied university education.
The unforgettable home of Virginia's youth was Talland House, a large house at St Ives Cornwall; she adored the ocean, the sound of the waves, the ebb and flow of the tides . All this provided a treasure house of reminiscences, which she drew on for such works as To the Lighthouse or The Waves.
In 1895 Virginia's mother died. Virginia was thirteen, but she was deeply affected by her mother's death, and for a long period she suffered from depression; it was the first sign of how frail her nervous system was.
In 1903 Sir Leslie Stephen died; Virginia went through a period of feverish and morbid grief, even attempting suicide. The Stephens abandoned their house at Hyde Park Gate, and settled in Bloomsbury, in Gordon Square, near the British Museum.
The Bloomsbury Group
The spacious Bloomsbury home became the center of the Bloomsbury Group, a circle of intellectuals and artists. Most of them had met at Cambridge, and went on meeting at the Bloomsbury home of the Stephens. They based their ideas on the principles if the philosopher George Edward Moore, as expressed in his work Principia Ethica. Rejecting all inhibitions, Moore exalted the most refined "states of consciousness". The "group" followed these ideas , which advocated rising above reality and following the winding path of mental activity; they rejected all Victorian and Edwardian conventions ; refused the inferior role attributed to women, whilst celebrating free love and homosexuality.
This group was , therefore, an expression of the new tendencies of the first half of the 20th century, in which manners and morals were drastically changed. Strict Victorian moralism was being replaced by a new vision of the world. The old taboos were falling away; the Bloomsbury "apostles" were anti monarchist in politics, sceptical in religion, intellectually free, and refined in art and literature. In 1912 Virginia married Leonard Woolf , but in 1913 she had another mental collapse and again attempted suicide. Only after two years did she temporarily recover.
In 1917 Virginia Woolf founded the Hogarth Press, which was to publish most of Virginia's works, as well as the works of talented young writers, such as Katherine Mansfield Prelude, T.S Eliot's The Waste Land and Freud's Collected Works.
Notwithstanding her recurrent mental instability, Virginia Woolf liked to live in a cultivated environment, to be listened to, to feel the effect of her words on the people around her. When she was alone , she was overcome by anxiety and insecurity, by terror at the London streets, devastated by the bombs, she saw the disintegration of her world. the Woolf's moved to their country house in Sussex, to escape the air raids in London but aware of her mental fragility and obsessed by the fear of madness, Virginia decided to put an end to her life. She drowned herself in the river House on March 28th, 1941.