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Virginia Woolf


Biography

Virginia Woolf grew up in an upper-class and intellectual environment, and continued to meet intellectuals to talk about arts, politics and society, who made her able to develop a free and experimental sexuality (she was indeed bisexual). Thanks to this avant-garde mentality, Virginia Woolf made herself a promoter of questions of gender, equality, sexuality, pacifism in politics and innovation in writing. She might indeed be considered one of the first feminists.
However, she had to fight against mental illnesses since the death of her mother when she was a child, which led her to move away from London.
Despite being married, Virginia had several homosexual experiences throughout her life, whose most important one was with Vita Sackvillewest. This gave her the inspiration for Orlando.
Woolf's mental health kept getting worse until she committed suicide on March 28, 1941 by putting stones in her pockets and drowning herself in the River Ouse, after writing a letter to her sister where she stated "I can't stand pain anymore".

Themes and style


Woolf's liberal views often created scandal as she supported transgenders and homosexuals' freedom. Her mentality reflected into her works with a lot of experimentation although her writing has several classicist features.
Woolf's works are characterised by the lack of a conventional plot and a very personal relationship with time.
She was the first to introduce the stream of consciousness, a new narration technique: attention shifted from action to inner thinking and feelings, which were fully integrated into the narration. In this perspective, water has an important role, because mind and thoughts always flow, like water does.
One more main feature in Woolf's writing is represented by the moments of being, which are turning points in people's lives: characters have flashes of awareness where they see something which was before hidden in the darkness of consciousness.

Works


Orlando
The plot develops throughout one century. It is about a gentleman who changes gender. Through his work, Woolf analyses the construction of subjective identity and the relationship between gender and creativity.
Mrs Dalloway
Plot: An upper-class lady, Clarissa Dalloway, goes out to buy some flowers for the party she's hosting the same night. During her walk she meets a lot of people who will tell her their stories, and her day will turn out to be the most remarkable one in her whole life.
While Mrs Dalloway's day unfolds, a subplot is developed: the life of Septimus Warren Smith, a veteran of World War I suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The two characters will never meet throughout the story, but Mrs Dalloway will get to know about Smith's suicide during her party, as it happened in front of his therapist, who happened to be a guest at the party. The news deeply shock Mrs Dalloway, who experiences her moment of revelation.
Features: The story lasts only one day. Time is perceived as longer though, since every subjective experience told embraces the characters' past, present and future.
To render the mixture of thoughts, Woolf widely uses the free indirect style which allows to show what's in the character's mind in a way that direct and indirect discourse cannot.
The novel deals with themes such as the fear of death and the isolation of human beings.
To the lighthouse
The novel is about the Ramsays family, which always rents a house by the Orchid islands during holidays. The story lasts 5 years and it can be divided into three sections:
- The Window (afternoon): Mrs Ramsay's young son is promised a trip to the lighthouse which will not happen because of his father's prediction of bad weather. Here the opposition between the two parents is highlighted: Mrs Ramsay is described as sweet and full of light; she's fresh as the moon. On the other hand, Mr Ramsay is strict and distant; he hits you like the sun.
- Time Passes (night): The house and the passing of time are the protagonists here: this section is about the decay of the house and what happened to the members of the family.
- The Lighthouse (morning): Ten years after the first events, the protagonist is now Lily, the painter at the Ramsays' home.
Although the plot develops throughout five years, the "one day" element in Woolf's writing is always there, as the three parts of the section can be compared to the three parts of the day. In fact, as the first one is set in the afternoon, the second one at night and the third one in the morning, they make a whole day.
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Woolf, Virginia - Vita e opere