OccupationEditor, Journalist, Publisher, Translator, Writer
Birth Date1882CE Jan 25th
Birth PlaceLondon, Greater London, United Kingdom
Death PlaceLewes, Sussex, United Kingdom
RelationshipsAcquaintance Spouse Sibling Lover Friend Lover
Business RelationshipsThe Hogarth Press
Virginia Woolf (née Adeline Virginia Stephen) was born on January 25, 1882 in her childhood home of 22 Hyde Park Gate in Kensington, London, England. The environment which Virginia was brought up in was one of privilege and high culture, her parents being heavily influenced by Victorian ideals. Virginia’s mother, Julia Prinsep Duckworth Stephen, was the subject of many photographs and painted portraits, while Virginia’s father, Sir Leslie Stephen, had established himself as a noted critic and biographer, acquiring connections with esteemed writers such as Henry James, and William Thackrey. Both Julia and Leslie had been widowed before marrying one another, making the Stephens a family of three marriages total. The Stephen family was by no means wealthy, but Virginia’ parents’ scholarly prominence allowed for her to live quite comfortably in a house of seven children.
It was at 22 Hyde Park Gate that Virginia and her sisters, Vanessa Stephen (later Bell), Stella Duckworth and Laura Makepeace Stephen would receive their private education. Virginia’s having been denied a formal education while her brothers, Thoby and Adrian Stephen and Gerald and George Duckworth were off studying at Cambridge, caused Virginia to resent the patriarchal system which denied her and other women an education, and would become a topic she would later explore in detail, in works such as A Room of One’s Own. This impediment however did not prevent Virginia from steeping herself in a rich literary environment from a young age. Perhaps prompted by her big sister Vanessa’s conviction to become an artist, Virginia had decided conversely, to become a writer. Together, the two of them, along with brother Thoby, began writing a small family newspaper called the Hyde Park Gate News in 1891 to record witty stories and family antics.
Although most of Virginia’s childhood was spent at her home in Kensington, her fondest memories were those of her summers at Talland House in St. Ives, Cornwall. The impression that this coastal summer home left on Virginia’s mind is evident in novels such as The Waves, Jacob’s Room and most explicitly inTo The Lighthouse. Talland House was the “Eden of [Virginia’s] youth” (Bell, 1.32). It promised adventure, sailing, fishing, walks with father and bathing in the ocean. This childhood paradise however, would not remain untainted by a tragic fall.
Leslie Stephen, a man of unsteady temperament, depended very much on his wife for stability. As Julia watched her husband grow more and more exasperated with matters of finance and his work on The Dictionary of National Biography, Julia advised Leslie to take rest, and allow her to take on the yoke of his responsibilities. This shift of stress wore heavily on Julia’s body. Upon being suddenly plagued by a severe case of influenza, Julia died on May 5, 1895, an event would later be described by Virginia as “the greatest disaster that could happen” (Bell 40). Following Julia’s death, Virginia suffered her first nervous breakdown, The Hyde Park Gate News stopped its publications altogether, her father had spiralled into a severe fit of depression, and Virginia’s paradisal retreat in St. Ives was sold.
Although a topic of much dispute, biographer Quentin Bell posits that Julia’s death also marked the beginning of Virginia’s sexual abuse by the hand of her older brother George (43). While these devastating encounters seem only to manifest implicitly in Virginia’s work in shame-filled self reflection, biographer Roger Poole claims that “this connection of the feeling of shame in her own body with both the mirror and with Gerald Duckworth was to affect Virginia’s whole emotional and sexual life,” strongly attributing what would be a very sexually inactive marriage to Leonard Woolf later in life, to this childhood trauma (26).
Following Julia’s death, sister Stella would take the reigns of the family, but only for a short two years. In 1897 Stella went away with her newlywed husband, but passed away only four months after. The house became increasingly empty, and Leslie’s harsh behaviour was taken out primarily on Virginia. Leslie made Virginia’s life increasingly strenuous, but upon his death in 1904, Virginia found herself inexplicably struck by a hindering sense of guilt. “She had lost her father, and the event, which seemed terrible in anticipation, now appeared more heartbreakingly tragic. … His faults were forgotten, his kindness, his quickness, his intelligence were not” (Bell 87). Despite her history with her father, Virginia was unable to reconcile her harsh feelings and felt that she had become entirely ungrateful. This self criticism eventually spurred a serious bout of mental illness, for which she would blame herself.
Virginia’s symptoms only grew in gravity, until eventually she was advised to leave home to live with her aunt in Cambridge and receive medical attention while her siblings prepared the family to move out of 22 Hyde Park Gate. After receiving approval from her doctor in January of 1905, Virginia returned to London to live with her family again at No. 46 Gordon Square in Bloomsbury.
Through connections Thoby had acquired at Cambridge with a group of intellectuals, Virginia and her sister became acquainted with a group of painters and writers who met at the Stephen household in London once a week. These friends eventually established themselves as at the Bloomsbury Group and would be comprised of Leonard Woolf, Clive Bell, Thoby, Vanessa, Virginia, and a number of other artists.
On October 20, 1905, Virginia’s brother Thoby fell ill of typhoid fever and died. Only two days following, Virginia’s sister Vanessa accepted Clive Bell’s proposal for marriage and left to live with Clive’s family at Cleeve House. It was also around this time that Virginia began work on her first novel, The Voyage Out (then, titled Melymbrosia). Between all these rapid changes, Virginia became exceedingly overwhelmed, and suffered her second nervous breakdown. Virginia would overcome two more breakdowns in the early years of her marriage to Leonard Woolf before finally succumbing to a fifth in 1941.
In 1911, Leonard Woolf arrived in London for his year of leave as a colonial administrator in Ceylon, but soon after arriving resigned from his position so that he could marry Virginia in August of 1912. Leonard had decided that he too would make a career out of writing, and so the couple moved Asheham House in Sussex to create a space dedicated to their work. Although Virginia’s struggles with her mental health were at first unbeknownst to Leonard, he soon became a strong and effective support for Virginia.
In April of 1915, Leonard thought it best for the two of them to move just outside of London to be away from the excitement of modern society that pressured Virginia. Virginia and Leonard moved to the Hogarth House in Richmond (namesake of the Hogarth Press). It was also this year that Virginia’s first novel, The Voyage Out, was published by her brother’s imprint Gerald Duckworth and Company Ltd.
In 1917, Leonard and Virginia purchased a printing press of their own for just over £ 19 and created their first Hogarth Press publication called Two Stories containing Virginia’s “The Mark on the Wall” and Leonard’s “Three Jews”. Together with Leonard, and often with illustrations by Vanessa, Virginia would publish many works written not only by herself, but by writers from all over the world.
As time went on, Leonard and Virginia were eventually to relocate yet again, this time to Monk’s House in Rodmell, Sussex in July of 1919. With the Second World War approaching, and memories of the First and its effect on her still very much alive in Virginia’s mind, Virginia lapsed into what was to be her final nervous breakdown. The constant bombing of London stirred within her a fervent nervousness, and she felt that she could no longer grant herself the rest that she required to maintain a healthy state of mind. Even within the tranquility of the countryside, her thoughts were no longer at ease. Before allowing herself to fall into a darkness from which she believed there would be no escape, on March 28, 1941, Virginia wrote a letter to Leonard explaining her condition and thanked him for everything he had done for her    .
“I feel certain I am going mad again. … And I shan’t recover this time. … So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier till this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. … What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that — everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness.” (Bell 226)
Virginia made her way down to the River Ouse and, placing a stone in her coat pocket, drowned herself.
Sir Leslie Stephen’s original marriage was to Harriet Marian, daughter of William Thackeray. Growing up, Virginia’s father maintained a relationship with his in-laws and Thackeray became a god-father to Virginia.
Laura was Leslie’s only child from his first marriage to Harriet Marian, and was believed by Leslie to have inherited her psychiatric disposition from from her grandmother, Isabella Gethin Shawe. Virginia writes about Laura, describing “Thackeray’s granddaughter, [as] a vacant-eyed girl whose idiocy was becoming daily more obvious, who could hardly read, who would throw scissors into the fire, who was tongue-tied and stammered and yet had to appear at table with the rest of us” (Forrester 79).
 The Bloomsbury Group was made up of many members and visitors from Trinity College, Cambridge University and elsewhere, but officially was comprised of Virginia Woolf, Leonard Woolf, Lytton Strachey, Clive Bell, Vanessa Bell, Molly MacCarthy, Desmond MacCarthy, E. M. Forster, Roger Fry and Duncan Grant.