Known for her stream-of-consciousness literary style, Virginia Woolf’s books explore a 19th century take on writing, politics, war, mental disease and much more that shed’s insight on how she inspired future writers.
There have been many attempts to translate Virginia Woolf’s books and stream-of-consciousness literary style into film and plays. Virginia Woolf is regarded as one of the more important 20th-century novelists. Virginia Woolf was one of the foremost writers who used stream of consciousness as a narrative device, following her contemporaries such as Marcel Proust, Dorothy Richardson, and James Joyce. Woolf’s reputation was at its greatest during the 1930s but declined considerably following World War II. The growth of feminist criticism in the 1970s helped re-establish her reputation.
Virginia Woolf Books: Early Books, Novels and More!
Interesting Facts about Virginia Woolf’s Books and Writings
- Throughout her work Woolf was obsessed with evaluating the degree to which her privileged background framed the lens through which she viewed class. To calculate this she both examined her own position as someone who would be considered an elitist snob, and as someone who attacked the class structure of Britain as she found it. In her 1936 essay Am I a Snob?, she examined her values and those of the privileged circle she existed in. She concluded she was, and subsequent critics and supporters have tried to deal with the dilemma of being both elite and a social critic.
- Despite the considerable conceptual difficulties, given Woolf’s idiosyncratic use of language, her works have been translated into over 50 languages. Some writers, such as the Belgian Marguerite Yourcenar, had rather tense encounters with her, while others, such as the Argentinian Jorge Luis Borges, produced versions that were highly controversial.
- Woolf wrote a body of autobiographical work and more than 500 essays and reviews, some of which, like A Room of One’s Own (1929) were of book length. Not all were published in her lifetime. Shortly after her death, Leonard Woolf produced an edited edition of unpublished essays titled The Moment and other Essays, published by the Hogarth Press in 1947. Many of these were originally lectures that she gave, and several more volumes of essays followed, such as The Captain’s death bed: and other essays (1950).
- Virginia Woolf studied the life of her great-aunt, the photographer Julia Margaret Cameron and published her findings in an essay called “Pattledom” (1925), and later in her introduction to her 1926 edition of Cameron’s photographs. She had begun work on a play based on an episode in Cameron’s life in 1923, but abandoned it. Finally it was enacted on 18 January 1935 at the studio of her sister, Vanessa Bell on Fitzroy Street in 1935. Woolf directed the play herself, and the cast were mainly members of the Bloomsbury Group, including herself. Freshwater is a short three act comedy satirising the Victorian era, only performed once in Woolf’s lifetime. Beneath the comedic elements, there is an exploration of both generational change and artistic freedom. Both Cameron and Woolf fought against the class and gender dynamics of Victorianism and the play shows links to both To the Lighthouse and A Room of One’s Own that would follow.
Early Virginia Woolf Books:
A young Virginia submitted her first article in 1890, to a competition in Tit-Bits. Although it was rejected, this shipboard romance by the 8-year-old would foreshadow her first novel 25 years later, as would contributions to the Hyde Park News, such as the model letter “to show young people a correct for of expressing what is in their hearts”, a subtle commentary on her mother’s legendary matchmaking.
She transitioned from juvenilia to professional journalism in 1904 at the age of 22.
The next year, Woolf began writing for The Times Literary Supplement.
Virginia Woolf Books:
Woolf was known to write novels and essays as a public intellectual to both critical and popular acclaim. Much of her work was self-published through the Hogarth Press.
“Virginia Woolf’s peculiarities as a fiction writer have tended to obscure her central strength: she is arguably the major lyrical novelist in the English language. Her novels are highly experimental: a narrative, frequently uneventful and commonplace, is refracted—and sometimes almost dissolved—in the characters’ receptive consciousness. Intense lyricism and stylistic virtuosity fuse to create a world overabundant with auditory and visual impressions”.
“The intensity of Virginia Woolf’s poetic vision elevates the ordinary, sometimes banal settings”—often wartime environments—”of most of her novels”.
The Voyage Out
- At this Helen laughed outright. “Nonsense,” she said. “You’re not a Christian. You’ve never thought what you are.—And there are lots of other questions,” she continued, “though perhaps we can’t ask them yet.” Although they had talked so freely they were all uncomfortably conscious that they really knew nothing about each other.
“The important questions,” Hewet pondered, “the really interesting ones. I doubt that one ever does ask them.”
Rachel, who was slow to accept the fact that only a very few things can be said even by people who know each other well, insisted on knowing what he meant.
“Whether we’ve ever been in love?” she enquired. “Is that the kind of question you mean?”
- The Voyage Out (1915), Ch. XI
Her first novel, The Voyage Out, was a fiction, published in 1915 at the age of 33, by her half-brother’s imprint, Gerald Duckworth and Company Ltd. This novel was originally titled Melymbrosia, but Woolf repeatedly changed the draft. An earlier version of The Voyage Out has been reconstructed by Woolf scholar Louise DeSalvo and is now available to the public under the intended title. DeSalvo argues that many of the changes Woolf made in the text were in response to changes in her own life. The novel is set on a ship bound for South America, and a group of young Edwardians onboard and their various mismatched yearnings and misunderstandings. In the novel are hints of themes that would emerge in later work, including the gap between preceding thought and the spoken word that follows, and the lack of concordance between expression and underlying intention, together with how these reveal to us aspects of the nature of love.
- What she loved was this, here, now, in front of her; the fat lady in the cab. Did it matter then, she asked herself, walking towards Bond Street, did it matter that she must inevitably cease completely; all this must go on without her; did she resent it; or did it not become consoling to believe that death ended absolutely? but that somehow in the streets of London, on the ebb and flow of things, here there, she survived. Peter survived, lived in each other, she being part, she was positive, of the trees at home; of the house there, ugly, rambling all to bits and pieces as it was; part of people she had never met; being laid out like a mist between the people she knew best, who lifted her on their branches as she had seen the trees lift the mist, but it spread ever so far, her life, herself.
“Mrs Dalloway centres on the efforts of Clarissa Dalloway, a middle-aged society woman, to organise a party, even as her life is paralleled with that of Septimus Warren Smith, a working-class veteran who has returned from the First World War bearing deep psychological scars”.
Woolf’s fiction has been studied for its insight into many themes including war, shell shock, witchcraft, and the role of social class in contemporary modern British society. In the postwar Mrs Dalloway (1925), Woolf addresses the moral dilemma of war and its effects and provides an authentic voice for soldiers returning from World War I, suffering from shell shock, in the person of Septimus Smith.
The book was made into a movie through Mrs Dalloway (1997).
Plot: In 1923 London, socialite Clarissa Dalloway’s (Vanessa Redgrave’s) well-planned party is overshadowed by the return of an old suitor she had known thirty-three years earlier.
Director: Marleen Gorris | Stars: Vanessa Redgrave, Natascha McElhone, Michael Kitchen, Alan Cox
To the Lighthouse
- “Like a work of art,” she repeated, looking from her canvas to the drawing-room steps and back again. She must rest for a moment. And, resting, looking from one to the other vaguely, the old question which transversed the sky of the soul perpetually, the vast, the general question which was apt to particularise itself at such moments as these, when she released faculties that had been on the strain, stood over her, paused over her, darkened over her. What is the meaning of life? That was all — a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years. The great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one. This, that, and the other; herself and Charles Tansley and the breaking wave; Mrs. Ramsay bringing them together; Mrs. Ramsay saying, “Life stand still here”; Mrs. Ramsay making of the moment something permanent (as in another sphere Lily herself tried to make of the moment something permanent) — this was of the nature of a revelation. In the midst of chaos there was shape; this eternal passing and flowing (she looked at the cloud going and the leaves shaking) was struck into stability. Life stands still here, Mrs. Ramsay said. “Mrs. Ramsay! Mrs. Ramsay!” she repeated. She owed it all to her.
- Part III, Ch. 3
“To the Lighthouse is set on two days, ten years apart. The plot centres on the Ramsay family’s anticipation of and reflection upon a visit to a lighthouse and the connected familial tensions. One of the primary themes of the novel is the struggle in the creative process that beset painter Lily Briscoe while she struggles to paint in the midst of the family drama. The novel is also a meditation upon the lives of a nation’s inhabitants in the midst of war, and of the people left behind.” It also explores the passage of time, and how women are forced by society to allow men to take emotional strength from them.
The book was made into a movie through To the Lighthouse (1983 TV Movie)
Plot: A family spends their last summer at the seashore, before personal tragedy and the outbreak of World War I destroy their world.
Director: Colin Gregg | Stars: Rosemary Harris, Michael Gough, Suzanne Bertish, Lynsey Baxter
Orlando: A Biography
- We may take advantage of this pause in the narrative to make certain statements. Orlando had become a woman — there is no denying it. But in every other respect, Orlando remained precisely as he had been. The change of sex, though it altered their future, did nothing whatever to alter their identity. Their faces remained, as their portraits prove, practically the same. His memory — but in future we must, for convention’s sake, say ‘her’ for ‘his,’ and ‘she’ for ‘he’ — her memory then, went back through all the events of her past life without encountering any obstacle. Some slight haziness there may have been, as if a few dark drops had fallen into the clear pool of memory; certain things had become a little dimmed; but that was all. The change seemed to have been accomplished painlessly and completely and in such a way that Orlando herself showed no surprise at it. Many people, taking this into account, and holding that such a change of sex is against nature, have been at great pains to prove (1) that Orlando had always been a woman, (2) that Orlando is at this moment a man. Let biologists and psychologists determine. It is enough for us to state the simple fact; Orlando was a man till the age of thirty; when he became a woman and has remained so ever since.
Orlando: A Biography is one of Virginia Woolf’s lightest novels. A parodic biography of a young nobleman who lives for three centuries without ageing much past thirty (but who does abruptly turn into a woman), the book is in part a portrait of Woolf’s lover Vita Sackville-West.It was meant to console Vita for the loss of her ancestral home, Knole House, though it is also a satirical treatment of Vita and her work. In Orlando, the techniques of historical biographers are being ridiculed; the character of a pompous biographer is being assumed for it to be mocked.
The book was made into a movie through Orlando (1992).
Plot: After Queen Elizabeth I commands him not to grow old, a young nobleman struggles with love and his place in the world.
Director: Sally Potter | Stars: Tilda Swinton, Billy Zane, Quentin Crisp, Jimmy Somerville
“The Waves (1931) presents a group of six friends whose reflections, which are closer to recitatives than to interior monologues proper, create a wave-like atmosphere that is more akin to a prose poem than to a plot-centred novel”.
Flush: A Biography
Flush: A Biography (1933) is a part-fiction, part-biography of the cocker spaniel owned by Victorian poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The book is written from the dog’s point of view. Woolf was inspired to write this book from the success of the Rudolf Besier play The Barretts of Wimpole Street. In the play, Flush is on stage for much of the action. The play was produced for the first time in 1932 by the actress Katharine Cornell.
The Years (1941), traces the history of the genteel Pargiter family from the 1880s to the “present day” of the mid-1930s. The novel had its origin in a lecture Woolf gave to the National Society for Women’s Service in 1931, an edited version of which would later be published as “Professions for Women”. Woolf first thought of making this lecture the basis of a new book-length essay on women, this time taking a broader view of their economic and social life, rather than focusing on women as artists, as the first book had. She soon jettisoned the theoretical framework of her “novel-essay” and began to rework the book solely as a fictional narrative, but some of the non-fiction material she first intended for this book was later used in Three Guineas (1938).
Between the Acts
“Her last work, Between the Acts (1941), sums up and magnifies Woolf’s chief preoccupations: the transformation of life through art, sexual ambivalence, and meditation on the themes of flux of time and life, presented simultaneously as corrosion and rejuvenation—all set in a highly imaginative and symbolic narrative encompassing almost all of English history.”
This book is the most lyrical of all her works, not only in feeling but in style, being chiefly written in verse. While Woolf’s work can be understood as consistently in dialogue with the Bloomsbury Group, particularly its tendency (informed by G.E. Moore, among others) towards doctrinaire rationalism, it is not a simple recapitulation of the coterie’s ideals.
A Room of One’s Own
Among Woolf’s non-fiction works, one of the best known is A Room of One’s Own (1929),a book-length essay. Considered a key work of feminist literary criticism, it was written following two lectures she delivered on “Women and Fiction” at Cambridge University the previous year. In it, she examines the historical disempowerment women have faced in many spheres, including social, educational and financial. One of her more famous dicta is contained within the book “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”. Much of her argument (“to show you how I arrived at this opinion about the room and the money”) is developed through the “unsolved problems” of women and fiction writing to arrive at her conclusion, although she claimed that was only “an opinion upon one minor point”. In doing so, she states a good deal about the nature of women and fiction, employing a quasi-fictional style as she examines where women writers failed because of lack of resources and opportunities, examining along the way the experiences of the Brontës, George Eliot and George Sand, as well as the fictional character of Shakespeare’s sister, equipped with the same genius but not position. She contrasted these women who accepted a deferential status with Jane Austen, who wrote entirely as a woman.
In A Room of One’s Own (1929) Woolf equates historical accusations of witchcraft with creativity and genius among women “When, however, one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils…then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet, of some mute and inglorious Jane Austen”.
- The Voyage Out (1915)
- Night and Day (1919)
- Jacob’s Room (1922)
- Mrs Dalloway (1925)
- To the Lighthouse (1927)
- Orlando: A Biography (1928)
- The Waves (1931)
- The Years (1937)
- Between the Acts (1941)
“Phyllis and Rosamond”
“The Mysterious Case of Miss V.”
“The Journal of Mistress Joan Martyn”
“A Dialogue upon Mount Pentelicus”
“Memoirs of a Novelist”
“The Mark on the Wall” (1917)
“Kew Gardens” (1919)
“The Evening Party”
“Solid Objects” (1920)
“An Unwritten Novel” (1920)
“A Haunted House” (1921)
“A Society” (1921)
“Monday or Tuesday” (1921)
“The String Quartet” (1921)
“Blue & Green” (1921)
“A Woman’s College from Outside” (1926)
“In the Orchard” (1923)
“Mrs Dalloway in Bond Street” (1923)
“Nurse Lugton’s Curtain”
“The Widow and the Parrot: A True Story” (1985)
“The New Dress” (1927)
“Together and Apart”
“The Man who Loved his Kind”
“A Simple Melody”
“A Summing Up”
“Moments of Being: ‘Slater’s Pins have no Points’” (1928)
“The Lady in the Looking-Glass” (1929)
“The Fascination of the Pool”
“Scenes from the Life of a British Naval Officer”
“Ode Written Partly in Prose”
“The Duchess and the Jeweller” (1938)
“The Shooting Party” (1938)
“Lappin and Lappinova” (1939)
“Gypsy, the Mongrel”
“The Watering Place”
Short Fiction Collections
- Two Stories (1917)
- Monday or Tuesday (1921)
- A Haunted House and Other Short Stories (1944)
- Mrs. Dalloway’s Party (1973)
- The Complete Shorter Fiction (1985)
- Flush: A Biography (1933)—Fictional “stream of consciousness” tale by Flush, a dog, but non-fiction in the sense of telling the story of the owner of the dog, Elizabeth Barrett Browning
- Roger Fry: A Biography (1940)
Book length essays
- A Room of One’s Own (1929)
- On Being Ill (1930)
- Three Guineas (1938)
‘The Common Reader’
‘The Pastons and Chaucer’
‘On not knowing Greek’
‘The Elizabethan Lumber Room’
‘Notes on an Elizabethan Play’
‘The Duchess of Newcastle’
‘Rambling round Evelyn’
‘Lives of the Obscure – Taylors and Edgeworths’
‘Lives of the Obscure – Laetitia Pilkington’
‘Modern Fiction (essay)’
‘Jayne Eyre’ and ‘Wuthering Heights’
‘The Russian Point of View’
‘Outlines – Miss Mitford’
‘Outlines – Bentley’
‘Outlines – Lady Dorothy Nevill’
‘Outlines – Archbishop Thomson’
‘The Patron and the Crocus’
‘The Modern Essay’
‘How it strikes a Contemporary’
‘The Strange Elizabethans’
‘Donne After Three Centuries’
‘”The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia”‘
‘Dorothy Osborne’s “Letters”‘
‘Swift’s “Journal of Stella”‘
‘The “Sentimental Journey”‘
‘Lord Chesterfield’s Letters to his Son’
‘Two Parsons: James Woodforde, John Skinner’
‘Dr. Burney’s Evening Party’
‘De Quincey’s Autobiography’
‘Four Figures: Cowper and Lady Austen, Beau Brummell, Mary Wollstonecraft, Dorothy Wordsworth’
‘Geraldine and Jane’
‘The Niece of an Earl’
‘The Novels of George Meredith’
‘”I am Christina Rossetti”‘
‘The Novels of Thomas Hardy’
‘How Should One Read a Book?’
‘The Death Of The Moth’
‘Evening Over Sussex: Reflections in a Motor Car’
‘Old Mrs. Grey’
‘Street Haunting: A London Adventure’
‘”Twelfth Night” at the Old Vic’
‘Madame de Sévigné’
‘The Humane Art’
‘Two Antiquaries: Walpole and Cole’
‘The Rev. William Cole: A Letter’
‘The Historian and “The Gibbon”‘
‘Reflections at Sheffield Place’
‘The Man at the Gate’
‘”Not One Of Us”‘
‘1. Within the Rim’
‘2. The Old Order’
‘3. The Letters of Henry James’
‘The Novels of E. M. Forster’
‘The Art of Biography’
‘A Letter to a Young Poet’
‘Professions for Women’
‘Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid’
- ‘Selina Trimmer’
- ‘The Captain’s Death Bed’
‘The Novels Of Turgenev’
‘Half Of Thomas Hardy’
‘Mr. Conrad: A Conversation’
“Mr. Bennett And Mrs. Brown” (1924)
‘All About Books’
‘Flying Over London’
‘The Sun And The Fish’
‘Thunder At Wembley’
‘Memories Of A Working Women’s Guild’
- Modern Fiction (1919)
- The Common Reader (1925)
- The London Scene (1931)
- The Common Reader: Second Series (1932)
- The Death of the Moth and Other Essays (1942)
- The Moment and Other Essays (1947)
- The Captain’s Death Bed And Other Essays (1950)
- Granite and Rainbow (1958)
- Collected Essays (four volumes, 1967)
- Books and Portraits (1978)
- Women And Writing (1979)
- Freshwater: A Comedy edited by Lucio P. Ruotolo with drawings by Edward Gorey (first version 1923, revised and performed 1935, published 1976)
- Moments of Being (1976) [2nd ed. 1985]
- The Platform of Time: Memoirs of Family and Friends, edited by S. P. Rosenbaum (London, Hesperus, 2007)
Diaries and journals
- A Writer’s Diary (1953) – Extracts from the complete diary
- A Moment’s Liberty: the shorter diary (1990)
- The Diary of Virginia Woolf (five volumes) – Diary of Virginia Woolf from 1915 to 1941
- Passionate Apprentice: The Early Journals, 1897-1909 (1990)
- Travels With Virginia Woolf (1993) – Greek travel diary of Virginia Woolf, edited by Jan Morris