Lesson On Writing

The Great StoryTellers Series – Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf

It is difficult to estimate her importance to feminists, but the same can be said for her contributions to literature as a whole.

Sir Leslie Stephen’s fourth daughter was destined to become a writer without whom the pantheon of literature would be incomplete. https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/unsaid-silence-virginia-woolf

These are the categories we cover in the Great StoryTeller series:

  1. Was the storyteller controversial?
  2. Were they fun?
  3. Was their family life good, bad, or scary?
  4. Did they have a dark side?
  5. Were they well known during their life?
  6. What was their best trait or skill?
  7. What made them famous?
  8. Did they have a happy ending to their life?

Virginia and her father

 

A modernist writer. Born 1882, birth name- Adeline Virginia Stephen in London England, Died 1941. The founders of the well-known Bloomsbury group are Virginia herself and Vanessa Bell her sister. This Group—or Bloomsbury Set—also known as the Bloomsbury Circle was a group of writers, intellectuals, philosophers and some artists during the early part of the 20th century, including Virginia Woolf, John Maynard Keynes, E. M. Forster and Lytton Strachey.

Quotes:

One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.

For most of history, anonymous was a woman.

I meant to write about death, only life came breaking in as usual.                                                                                                                         

Her best-published works: Mrs. Dalloway. Orlando. To the Lighthouse. A room of One’s Own.

Ten Writing tips From Virginia Woolf:

  1. Practice character-reading until you can ‘live a single year of life without disaster’. (Character-reading is Woolf’s term for people-watching for the sake of constructing fictional characters)
  2. Observe strangers. Let your own version of their life story shoot through your head — how they got where they are now, where they might be going — and fill in the blanks for yourself.
  3. Listen to the way people speak, but pay special attention to their silence.
  4. Write characters who are both ‘very small and very tenacious; at once very frail and very heroic’. Let them have contradictions.
  5. Write about people who make an overwhelming impression on you. Let yourself be obsessed.
  6. A believable character is never just a list of traits or biographical facts.
  7. Illustrate your characters outside of the superficial standards of their time. Let them be complex.
  8. Any captivating protagonist should be someone you can imagine in “the centre of all sorts of scenes.”
  9. Find a common ground between you and your characters — “steep yourself in their atmosphere.” Learn to empathize.
  10. Describe your characters ‘beautifully if possible, and truthfully at any rate’.

Bloomsbury Circle

 

“”In “To the Lighthouse,” Woolf’s fifth novel, she mastered a sort of sentence that she had been edging toward, a sentence we can now call her own: a freely progressing, long, fractured series of observations and insights, unburdened and unhurried by the need to tell the “story,” yet moving with the unrelenting progression of a scalpel.”” https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/unsaid-silence-virginia-woolf

Woolf was first published in 1915, at the age of 33; between then and her death in 1941, over 26 years, she wrote nine full-length novels, five collections of short fiction (three published posthumously), and over 90 essays, on subjects including Shakespeare, the colour pink, and the cinema. She wrote biography, translated Dostoevsky, and produced volumes and volumes of letters. http://www.dazeddigital.com/art-photography/article/38918/1/the-virginia-woolf-must-reads-that-you-might-not-know-about

The hero of Virginia Woolf’s 1928 novel, Orlando: A Biography, is an androgynous, seemingly ageless figure who mingles with the likes of Elizabeth I, Charles II and the great English poet Alexander Pope. Comparatively, the hero of Vita Sackville-West’s 1922 children’s tale, A Note of Explanation, is an ageless sprite who witnesses key moments in fairy-tale history, including the ball where Cinderella lost her glass slipper and the kiss that woke up Sleeping Beauty.https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/miniature-book-penned-virginia-woolfs-lover-and-muse-published-first-time-180967036/

  1. Was Virginia Woolf controversial? Yes, the simple answer is yes, but it really isn’t that simple. Yes, she was indeed a feminist. One of the early modernist era feminists and one of the strongest voices among them. But from what I can gather she did it with grace and dignity. This opinion was only strengthened when I read Virginia Woolf by Mary Ann Caws. This grace and dignity may have lessened the blow to patriarchy but still delivered the same message. She was so smart that some believed she would naturally be a feminist and might have been disappointed had she not.

 

Husband and Wife
Leonard Woolf, writer (1880-1969) with his wife Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)

Coming from such a well-educated family it seems even more likely that she would at least have feminist sensibilities. Virginia was not altogether happy about the state of society. Progress was too slow-moving society out of the difficult and stifling Victorian expectations so she wrote with that in her thoughts all along.

“-we owe it to ourselves to read and appreciate Virginia Woolf. She was 100 years ahead of us in her ideas and experimentation. We should be running to catch up instead of letting her pass by while we chatter on about her death.” https://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/virginia-woolf-will-kick-your-ass

2. Was Virginia Woolf a Fun Person?

“No one escapes the sharp wit and teasing by aunt and nephew, and Woolf’s humor and mischievous nature are brought to the fore in this new publication by one of the 20th century’s greatest authors,” said the British Library, which will publish The Charleston Bulletin Supplements for the first time this June.” https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/feb/07/virginia-woolf-lighter-side-unseen-manuscripts

Orlando the book

Woolf was a storyteller, even as a child. She would often tell bedtime stories to other children about her neighbors, the Dilkes.

 Woolf had a sense of humor. With laughter in her belly, a very young Virginia angered her childhood music teacher by telling her that the meaning of Christmas was to celebrate the Crucifixion. Needless to say, her teacher had her removed from the room. https://www.biography.com/news/virginia-woolf-biography-facts

  1. Was their family life good, bad, or scary?

In her youth family life for Virginia is described as almost ideal for most facets of it. Lovely days spent as a family in their insulated London upper-middle-class neighborhood was good and to me seemed ideal. But there were darker aspects of her family life. Can you have a happy family life but be afraid of one or two parts of it?

  1. Did they have a dark side?

There is the dark side of mental illness to consider. One full summer it is reported she went mad. She believed that birds were chirping in Greek and King Edward VII was uttering curses from behind nearby shrubbery.

She seemed to get a kick out of tormenting her sister Vanessa as a small child by scrapping her fingernails against the wall.

To find that such a smart well educated and accomplished woman was still vulnerable to social anxiety. She couldn’t look strangers in the eye at a certain point in her life.

Virginia didn’t like her photo being taken or people looking at her.

 

  1. Were they well known during their life?

Yes, Virginia Woolf was very well known during her life. Her book Mrs. Dalloway, her fourth novel was very popular and well received by critics. She followed that with To the lighthouse which was another critical success. Her fame rose significantly when she wrote Orlando in 1928.

By Virginia’s mid-forties she was well established as an intellectual, and innovative writer, and groundbreaking feminist.

 

  1. What was their best trait or skill?

It will be difficult to choose because she had so many great skills. She captured what made her characters real and human. She talked about people watching to gain that skill. It is amazing how much you can learn sitting on a bench and watching people.

Virginia Woolf

 

  1. What made them famous? Her book Orlando was the one that made her fame spread the fastest.
  1. Did she have a happy ending to her life?

Mental Illness is still so misunderstood even today with all we know so many suffer. We lose so many wonderful people every year to mental illness. Virginia Woolf with all her brilliance couldn’t work her way out of mental illness before it took her. The report said she filled her pockets with stones and drowned herself in the Ouse River near her house in England.

She left a note to her husband Leonard saying “Dearest, I feel certain that I am going mad again.”

Virginia Woolf was one of the great storytellers.

 

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