Seven Reasons Why I Love Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf, painted by Roger Fry

Seven Reasons Why I Love Virginia Woolf
by Jacqueline Manni (guest poster for read-a-longs)

Why seven? Because Virginia Woolf was an iconoclast, and would hate to have ten things like everyone else!

1. She was one of the pioneers of the literary technique Stream of Consciousness, and is considered one of the founders of Modernism. Both of these are very evident in To the Lighthouse, and I think it’s fruitful to think about technique and the spirit of the time as we try and understand the book.

2. She wrote one of the most unique love letters of all time, the novel Orlando. You can read it looking for tidbits about Vita Sackville-West, or you can read it as an exploration of gender and sexuality, or you can even read it to question the intersection of imagination and history, but do read it. It’s loads of fun.

3. She let other women know how important having A Room of One’ s Own was to creativity. After I read this book, I always made sure that I had a space to call my own. It started out as a corner of a shared room; don’t let size constrain you. What matters is that it’s yours, and that you take the time to use it. Also, make your own money.

4. One of her first professional writings was about the Brontes’ home, Haworth, for the Times Literary Supplement. I find this so interesting as a person who greatly admires the writing of the Brontes, and Woolf. I have always felt that Villette especially was so Modern.

5. She was an important member of the Bloomsbury group, one of the most famous circles of writers, artists, and intellectuals of this century. In fact, the painting of Virginia Woolf that I shared in this post is by Roger Fry, one of the Bloomsbury painters. I’m such a lone wolf that I find it endlessly fascinating to read and think about what it must have been like to be in a circle such as this one, or the Beats, or the Pre-Raphaelites, or ,or, or!

6. She bucked society. She married Leonard Woolf, a Jew, at a time when anti-Jewish sentiment was on the rise. Together, they went on to found Hogarth Press. Imagine, publishing for the first time Eliot, Isherwood, Forster, and bringing Freud to English readers! All started on a press sitting on a dining room table!

7. She fought demons. She lost her mother when she was thirteen, and half-sister two years later, which is said to have led to the first of her nervous breakdowns. She was also subjected to sexual abuse by her half-brothers. She was institutionalized after her father died in 1904. Imagine her suicide, pockets full of rocks, walking slowly into the lake. Haunting. How she was able to be so incredibly prolific and groundbreaking whilst trying to make it through amazes me, and I admire her greatly for it.

What an amazing person. I hope my little shout out to Virginia Woolf adds to your appreciation of To The Lighthouse. What did you think of this week’s reading? I’ll share my thoughts in the comments along with the rest of you!

Who’s Reading Along:

* Those of you with blogs, please make sure the Name/URL commenting option is available on your comments box, so that it’s easy for other read-a-longers to comment (including me!). Thanks!

Melissa C.
Jennifer O.
Susan E.
Lydia Presley
Michelle @ The True Book Addict
Marisa @ Armchair Archives
Cathy Crane
Sandra Varela

(If you are participating and I don’t have you on this list, please let me know. I did not include people who said ‘maybe’ so if you have changed your mind and are definitely reading along with us, let me know so I can add you. Also, if you are not going to be able to join us anymore please let me know and I will take you off the list. If you go for two weeks without commenting in my weekly update comments section, I will assume you are no longer participating and will take you off of the list. This is in no way to be discouraging, but helps to keep the read-a-long organized. Thanks!)

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30 thoughts on “Seven Reasons Why I Love Virginia Woolf

  1. Fact update! @teadevotee on twitter brought it to my attention that Forester was published before the founding of Hogarth Press. I looked into it more and indeed, it’s true! Hogarth was the first to publish his travel writings, specifically Alexandria: A History and Guide (1922) and Pharos and Pharillon (A Novelist’s Sketchbook of Alexandria Through the Ages) (1923). Thank you @teadevotee!

  2. I LOVE this, Jacqueline — you did such a great job!

    I found that I love this book again (what did I tell everyone last week? I knew I would!). I find that Woolf must be read slowly and deliberately, otherwise it’s not worth it. However, read it slowly and you can savor it.

    So now I know why I wanted to be there with that house buzzing with people — there was so much LIFE in it! WIth this stark contrast to what happens now that Mrs. Ramsey, etc. are gone it is so apparent that the draw was how abundantly alive the house and family felt at the beginning.

    I really appreciated Lily’s reaction to Mr. Ramsay’s need of her sympathy. It was so well-written. I can relate to that so much, though I react differently than Lily did (most of the time). When I was younger, however, I used to react exactly as Lily did — gathering up my skirts so they didn’t get wet… I loved that line.

    • Yes, I find Woolf’s writing so evocative, too! So much so I keep putting down the book and thinking – it’s taking me a long time to read this short work because I’m finding it so dense. Agree completely. It’s almost like her writing forces you to take time with it.

  3. Jackie, I’m as drawn to that Bloomsbury circle as you are. Let’s start one! I’ll sit at your feet while you regale us with tea and tales (and tales of tea!) If you’ve never seen the movie Carrington, it’s a feast; one of the most revered of my collection. Btw would you believe this English major has NEVER read or HEARD OF Orlando?? Excited now to check it out!!

    Eudora Welty’s forward reminds us that the Ramsays were patterned after Virginia Woolf’s own parents; the summer home, so like her childhood summer house at Cornwall. It’s what we would’ve guessed, but still good to know. Hopefully everyone’s edition of Lighthouse includes this forward–it’s six pages you mustn’t miss. “But this is what I see”–Lily’s assertion as she patiently, persistently attempts to transfer her beloved world of the Ramseys onto canvas–is to Welty the novel in a nutshell. Mrs. R’s eyes going round the dining room table, “unveiling each of the people and their thoughts and their feelings, without effort;” is starkly contrasted by Mr. R’s incessant tendency to see things in the abstract, like “the kitchen table when you’re not there.”

    Eudora Welty sums up Lighthouse as Virginia Woolf’s vision of reality, and how differently each of us perceives it. And of course the distant Lighthouse signals the passing of time “in the perpetual changing sea beneath the unpredictable sky.” I think we can already tell this is not a book to be forgotten. We’ll carry it with us through all OUR changing tides.

    • @So_Meow, our group must include butler pantries, moon worship, and using old and special things like tablecloths and pie plates at our meetings :) :) :)

      I have the book with Eudora Welty’s introduction too! I’m saving it for the end (like I usually do with all “introductions” – I usually can’t understand or think about them until I’ve read the book!)!

      I’ll look up Carrington asap! There is a wonderful movie of Orlando, too! I love this blog post about the film:

    • Thank you! I last read To the Lighthouse in college so now it’s like reading another book because of life experience. I’m so glad Wallace offered this read-a-long!

  4. What a charming post! Your read along posts are always delightful and come at the right time to cheer us on to the end. I love Virginia Woolf, too, and find her inspiring and fascinating. To the Lighthouse is my favorite of her novels; (note the Woolfian semi-colon :>) ) the Common Readers and her book reviews are marvelous too, and I don’t know how many authors I discovered or took another look at based on her criticism. Her letters are delightful and I think give a flavor of her personality untempered by art. And her diaries are fascinating glimpses into her creative process and/or writing.

    This week’s reading was very interesting in how it bridged the three sections of the book. I loved the quiet ending of the first section with Mr and Mrs Ramsay reading together each with their own thoughts at the end of the day and her refusal to tell him out loud she loves him- he seems so dominating that her delight in winning seems completely justified:
    “For she had triumphed again. She had not said it: yet he knew.”

    Then the middle section language is incredibly lovely in places as it depicts the corrosions of time:

    “What people had shed and left—a pair of shoes, a shooting cap, some faded skirts and coats in wardrobes—those alone kept the human shape and in the emptiness indicated how once they were filled and animated; how once hands were busy with hooks and buttons; how once the looking-glass had held a face; had held a world hollowed out in which a figure turned, a hand flashed, the door opened, in came children rushing and tumbling; and went out again. Now, day after day, light turned, like a flower reflected in water, its sharp image on the wall opposite.” I love that phrase “how once the looking-glass held a face” and how it goes on to the other things that were caught glancingly in its reflection.

    And now Lily is getting back to her picture and her thoughts.

    “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.”

    • I really loved the middle section. I think I reread it (my book 125-141) about 6 times. It completely did me in. The passage of time. Decay. Death. Nature. (World) War (I). Mrs. McCabe, old and creaky, trying to stay the rot. It was lovely, and sad, and lonely, and frightening.

      I really liked the part you quoted at the end, too. Love the match metaphor :) Lily is the character I’m most drawn to in the novel.

      I really want to read VW’s diaries, letters, and reviews now – thank you for that rec!

      • I have the first volume — am really wanting to read it (and still wanting to read the bio of C. Bronte by Gaskell, that has been sitting on my shelf since before the read-a-long). These books always give way to wanting to read MORE books!

    • And guess what Jill–I think I’m sort of in love with your blog!! Can’t you attach it to a twitter account?? (smiley-face)

      (Susan E, hope you see this–in case there was doubt, my “loved your post so much I read it 3x” was to YOU!)

      • Oh, thank you! I’ve enjoyed writing about what I’m reading, even though I’m not a very regular blogger. I am actually on twitter under @lawschoolninja (I’m about to start my third year of law school). I thought about starting a new twitter account for my book blog, but I haven’t done it yet and I’m not sure I can keep up with two accounts. However! I have already started following you and I’d love for you to follow me too. I love me some twitter!

  5. Hi Wallace:

    I tried to read Virginia Woolf, but I could not take the stream of consiousness. Even though I know it is art, I just wanted her to say what she meant. So I lost my mind 14 pages in and did not finish. Maybe it would be different to listen to? But you are right about a space of ones own. That is very important! There is a book called Heroine’s Bookshelf and the author talks about taking time to read as therapy. I notice a lot of your bloggers talk about wishing they had more time–me too!!–to read. There is so much to do, but I have started to heed the words of taking time to read as therapy rather than guilty pleasure. It is still hard to do, but I’m doin’ it!


    • Yes! I often listen to books that I think I would get more out of being read to me than trying to read them myself. There is so much about how one reads a passage that adds meaning that wouldn’t be there if read incorrectly. I highly recommend listening to this one if you get a chance – it could make all the difference.

      I agree with reading for therapy… I’ll have to read that post — do you have the link? I think there is an important balance between reading to learn (which therapy falls under) and reading to escape. I try to keep a balance between them. It’s difficult to read the books that hit home in hard ways, but those are usually the ones that change our lives, aren’t they?

  6. I was so haunted and impressed with To the Lighthouse and am looking forward to reading more by VW and read Hermione Lee’s bio of her life.

  7. Pingback: to the lighthouse: read-along week 3 | Ninjy on a Mission

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