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Virginia Woolf and feminism

The feminism aspects of her life and novels

Hausarbeit 2005 17 Seiten

Anglistik - Literatur


Table of contents:

1. Importance of the topic and the structure of the term paper

2. A short introduction into Virginia Woolf’s life

3. Definition of the term “Feminism”
3.1 How the theory of Feminism influenced Virginia as an adolescent
3.2 Virginia’s new independence and emancipation after her father’s death
3.3 Virginia Woolf and the motherhood

4. First Signs of Feminism in Virginia’s novels and essays
4.1 “Mrs Dalloway”
4.2 “A Room of One’s Own”
4.3 “Three Guineas”

5. Misunderstanding Virginia Woolf

6. Summary and Conclusions


Internet sources:

1. Importance of the topic and the structure of the term paper

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) was one of the most important female authors in the transitional period from Victorian age to the Edwardian age. Until her death at the age of 59 she published several novels, feminist essays and held two classes in Cambridge about “Women and Fiction”.

In this term paper I would like to introduce the feminism aspects of her life and novels, and give an over-view of the essays she wrote.

After giving a short introduction with the most important facts about Virginia Woolf’s life, my first intention is to define the theory of feminism and show how it affected Virginia already as a young girl and mainly as an independent woman.

Later, three of her novels are taken to demonstrate how Virginia Woolf’s development influenced her literary output. I would also like to show the differences between Virginia Woolf’s attitude towards women and men and compare it to theories of the feministic movement in the 20th century.

This will be followed by a summary and conclusion, and a Bibliography, which only shows the most relevant books published for this subject, for there are numerous biographies and essays written on Virginia Woolf’s life.

2. A short introduction into Virginia Woolf’s life

Born as the third child of Sir Leslie Stephen, the editor of the “Dictionary of National Biography”, and his second wife Julia Duckworth, January 1st 1882, Virginia and her siblings grew up in London where she had always had easy access to education, such as private classes in Latin and Greek - which was not a common case for girls in Victorian times - and also to her father’s library.

There were two major incidents in Virginia’s youth that caused serious mental breakdowns: Her mother’s death in 1895 and seven years later, her father’s death of cancer.[1] After recovering from this mental crisis, Virginia enjoyed her new independence, travelling to Spain and Italy, accompanied by her sister Vanessa and her brother Thoby, who later died of Typhus.[2]

Virginia returned to London where she made friends with Leonard Woolf. After getting married in 1912, Leonard had to find out that Virginia not only refused any sexual relationship with him, but also had numerous breakdowns during the following years, including several tries of committing suicide. This mental illness carried on during her whole life, usually appearing shortly before finishing her most recent novel.[3]

In 1918, Leonard and Virginia Woolf published the first edition of Virgina’s short story “Key Garden”, her fist two novels “The Voyage Out” and “Night and Day” were published in 1915 and 1919[4], several other important outputs followed, such as “Jacob’s Room” (1922), “Mrs Dalloway” (1925), “To the Lighthouse” (1927), “A Room of One’s own” (1929), “Orlando” (1930), “Three Guineas” (1938)[5] and others. At the same time they printed the Hogarth Press in their own house in London.

Although being invited to hold lectures, going to the United States and receiving public honours, Virginia gave only “two lectures in Cambridge colleges”[6] as she became famous.

She had almost finished her last novel “Between the Acts” when her mental state became more and more instable and she actually lost the interest on writing, for the war kept everybody occupied with other things (“It struck me that one curious feeling is, that the writing ‘I’ has vanished. No audience. No echo. That’s part of one’s death.”[7]), until she committed suicide by drowning herself in a River in January 1941.[8]

3. Definition of the term “Feminism”

To analyse Virginia Woolf’s attitude towards feminism and how this is demonstrated in her books and essays, there has to be a definition first of what “feminism” means in general: Feminism is “the belief in the principle that women should have the same rights and opportunities as men” also “the movement in support of this”[9]. But there are also different types of feminism, such as the “cultural feminism”, the “Individualist or Libertarian Feminism”, the “Moderate Feminism”[10], and several more. What they all have in common is that they have the same origin which is to call attention to the problem of discrimination between men an women concerning different issues, social and private.

The feminism movement started already in the 19th century although it did not develop as fast as in the beginning of the 20th century when the female presence in public, work-life and also in the media at that time was accepted.

The media and female writers were the main supporters of the feministic movement, that achieved and changed a lot, but still has not reached his goal, for it still works with the same principles such as for example the “Emma”.

3.1 How the theory of Feminism influenced Virginia as an adolescent

The relationship between her parents, the talented and highly respected Leslie Stephen and his beautiful wife, who was always there to give him support and her unshared attention, had great effect on Virginia’s attitude towards men. It is said that she inherited her mother’s beauty but that she could not deal with it the way her mother did. She regarded her mothers ability to get along with other people so well with great approval but she could not cope with her mother’s behaviour as it was appropriate for a woman in Victorian times – a role her mother fit perfectly in. After her mother died in 1895 at the age of 49, Leslie Stephen tried to force his daughters into the empty space the mother left as being a perfect hostess, which made them fear and hate their father, and which had also a great effect on Virginia striving for a way out of this Victorian tradition.[11]

Another influence in her development towards an important author of modern feminism were her two step-brothers, George and Gerald Duckworth, but also her own brothers, Thoby and Adrian, who enjoyed a full education at Cambridge University, while she stayed at home, taught by her parents and later receiving private classes, an untypical phenomenon in Victorian times, as already mentioned above.[12]

George and Gerald represented still the old Victorian way of life, while Thoby, coming back home from Cambridge invented a discussion group with friends from University to which his two sisters Vanessa and Virginia were invited, too. This are so-called the first steps to the “beginning of Bloomsbury”, although it did not fully develop until a couple of years later.[13]

In spite of the fact that Virginia had access to her father’s library, private lessons in Greek and Latin, and was allowed to joined discussion circles of her brother and his mates, the fact that women in the beginning of the 20th century were excluded and refused to visit Universities had great effect on her emancipation as for she also took it as a “geistige Herausforderung”[14]


[1] Lehmann, John (1975), Virginia Woolf and her world, London: Thames and Hudson, page 7 ff.

[2] Lehmann, p. 19

[3] Lehmann, p. 32

[4] Lehmann, p. 42 f

[5] Lehmann, p. 66

[6] Riedl, Thomas (1986), Emanzipation bei Virginia Woolf, Essen: Verlag die blaue Eule, p. 28

[7] Woolf, Virginia; Anne Oliver Bell (Ed.) (1977-84), Diary of Virginia Woolf, 5 vols., Harmondsworth: Penguin, p.293

[8] Lehmann, p. 114

[9] Crowther, J. (Edt.) (1995), Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, 5th edition, Oxford University Press


[11] Riedl, p. 20

[12] Riedl, p. 21

[13] Lehmann, p.16

[14] Riedl, p.24

[15] (16.04.2005)

[16] Rose, p. 198


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
465 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Universität Paderborn
Virginia Woolf Feminism



Titel: Virginia Woolf and feminism