Virginia Woolf – A Birthday Homage

I have long admired the body of work produced by Virginia Woolf and find her personal life fascinating. And I must be backwards prescient, because I recently read in Writer’s Houses that Virginia wrote in green ink, a  practice I intend to acquire on April 1st (when I become the boss of me), before I knew this about her. [she did her editing in violet colored ink. I’ll have to give that some thought.]

Virginia Woolf and Lytton Strachey1

Lytton Strachey and Virginia Woolf
I chose this photograph, rather than one of the standard head shots of Virginia, because it shows her in motion, engaged, living, and OMG smoking a cigarette. Sitting with Virginia is Lytton Strachey, her great friend and confidante of her husband, Leonard. Lytton was part of the Bloomsbury Group [an English version of the Algonquin Round Table], an incestuous group of intellectuals, of which Virginia was a member.

I thought how unpleasant it is to be locked out; and I thought how it is worse, perhaps, to be locked in.
Virginia Woolf

I first “met” Virginia Woolf in a college English Literature course featuring female authors in the burgeoning feminist heydays in the late 1970’s. Virginia held court in the excellent company of Edith Wharton, Anita Loos, Lillian Hellman, Sylvia Beach, Dorothy Parker, and Isak Dinesen [Karen Blixen]. Life was so shiny new and frantic. Unorthodox thoughts and ideas burst with promise, illumination, deception, and often disappointment.

A woman must have money and a room of her own
if she is to write fiction.
Virginia Woolf

Virginia did not trouble herself worrying about finding an agent or a  publisher. Quite ahead of their time, Virginia and Leonard set up Hogarth Press in 1917, publishing Virginia’s work, as well as others who would become notable 20th century authors, including T S Eliot, Katherine Mansfield, E M Forster, and Sigmund Freud. Indie authors everywhere are descendants of the Woolf’s ingenuity.

On the outskirts of every agony sits some observant fellow who points.
Virginia Woolf

Most of her life, Virginia struggled with mental illness and possibly an eating disorder. Various diary entries and letters reference a need to maintain a certain body weight, below which she heard voices and experienced hallucinations. A great intrigue is whether the acuity of her writing was because of, or in spite of, her illness.

My own brain is to me the most unaccountable of machinery – always buzzing, humming, soaring roaring diving, and then buried in mud.
And why? What’s this passion for?
Virginia Woolf

What, indeed? I ponder this very query about my own buzzing, humming mind.

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2 Responses to Virginia Woolf – A Birthday Homage

  1. jmh says:

    Woolf is one of those writers I’ve always meant to read but never have. Which one of her books would you recommend I start with?

    And why the green pen, for yourself? I’m curious.

  2. Lee says:

    I’m partial to A Room of One’s Own. Despite it’s 1929 publication date, I think it still speaks of universal truths with respect to women and writing.

    Green ink. A professional (male) colleague has used green ink his entire career, and I loved it. As a female, I could never do that and still be considered “serious.” A few years ago, a talented, competent younger woman promoted up the line, and she uses vivid pink ink as her signature color. I love that, too (although pink doesn’t suit me). The old rules I learned to play by no longer seem to dictate. So I decided that when I embark on my writing career full time, I am filling my Waterman cartridges with green ink, instead of blue.

And your point is?