Wikipedia Commons
Wikipedia Commons

Who is afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Virginia Woolf, arguably one of Britain’s greatest yet under-appreciated writers, would have marked her 136th Birthday on the January 25. She is a writer that I think most people have heard of, and yet when asked, very few people have actually read her work. From novels such as Mrs Dalloway and To The Lighthouse, to her non-fiction essay A Room of One’s Own about the role of the female writer, Virginia Woolf is forward thinking in both her attitudes and writing style. Even though she was writing in the first half of the twentieth century, there is a tone to her work that nearly a hundred years later still resonates and is still important to read today. As well as being one of the key writers in the Modernism movement, Woolf was also a key figure in the London literary circle, The Bloomsbury Group, and with her husband Leonard Woolf set up the publishing house Hogarth Press. ┬áVirginia Woolf’s success as both a writer and a publicist are reasons that we should be paying more attention to her work and her life, especially as a woman who managed to carve a place for herself in a patriarchal society. For these reasons, alongside her attitudes expressed in writing such as A Room of One’s Own, she is regarded as a feminist icon, calling for more people to take notice of her work.

Her stream of consciousness allows insight and exploration into narratives

So why don’t more choose to read the works of Virginia Woolf? I believe that there can be a perception of her work as being very literary; novels that are only read by literature students for the purpose of studying the way in which she writes, in relation to the Modernist movement. The experimental nature of her writing can be daunting to a new reader, and it does take a few pages to slip into the flow of her writing style. Her use of a stream of consciousness is one aspect of her style that I personally admire most, as it allows for real insight and exploration into characters and their narratives. Once you have persevered for the first ten or so pages of one of her novels, you find yourself fully immersed in her writing style and the characters that she creates and will be carried along by the lyrical nature of her prose.

Woolf’s style means that she is able to move between different perspectives with ease, and through this she manages to create a whole host of characters that the reader can empathise with, even though two characters may hold opposing opinions. If you enjoy the shifting perspectives in contemporary works such as Game of Thrones, then Woolf’s writing will satisfy that enjoyment of following numerous points of view. Through this use of multiple perspectives and narratives, Woolf can create an entire world within a novel; Mrs Dalloway for instance, takes place over the space of a single day, and yet through different narratives and points of view a rich fully embodied London appears. Using retrospection and memories, the reader is given access to the characters’ entire lives, which linger in the reader’s own memory long after the novel is put down.

Woolf is a writer who has gone underappreciated outside of literary circles for a long time

It is impossible to argue that Virginia Woolf’s work is outdated and therefore irrelevant, as so much of it captures the mood of the time she was writing, and her own progressive attitudes. There are many aspects of her work that can be considered forward thinking, beyond her Modernist style: Mrs Dalloway features a kiss between two female characters; A Room of One’s Own advocates the need for women writers to have their own space, literally and figuratively, within a male dominated literary space. As a literary critic, she worried that her criticism would not be given the same respect as the criticisms of her male counterparts, which to an extent does still resonate today with women fearing that they will be discredited due to their gender. Virginia Woolf is a writer who has gone underappreciated outside of literary circles for a long time, despite the fact that as a culture we still acknowledge and read the works of other great writers from previous eras; William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and Jane Austen to name a few. If we can still celebrate these writers, then we should be including Virginia Woolf due to the style of her work alone, but also the role she played as a female writer, a publicist and a critic in a male dominated literary society.

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