Virginia Woolf

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Introduction

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Special Commissioned Essay on Virginia Woolf, Philip Tew

The following chronology provides an overview of the key events in Woolf's life and career. These topics are discussed in detail in the “Criticism” section of this entry.

1882: Adeline Virginia Stephen is born on 25 January at 22 Hyde Park Gate, London, to Leslie Stephen and Julia Duckworth Stephen. Earlier children born to the couple are Vanessa (1879) and Thoby (1880). Leslie Stephen has a daughter, Laura (1870), from his previous marriage to Harriet Thackeray Stephen. Julia Stephen has three children from her previous marriage to Herbert Duckworth: George (1868), Stella (1869), and Gerald (1870).

1883: The Stephens' last child, Adrian, is born on 27 October.

1888: Around this time Virginia is sexually molested (according to her own account) by her half brother Gerald.

1895: Julia Stephen dies; her husband withdraws into a state of depressive, obsessive mourning. Virginia suffers her first mental breakdown. Stella runs the household and becomes the first of Virginia's substitute mother figures.

1896: Stella announces her engagement to Jack Hills but subsequently postpones her marriage plans until Vanessa is felt to be sufficiently mature to take over the management of the Stephen household.

1897: Stella marries Hills on 10 April. She returns from their honeymoon ill (and, possibly, pregnant) and dies on 19 July.

1899: Thoby begins his studies at Trinity College, Cambridge University. Virginia receives private lessons in Greek from Janet Case, who later encourages her to become involved in the suffragist movement.

1902: Leslie Stephen is knighted for his contributions to English letters as an editor and author.

1904: Sir Leslie Stephen dies in February of cancer after a protracted and painful illness, during which he was nursed by his daughters. Virginia decides that she will become a writer, but she is uncertain of which path to take. She suffers another mental breakdown in May and attempts suicide by jumping from a window. In October, while Virginia recuperates in Cambridge, Vanessa moves the Stephen household to 46 Gordon Square, Bloomsbury, a more bohemian area of London. Virginia publishes her first reviews and essays. The Stephens travel with Gerald Duckworth to Paris and Italy, meeting Violet Dickinson in Florence. Dickinson becomes a close friend of Virginia.

1905: Virginia teaches part-time at Morley College, an evening college in London for working men and women. In February, Thoby begins to invite his Cambridge friends over on Thursday evenings; these gatherings mark the beginnings of the Bloomsbury Group. Virginia writes for The Times Literary Supplement. She travels to Spain and Portugal with Adrian.

1906: In September all four Stephens travel with Dickinson to Greece, where Vanessa and Thoby contract an illness, diagnosed on their return to England as typhoid fever. Thoby dies on 20 November. Vanessa agrees to marry one of Thoby's friends from Cambridge, Clive Bell, an artist and art critic.

1907: In February, Vanessa marries Bell. Virginia, stricken with a sense of loss and jealousy, moves with Adrian into a house on nearby Fitzroy Square. In April she and Adrian resume the Thursday evening meetings. In October, Virginia begins work on her first novel, at this point tentatively titled “Melymbrosia” but published in 1915 as The Voyage Out.

1908: A first child, Julian, is born to Vanessa and Clive Bell on 4 February.

1909: A substantial legacy of £2,500 is left to Virginia by her aunt Caroline Stephen, known by Virginia as “the Nun” because of her Quaker leanings and religiosity. Lytton Strachey, another of Thoby's friends from Cambridge, makes a hastily withdrawn proposal of marriage. In August, Virginia makes a trip to the Wagner Festival in Bavaria and visits Italy.

1910: In February, Virginia, Adrian, and friends pull off the “Dreadnought Hoax.” Dressed in oriental costume, they visit the Royal Navy battleship Dreadnought, present themselves as emissaries from...

(The entire section is 64,021 words.)