Her Writings Tell of Her Life



Eng 362


February 27, 2003


In her writings, Virginia Woolf wanted to capture the realness of life, as one would live it. In turn, Woolf’s shared the significant elements of her life in her poetic prose novels, Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse, as a relative self-portrayal. In these books Woolf captured the life as she had lived it, performing this task in three different layers of depth. For a general sense, by allowing the characters to live in a similar society as her own, Woolf depicted her society in her writing. In a deeper sense, many of Woolf’s family members, relationships, and characteristics were symbolically illustrated through the minor literary characters on a more personal level. Moreover, Woolf displayed her views, beliefs, and personal events through the conscience of the main characters.


People believe that Woolf had an ideal family. Born into an aristocratic family, her father, Sir Leslie Stephen, was an eminent editor, journalist, and a biographer; her husband, Leonard Woolf, also was an aristocrat writer, who had a membership in an intellectual circle, Bloomsbury Group, along with Virginia Woolf. Similarly, Woolf planned both Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse to be the stories of two aristocratic families. Virginia Woolf lived from the late Victorian Era until the beginning of King George VI’s reign, through both the climax of Britain’s prosperity and political supremacy and the decline of such political power which was due to the First World War. Yet, in these transitions of Britain’s political status, new ideologies, such as feminism, were developing. From the late Victorian Era to the end of First World War marked a period in which the people attempted to accomplish the new beliefs and ideologies, usually resulting in effective movements.


Most of these ideas were an antithesis of prewar traditions that were led by Modernist, the questioners of tradition, in literary movements. Feminism was one of the popular new ideologies, which generally began through writers, artists, and women of the aristocracy, for they were the ones who were politically aware of what was going on in Britain and on Continent. Furthermore, people, especially the middle and the upper classes, enjoyed enormous prosperity that was brought in by imperialism and the Industrial Revolution. Prosperity drew people to capitalism and investments in foreign countries, for people loved money and were very avaricious.


In her writing, Woolf addressed these Victorian political characteristics through the meeting of Richard Dalloway, Hugh Whitbread, and Lady Bruton in Mrs. Dalloway, where Lady Bruton proposes “a project for emigrating young people of both sexes born of respectable parents and setting them up with a fair prospect of doing well in Canada.” Lady Bruton’s strong independence as a leader shows the movement towards tolerance of women being in power. This scene also portrays people’s cupidity, since this project was designed to bring in a substantial amount of profit. In addition, the Victorian Era was an age of doubt, question, and skepticism towards God, mostly due to Darwinism. Friction was created between morality and newly developing ideologies and beliefs. Although a majority of people still attended church, many writers and artists, especially Modernists, tended to be more agnostic. Likewise Woolf showed the opposing sides, believers and idealists, through the repulsion of Mrs. Dalloway against Miss Kilman, as Mrs. Dalloway has noted, “Had she [Miss Kilman] even tried to convert any one herself? Did she not wish everybody merely to be themselves? Let her… if she wanted to; let her stop; then let her…There was something solemn in it—but love and religion would destroy that, whatever it was, the privacy of the soul. The odious Kilman would destroy it.” Britain faced a phase of decline due to the First World War which brought many changes to people’s lives, although the aristocrats were not as affected by the war. Some post war effects were loneliness, mental and emotional disorders, and disintegration usually suffered by middle and lower classes.


In Mrs. Dalloway, the Dalloway family is planning a party while Septimus Smith, a middle class veteran, is suffering from mental and emotional disorders. Mrs. Dalloway is suffering from loneliness. Mrs. Dalloway is filled with symbols, that represent or suggest vital people in Woolf’s life, for example her husband. He