Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf was a member of a group of writers known as The Bloomsbury Group, named after a residential section of London where Virginia and her husband Leonard lived in the early decades of this century. According to Kathleen McCoy and Judith Harlan, “Woolf’s group rejected the restraints of propriety and the sexual prudery of Victorian society. They were avant garde in art and literature and remarkably free in their interlocking personal lives. Marital fidelity was not honored, and several members of the group were bisexual . . . . The group came under criticism not only for the perceived immorality of their personal lives, but also for the aestheticism and sometimes for the obscurity of their literature” (McCoy and Harlan, 254).
Some of the works that Virginia published under the protection of her publishing house, Hogarth Press, truly were obscure. T.S. Eliot, for example, is seldom easy reading, but in many cases she was criticized simply because she was a woman who saw nothing wrong with acting as men had acted for centuries, and speaking out about it. Men, for example, had always given themselves the right to express themselves as they saw fit; women were expected to submit to their husbands. Men were not bound to the details of running a household and a family, and could spend their day working in any way they pleased. Women, on the other hand, operated under the schedule set by meals and children. This was certainly not the first time such an observation had been made, but Virginia Woolf expressed it as well as anyone ever had in her work A Room of One’s Own. “Its main purpose is to defend women from the accusation of inferiority that is laid against them on the ground that they have failed to be geniuses. . . . Though she gives herself without stint to the material task of controversy, her temper remains serene. It is as if, advanced beyond the rest of us, she enjoys an extension of our human privilege of seeing a recovery to autumn, and knows that error, like winter, has an end” (West, 213). “The case for woman as creative artist has never been more effectively presented than in A Room of One’s Own, where she makes us partners in her thought process, and leads us on consentingly from step to step in her argument” (Edgar, 328).
She does this in her fiction also, taking up residence in her characters’ minds to not only view them from the inside out, but to see life as the character sees it. This had seldom been one with female characters, at least not with such honesty. Dorothy Brewster notes that “The ease with which Mrs. Woolf slips in and out of people’s minds keeps us from ever taking up a position permanently in any one character’s mind. . . There is a constant shift of focus, from one person to another, and from individuals to life in general” (Brewster, 245).
“Objective reality has little importance to Virginia Woolf; her interest is almost solely in the subjective” (Swinnerton, 374). The reason for Virginia’s subjectivity, as Malcolm Cowley observes, is that “Mrs. Woolf in her head did not believe in stories; she thought of herself as living in a world where nothing ever happened; or at least nothing that mattered, nothing that was real. The reality was outside the world, in the human heart. Her literary method, based on this philosophy, was not to deal explicitly with a situation, but rather to present the shadows it cast in the individual consciousness” (Cowley, 382). In other words, Virginia Woolf describes life by the effect it has on the individual, and she describes character by the effect it has on others.
In addition, Virginia defines gender relationships in a much different way than was standard in post-World War II culture. “In Woolf’s world there is no distinction between the relationships of men and women and the relationships of women and women, men and men, and adults and children. Where the Puritan mind establishes tension by its exclusion of the physical life deliberately and systematically, Woolf excludes it incidentally; it quite literally does not matter” (Oates, 27). Much of this seeming irrelevance may have had its beginning