Nearly 100 years ago, Virginia Woolf published her first essays and novels. It feels like she’s never been more important. Readers discovered and revisited Mrs. Dalloway during the lockdown. They found solace and reflection in her thoughts on time in London, and in January 2020, Woolf was at the center of a group biography about women writers in Bloomsbury.
Woolf’s personal life has been as interesting to people as her writing has been to people. During her time as a member of the influential Bloomsbury Group, she got caught up in their complicated and at the time scandalous affairs. Love Letters: Vita and Virginia, is a new book of her lust and longing-filled letters to Vita Sackville-West. It’s worth reading. Their lives, which were both interesting and tragic, have been made into movies and TV shows. People love Woolf because of what she did and what she thought. Her life and thoughts have helped shape modern ideas about feminism, sexuality, and mental health, among other things. Yet, it’s in her well-made books that we feel her indomitable spirit the most and keep hearing Woolf’s own voice. Start reading here.
Despite the fact that this book was written in the middle of Woolf’s career, it is the best way to start reading her work. The plot of the story looks simple at first. For her party, Clarissa Dalloway is planning all day long. The party itself is what the book is about. September, a WWI veteran who has hallucinations and haunting memories, has a story that goes along with hers, as well. The details of this day grow so big that they cover their whole lives and show how important our thoughts and feelings are right now.
To the Lighthouse(1927)
As a young girl, Woolf’s mother died. This is the author’s most personal book because it shows her in the lively and boisterous character Mrs. Ramsay, who looks after her family and guests while they are at their summer home. Woolf has a unique way of showing how people see the world through their own eyes at a certain time, through their stream of consciousness. People will be moved to tears by this style of writing. You’ll be able to feel the true poignancy of all that has been lost in the inevitable progress of time.
Orlando: A Biography (1928)
Beyond the stream-of-consciousness, this playful and funny novella from Woolf shows off the wide range of her imagination. The book is written as an elaborate love letter to Woolf’s friend and lover, Vita Sackville-West. It shows a life that breaks through the boundaries of death, with its main character going back and forth through time and changing gender. During the reign of Elizabeth I, Orlando is a nobleman at the court and a diplomat in Constantinople. He survives into the 20th century to become a well-known poet. Tilda Swinton does a great job portraying the character in the movie adaptation of this book. The book itself must be read to fully enjoy the story.
The Waves (1931)
Woolf is at her best in The Waves. You’ll notice how it brings together the themes and style of the four previous novels. Here, we see the lives of six people as they grow from childhood to old age. Poetic language captures each of their senses in the world. In each section, they describe how the sun moves across the sky. This helps them see their lives in a single day. To start with, it might be weird. Take your time and the wisdom will come to you. It’s a book you should have close at hand at all times and read at different times, because you’ll be able to relate to its six different protagonists as they grow and change with you.
A Room of One’s Own (1929)
Now that you’ve read some of Woolf’s novels, you’ll be excited to read this long essay that is still a powerful feminist statement. A Room of One’s Own is based on two lectures Woolf gave at Girton College, Cambridge, in 1928. It has become such an important part of the feminist canon that its title itself has become a synonym for independence, too.
Woolf is very good at navigating the social and economic barriers that stop women from being as creative as they could be. As an example, she thinks of Judith as a sister to Shakespeare who has all of Shakespeare’s skills but is held back by society’s expectations for women. It’s heartbreaking to read her thoughts about how women aren’t as well-known as men and how brave she had to be to write and publish her other works of fiction.
In The Years, we like how Woolf writes about both the small and the big parts of life at the same time in the scenes he describes. She doesn’t write in a very poetic way in this book, which is about the lives of a genteel family over 50 years, but only at certain times in certain years. Each chapter has a different feel because of how the seasons and the weather change. When Woolf lived, this was her best-selling book, but it hasn’t been popular as much as it used to be. However, it gives a wide view of how personality changes as the sands of history move.
Between the Acts (1941)
It is thought by some people that Between the Acts isn’t finished, but it is also Woolf’s last book and, as a result, is filled with sadness. The book, which tells the story of an amateur play in a village, came out soon after Woolf’s death, and she had a hard time writing it while she was in the middle of her last depressive episode. Still, it’s still an important, insightful, and underappreciated book about how the two wars had a devastating effect on Britain and its people. Between the Acts, like much of Woolf’s writing, is interested in time, how it moves, and how it can change. It’s important to read this book to understand why she did what she did.