Virginia Woolf was born in 1882 in London, England. She was the daughter of Leslie Stephen, an eminent man of letters, and Julia Prinsep Jackson Duckworth. The Stephen-Duckworth household had many children and was financially secure. Woolf had free rein of her father’s extensive library, and was able to educate herself thoroughly.
Woolf was brought up in a scholarly and creative environment. Following her father’s death in 1904, Woolf and three of her siblings moved to a house in Bloomsbury (a neighborhood of London) where they cultivated a similar atmosphere. Woolf began writing and publishing at this time, mostly literary criticism. In 1907, when her sister Vanessa (a painter) married art critic Clive Bell, Woolf and a brother moved to another house. The writers, intellectuals, and artists who met at this house played central and pivotal roles in early-20th-century British intellectual and cultural history. They were known as the Bloomsbury group, and they espoused a number of common views; for example, most were pacifists. To Woolf, questions of gender, gender difference, and sexuality became extremely important. She was interested in the commonalties of men and women as well as their differences, and she argued that artists had androgynous minds.
Woolf began publishing fiction in 1915, and it was with her third novel (Jacob’s Room, 1922) that she began to show maturity as a writer. Mrs. Dalloway, her fourth novel, is evidence of the consolidation of a major and rare fictional talent. Woolf went on to publish more novels, and these, together with her extensive non-fiction publications, amount to one of the most distinguished bodies of literature in the English language.
Virginia Woolf (then Virginia Stephen) married Leonard Woolf, a politician and writer, in 1912. Despite the success of her marriage and publishing career, she suffered bouts of mental disequilibrium throughout her life, periods of madness or near-madness that terrified her. After each recovery she was haunted by the thought that the next time she might not return to sanity. This fear, along with the depressing events of World War II (1939-1945), finally proved too much for her to bear. Convinced that Hitler’s forces would prevail, and mired in a period of depression, Woolf committed suicide by drowning in Lewes, Sussex, England on March 28, 1941.