VIRGINIA WOOLF (1882­1941)

BIOGRAPHY (SYNTHESIS) > Literature in English p 267

Virginia Woolf was born in London, and educated at home by her father, Leslie Stephen (biographer and critic).
When he died in 1904, she settled in London with her sister and brothers. Their house became a meeting point for the "Bloomsbury Group". She married Leonard Woolf, a man of letters and founded the Hogarth Press, publishing her novels and works by Forster, T.S.Eliot,...

She suffered from depression and anxiety and committed suicide by drowning in 1941.

Her first novels were traditional. Virginia Woolf broke away from realistic and linear 19th -century narrative conventions and tried to reveal the fluidity of experience, the flow of thoughts and impressions running through the mind. This led her to experiment with interior monologue, stream of consciousness and time, using flashbacks and disrupted chronology to show how time can expand and contract, how past and present experiences can merge in a character's mind.

The "Bloomsbury Group"
Virginia's house in Bloomsbury became a centre for important literary, artistic and philosophical group of writers. Its members were:
Virginia Stephen, Vanessa Stephen, Toby Stephen, the art philosopher Clive Bell (who married Vanessa), the novelist and journalist Leonard Woolf (who married Virginia), the famous economist John Maynard Keynes, the great biographer Lytton Strachey, the novelist Edward Morgan Forster and the art critic Roger Fry.
They were anti­Victorian, unconventional in their ideas about life, society and art, sceptical about religion, left­wing in politics. Their ideas about sex caused some scandal. Sexual promiscuity and bisexual relations were not uncommon among them. Virginia Woolf was very close to the writer Vita (Victoria) Sackville West, a young noblewoman who inspired Orlando.

In Orlando the main character is androgynous, changing sex several times as he/she moves through four centuries of British history.

The Voyage Out (1915) Mrs Dalloway (1925)
To the Lighthouse (1927) Orlando (1928)
The Waves (1931)

Modern Fiction in which V. Woolf expresses her idea of what a novel should be. Mr Bennet and Mrs Brown in which she attacks realism in the novel.
A Room of One's Own which examines discrimination against women.

ORLANDO (SUMMARY) > A World of Words p 508

At the end of the 15th century in an English castle lives Orlando, the heir of an old family, which includes knights and courtiers. Orlando loves chivalry and poetry. He is so graceful and refined that Queen Elizabeth calls him to court, where he becomes everyone's favourite.

Under James I's reign Orlando meets Sasha, a Russian princess. She declares her love for him but disappears leaving him lovesick and desperate.
He decides to devote himself to poetry and goes on writing his poem "The Oak". The Oak is also the name of his country residence.

He asks to be sent to Constantinople as ambassador to avoid marrying a Rumanian noblewoman. There he falls into a long sleep at the end of which he wakes up a woman.
After many adventures in the Near East, she returns to England. She realizes the London of the Restoration and the Augustan Age is very different from the London she knew. Rationalism pervades everything. She meets the most famous writers: Addison, Swift, Pope,...

As the years pass Orlando lives through all the social changes of the Romantic Age, Victorian Age, and finally of the Modern Age. She experiences the different degrees of freedom for a woman.

We are in 1928 now: Orlando is a modern woman, married and with children. She drives a car and has won a literary prize­her poem is finally finished. She leads a free and indipendent life but she still tries to make sense of her life.

­Orlando is a historical novel, a biography and a parody of both.
­Evolution of a poetic genius: Orlando tries through the centuries and succeeds in writing a long poem. ­Evolution and refinement of a personality: the accumulation of many lifetimes of experience.
­Evolution of the role of woman: this evolution is reached by Orlando through a change in sex from male to female, and not vice­versa. This change takes place in the 17th century, when female consciousness begins to make itself felt.
­Androginy: the individual's personality is too complex to be roughly classified as "male" and "female".

According to Woolf, a novelist should try to describe not just the external facts of people and their lives but the way the people are inside, their elusive and hard­ to­ define personality.
She was interested in subjectivity of experience not in objectivity. To her, reality was what impressed the individual mind out of the myriad of impressions that fell on it daily. In other words what was important depended not on the event on itself but on the impression it made on the human consciousness. She rejected traditional eventful plots.
Her attention was turned to describing what went on in her character's minds.

TECHNIQUES > A World of Words p 508
To describe her character's minds she makes great use of interior monologue:
her sentences are broken by dashes and semicolons, to reproduce the incessant and irregular flux of words as they build up in the mind.
Time was described by Woolf as the difference between "time on the clock" (external events) and "time of the mind"(internal events).

Interior monologue

The 20th­century writers understood it was impossible to reproduce the complexity of the human mind using traditional techniques. They adopted the interior monologue to represent the unspoken activity of the mind before it is ordered in speech. It is the verbal expression of a psychic phenomenon while the stream of consciousness is the psychic phenomenon in itself. The interior monologue is an "immediate speech", freed from introductory expressions like "he thought, he said, he remembered", from formal structures and from logical and chronological order.

There is no interference by the narrator, it is the character's consciousness which takes over the page using the first personal pronoun.

Stream of consciousness

The uninterrupted and unpunctuated flow of thoughts as they first come to a person's mind, before they are organised, logically and syntactically, by reason. It is the characters'process of thinking.