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Virginia Woolf is now recognized as a major twentieth-century author, a great novelist and essayist and a key figure in literary history as a feminist and a modernist. Born in 1882, she was the daughter of the editor and critic Leslie Stephen, and suffered a traumatic adolescence after the deaths of her mother, in 1895, and her step-sister Stella, in 1897, leaving her subject to breakdowns for the rest of her life. Her father died in 1904 and two years later her favourite brother Thoby died suddenly of typhoid.
With her sister, the painter Vanessa Bell, she was drawn into the company of writers and artists such as Lytton Strachey and Roger Fry, later known as the Bloomsbury Group. Among them she met Leonard Woolf, whom she married in 1912, and together they founded the Hogarth Press in 1917, which was to publish the work of T. S. Eliot, E. M. Forster and Katherine Mansfield as well as the earliest translations of Freud. Woolf lived an energetic life among friends and family, reviewing and writing, and dividing her time between London and the Sussex Downs. In 1941, fearing another attack of mental illness, she drowned herself.
Her first novel, The Voyage Out, appeared in 1915, and she then worked through the transitional Night and Day (1919) to the highly experimental and impressionistic Jacob’s Room (1922). From then on her fiction became a series of brilliant and extraordinarily varied experiments, each one searching for a fresh way of presenting the relationship between individual lives and the forces of society and history. She was particularly concerned with women’s experience, not only in her novels but also in her essays and her two books of feminist polemic, A Room of One’s Own (1929) and Three Guineas (1938).
Her major novels include Mrs Dalloway (1925), the historical fantasy Orlando (1928), written for Vita Sackville-West, the extraordinarily poetic vision of The Waves (1931), the family saga of The Years (1937), and Between the Acts (1941).
April 2014 Guest Editor Nicci French on To the Lighthouse. Some people think modernism is chilly and unemotional: not this modernist masterpiece, which made me long to write. It’s a miraculous novel about time, which passes over everything, about art and the act of writing, about families, about human loneliness, about love.
One of Helen Dunmore's favourite books. 'There are novels which have an almost uncanny power to renew themselves in the reader's imagination. Each time I return to To the Lighthouse I'm struck by something that I haven't noticed before: a flash of description, a moment of double-edged intimacy between two characters, a touch of senory experience so immediate that it brings a shiver. More and more as we grow older, these great novels declare their authority. they will certainly outlive us, like sea or rock or sand.' You can read Helen Dunmore's full Introduction to To the Lighthouse in this Orange Inheritance edition published by Vintage.
A Room of One's Own, based on a lecture given at Girton College Cambridge, is one of the great feminist polemics, ranging in its themes from Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte to the silent fate of Shakespeare's gifted (imaginary) sister and the effects of poverty and sexual constraint on female creativity. Three Guineas was published almost a decade later and breaks new ground in its discussion of men, militarism and women's attitudes towards war. These two pieces reveal Virginia Woolf's fiery spirit and sophisticated wit and confirm her status as a highly inspirational essayist. On My Bookshelf by Philippa Gregory... This was recommended to me when I was 23. I remember taking it on a camping holiday and reading it while blowing up the airbed with a foot pump! Woolf says women can’t be expected to work creatively when they have no resources. I felt she explained in a logical way why women’s creativity is not more successful. I gave it to my daughter, because it’s such a powerful read and I wanted to pass that on to her. Philippa Gregory's new book, The White Queen, is out now.
One of One of Will Self's favourite books. On a June morning in 1923, Clarissa Dalloway is preparing for a party and remembering her past. Elsewhere in London, Septimus Smith is suffering from shell-shock and on the brink of madness. Their days interweave and their lives converge as the party reaches its glittering climax.
Jacob's Room, Virginia Woolf's third novel, is short compared with its predecessor Night and Day. She said herself that she learnt what to leave out by putting it all in. Jacob's Room may be read as the simple story of a young man's life from childhood until his death in the First World War, but it is much more than that: it subtly indicts a society that instils obedience and celebrates militarism. Consequently, Jacob's death seems random yet inevitable. Extensive explanatory notes clarify the myriad passing allusions, which should lead to a reassessment of Jacob's Room as one of the great modernist masterpieces, taking its place with Ulysses and The Waste Land in the iconic year of 1922. The substantial introduction includes a detailed account of the novel's composition, publication, and early critical reception, together with chronologies of composition and of Woolf's life.
'A fantasy, impossible but delicious ... an exuberance of life and wit' The Times Literary Supplement First masculine, then feminine, Orlando begins life as a young sixteenth-century nobleman, then gallops through the centuries to end up as a woman writer in Virginia Woolf's own time. Written for the charismatic, bisexual writer Vita Sackville-West, this playful mock biography of a chameleon-like historical figure is both a wry commentary on gender and, in Woolf's own words, a 'writer's holiday' which delights in its ambiguity and capriciousness. Edited by Brenda Lyons with an Introduction and Notes by Sandra M. Gilbert
'One of the most moving, revolutionary artworks of the twentieth century' Michael Cunningham Clarissa Dalloway, elegant and vivacious, is preparing for a party and remembering those she once loved. In another part of London, Septimus Warren Smith is suffering from shell-shock and on the brink of madness. Smith's day interweaves with that of Clarissa and her friends, their lives converging as the party reaches its glittering climax. Virginia Woolf's masterly novel, in which she perfected the interior monologue, brings past, present and future together on one momentous day in June 1923. Edited by Stella McNichol with an Introduction and Notes by Elaine Showalter
'But, you may say, we asked you to speak about women and fiction - what has that got to do with a room of one's own?' A Room of One's Own grew out of a lecture that Virginia Woolf had been invited to give at Girton College, Cambridge in 1928 and became a landmark work of feminist thought. Covering everything from why a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write, to authors such as Jane Austen, Aphra Behn and the Bronte sisters, and the tragic story of Shakespeare's fictional sister Judith, it remains a passionate assertion for female creativity and independence in a world dominated by men. 'Fierce, energetic, humorous' Hermione Lee
From his childhood on the wild, windswept shores of Cornwall and his college days at Cambridge to his life as a lawyer in London and a fateful journey to the Mediterranean, Jacob Flanders's story is told by the women in his life, whether through his mother's correspondence, the conversations of a friend or the thoughts and remembrances of those who love him. An extraordinary departure from traditional forms of the novel, Jacob's Room is both an elegiac and experimental tale told in pieces and fragments, and one of Virginia Woolf 's most poignant stories. Jacob, of whom people speak, of whom they think... is never shown. And yet that denial of presence on the part of the author makes of him one of the most living presences in world literature. - MICHAEL CUNNINGHAM
Exam board: Edexcel, OCR, Cambridge Assessment International Education Level & Subject: AS and A Level English Literature First teaching: September 2015 First examination: June 2017, 2020 This edition of Mrs Dalloway provides depth and context for A Level students, with the complete novel in an easy to read format, and a detailed introduction and bespoke glossary written by an experienced A Level teacher with academic expertise in the area. * Affordable high quality complete text of Mrs Dalloway, ideal for AS and A Level Literature * Perfectly pitched introductions provide the depth and demand required by AS and A Level * Explore the contemporary context, Virginia Woolf's writing, the novel's critical reception and subsequent interpretations for a deeper reading of the text * Expand your further reading with a list of key articles and critical and theoretical texts * Improve your understanding of the novel with unfamiliar concepts and culturally-specific terms defined in the glossary