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Virginia Woolf wrote the draft for this essay in mid-April, shortly before beginning the Initial Holograph Draft of ‘Time Passes’, which was written between 30th April and 25th May 1926.

In conjunction with Virginia Woolf’s essay ‘Impassioned Prose’, which was drafted between 10th and 13th May 1926, this essay informs and bookends the Initial Holograph Draft.

The essay is presented in both full and paged versions, which can be accessed from the menu in the right sidebar or at the foot of the page.

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Reproduced by permission of the Society of Authors as the literary representative of the estate of Virginia Woolf.

Virginia woolf essay

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Virginia Woolf was an English writer and essayist. We have most of her works at this site and they consistently rank as some of the most popular ebooks accessed. At the bottom of this page you will find a few snippets of her writing.

The article on Woolf at Wikipedia states that she "is considered one of the greatest innovators in the English language. In her works she experimented with stream-of-consciousness, the underlying psychological as well as emotional motives of characters, and the various possibilities of fractured narrative and chronology. In the words of E. M. Forster, she pushed the English language ‘a little further against the dark,’ and her literary achievements and creativity are influential even today."

Contents of Virginia Woolf’s Short Story and Essay Collections

The Common Reader

The Pastors and Chaucer

On not knowing Greek

The Elizabethan Lumber Room

Notes on an Elizabethan Play

The Duchess of Newcastle

Rambling round Evelyn

Lives of the Obscure–Taylors and Edgeworths

Lives of the Obscure–Laetitia Pilkington

Jayne Eyre’ and ‘Wuthering Heights’

The Russian Point of View

Outlines–Lady Dorothy Nevill

The Patron and the Crocus

The Modern Essay

How it strikes a Contemporary


The Strange Elizabethans

Donne After Three Centuries

"The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia"

Dorothy Osborne’s "Letters"

Swift’s "Journal of Stella"

The "Sentimental Journey"

Lord Chesterfield’s Letters to his Son

Two Parsons: James Woodforde; John Skinner

Dr. Burney’s Evening Party

De Quincey’s Autobiography

Four Figures: Cowper and Lady Austen; Beau Brummell; Mary Wollstonecraft; Dorothy Wordsworth

Geraldine and Jane

The Niece of an Earl

The Novels of George Meredith

“I am Christina Rossetti”

The Novels of Thomas Hardy

How Should One Read a Book?


The Death Of The Moth

Evening Over Sussex: Reflections in a Motor Car

Street Haunting: A London Adventure

"Twelfth Night" at the Old Vic

Madame de Sйvignй

Two Antiquaries: Walpole and Cole

The Rev. William Cole: A Letter

The Historian and "The Gibbon"

Reflections at Sheffield Place

The Man at the Gate

1. Within the Rim

2. The Old Order

3. The Letters of Henry James

The Novels of E. M. Forster

The Art of Biography

A Letter to a Young Poet

Professions for Women

Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid


The Captain’s Death Bed

The Novels Of Turgenev

Half Of Thomas Hardy

Mr. Conrad: A Conversation

Mr. Bennett And Mrs. Brown

All About Books

Flying Over London

The Sun And The Fish

Thunder At Wembley

Memories Of A Working Women’s Guild

A Haunted House

Monday or Tuesday

An Unwritten Novel

The String Quartet

The Mark on the Wall

A Haunted House

Monday or Tuesday

An Unwritten Novel

The String Quartet

The Mark on the Wall

The Shooting Party

Lappin and Lappinova

The Lady in the Looking-Glass

The Duchess and the Jeweller

Moments of Being. "Slater’s Pins have no Points"

The Man who Loved his Kind

Together and Apart


Phyllis and Rosamond

The Mysterious Case of Miss V.

The Journal of Mistress Joan Martyn

Memoirs of a Novelist

The Mark on the Wall

The Evening Party

An Unwritten Novel

A Haunted House

Monday or Tuesday

The String Quartet

A Woman’s College from Outside

Mrs Dalloway in Bond Street

Nurse Lugton’s Curtain

The Widow and the Parrot: A True Story

Together and Apart

The Man who Loved his Kind

A Simple Melody

Moments of Being. "Slater’s Pins have no Points"

The Lady in the Looking-Glass

The Fascination of the Pool

Scenes from the Life of a British Naval Officer

Ode Written Partly in Prose

The Duchess and the Jeweller

The Shooting Party

Lappin and Lappinova

Gypsy, the Mongrel

The Watering Place

Extracts from Virginia Woolf’s writing

Thus, glancing round the bookshop, we make other such sudden capricious friendships with the unknown and the vanished whose only record is, for example, this little book of poems, so fairly printed, so finely engraved, too, with a portrait of the author. For he was a poet and drowned untimely, and his verse, mild as it is and formal and sententious, sends forth still a frail fluty sound like that of a piano organ played in some back street resignedly by an old Italian organ-grinder in a corduroy jacket. There are travellers, too, row upon row of them, still testifying, indomitable spinsters that they were, to the discomforts that they endured and the sunsets they admired in Greece when Queen Victoria was a girl. A tour in Cornwall with a visit to the tin mines was thought worthy of voluminous record. People went slowly up the Rhine and did portraits of each other in Indian ink, sitting reading on deck beside a coil of rope; they measured the pyramids; were lost to civilization for years; converted negroes in pestilential swamps. This packing up and going off, exploring deserts and catching fevers, settling in India for a lifetime, penetrating even to China and then returning to lead a parochial life at Edmonton, tumbles and tosses upon the dusty floor like an uneasy sea, so restless the English are, with the waves at their very door. The waters of travel and adventure seem to break upon little islands of serious effort and lifelong industry stood in jagged column upon the floor. In these piles of puce-bound volumes with gilt monograms on the back, thoughtful clergymen expound the gospels; scholars are to be heard with their hammers and their chisels chipping clear the ancient texts of Euripides and Aeschylus. Thinking, annotating, expounding goes on at a prodigious rate all around us and over everything, like a punctual, everlasting tide, washes the ancient sea of fiction. Innumerable volumes tell how Arthur loved Laura and they were separated and they were unhappy and then they met and they were happy ever after, as was the way when Victoria ruled these islands.

From "Street Haunting: A London Adventure"

At the thought of all those women working year after year and finding it hard to get two thousand pounds together, and as much as they could do to get thirty thousand pounds, we burst out in scorn at the reprehensible poverty of our sex. What had our mothers been doing then that they had no wealth to leave us? Powdering their noses? Looking in at shop windows? Flaunting in the sun at Monte Carlo? There were some photographs on the mantelpiece. Mary’s mother–if that was her picture–may have been a wastrel in her spare time (she had thirteen children by a minister of the church), but if so her gay and dissipated life had left too few traces of its pleasures on her face. She was a homely body; an old lady in a plaid shawl which was fastened by a large cameo; and she sat in a basket-chair, encouraging a spaniel to look at the camera, with the amused, yet strained expression of one who is sure that the dog will move directly the bulb is pressed. Now if she had gone into business; had become a manufacturer of artificial silk or a magnate on the Stock Exchange; if she had left two or three hundred thousand pounds to Fernham, we could have been sitting at our ease to-night and the subject of our talk might have been archaeology, botany, anthropology, physics, the nature of the atom, mathematics, astronomy, relativity, geography. If only Mrs Seton and her mother and her mother before her had learnt the great art of making money and had left their money, like their fathers and their grandfathers before them, to found fellowships and lectureships and prizes and scholarships appropriated to the use of their own sex, we might have dined very tolerably up here alone off a bird and a bottle of wine; we might have looked forward without undue confidence to a pleasant and honourable lifetime spent in the shelter of one of the liberally endowed professions. We might have been exploring or writing; mooning about the venerable places of the earth; sitting contemplative on the steps of the Parthenon, or. going at ten to an office and coming home comfortably at half-past four to write a little poetry. Only, if Mrs Seton and her like had gone into business at the age of fifteen, there would have been–that was the snag in the argument–no Mary. What, I asked, did Mary think of t hat? There between the curtains was the October night, calm and lovely, with a star or two caught in the yellowing trees. Was she ready to resign her share of it and her memories (for they had been a happy family, though a large one) of games and quarrels up in Scotland, which she is never tired of praising for the fineness of its air and the quality of its cakes, in order that Fernham might have been endowed with fifty thousand pounds or so by a stroke of the pen? For, to endow a college would necessitate the suppression of families altogether. Making a fortune and bearing thirteen children–no human being could stand it. Consider the facts, we said. First there are nine months before the baby is born. Then the baby is born. Then there are three or four months spent in feeding the baby. After the baby is fed there are certainly five years spent in playing with the baby. You cannot, it seems, let children run about the streets. People who have seen them running wild in Russia say that the sight is not a pleasant one. People say, too, that human nature takes its shape in the years between one and five. If Mrs Seton, I said, had been making money, what sort of memories would you have had of games and quarrels? What would you have known of Scotland, and its fine air and cakes and all the rest of it? But it is useless to ask these questions, because you would never have come into existence at all. Moreover, it is equally useless to ask what might have happened if Mrs Seton and her mother and her mother before her had amassed great wealth and laid it under the foundations of college and library, because, in the first place, to earn money was impossible for them, and in the second, had it been possible, the law denied them the right to possess what money they earned. It is only for the last forty-eight years that Mrs Seton has had a penny of her own. For all the centuries before that it would have been her husband’s property–a thought which, perhaps, may have had its share in keeping Mrs Seton and her mothers off the Stock Exchange. Every penny I earn, they may have said, will be taken from me and disposed of according to my husband’s wisdom–perhaps to found a scholarship or to endow a fellowship in Balliol or Kings, so that to earn money, even if I could earn money, is not a matter that interests me very greatly. I had better leave it to my husband.

But these contributions to the dangerous and fascinating subject of the psychology of the other sex–it is one, I hope, that you will investigate when you have five hundred a year of your own–were interrupted by the necessity of paying the bill. It came to five shillings and ninepence. I gave the waiter a ten-shilling note and he went to bring me change. There was another ten-shilling note in my purse; I noticed it, because it is a fact that still takes my breath away the power of my purse to breed ten-shilling notes automatically. I open it and there they are. Society gives me chicken and coffee, bed and lodging, in return for a certain number of pieces of paper which were left me by an aunt, for no other reason than that I share her name.

Virginia Woolf

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Study Questions

What happened in Virginia’s childhood that made her ambivalent and somewhat fearful of male sexuality and how did she compensate?

Virginia’s eldest stepbrother, George Duckworth, sexually abused her beginning around the time her mother died. Because she was young, extremely shy and naïve, Virginia was horrified by the abuse, but awed by her much older brother (he was twenty-seven; she was thirteen.) Though filled with disgust for her brother and wracked with self-loathing, Virginia never told anyone about the abuse except her sister Vanessa. Because of the abuse, as an adult, Virginia was physically unresponsive to men-even finding male lust unfathomable and inconvenient for all parties involved. Although she was very much in love with her husband Leonard Woolf, she simply couldn’t respond to him physically, and sex was something she did not enjoy in the slightest. She compensated by engaging in a number of “affairs of the heart” with dynamic, often beautiful women. Her first stirrings for a woman occurred when she was twenty when she met long-limbed, confident Violet Dickinson. Although the two only shared passionate letters, they remained good friends for many years. Another woman, Katherine Mansfield, evoked extremely complex feelings in Virginia-part love, part hate-and although Virginia may have fallen in love with Katherine, nothing came of it. Finally, Vita Sackville-West was an engaging, darkly attractive female writer who adored Virginia and her writing. Virginia’s nephew and her biographer Quentin Bell says that Vita and Virginia engaged in a love affair for the four years between 1925 and 1929. The letters that exist from this period indicate a mutual romantic love. Despite her wandering heart, Virginia remained true to Leonard.

How was the Bloomsbury world different from the world in which Virginia had grown up?

The Bloomsbury Group was full of just the kind of people Virginia was looking for. Intelligent, insightful, well read, well educated, slightly unkempt, unconcerned with fashion and a little snobbish. In addition, Virginia was attracted by the fact that both she and her sister were accepted wholeheartedly into the clan with no mention of their sex, and no expectation that their contributions to the group would be anything less than equal or better. This was a radical shift from the kind of household they, and nearly every British female during the Victorian period, grew up in. Although Leslie Stephen was extremely supportive of his bright daughters, lending them books, teaching them Greek and having them tutored, like most fathers, he reserved the university training for his sons. In fact, few British universities were even admitting female students at that point. This meant that regardless of Virginia’s intellectual ambitions, she would always be limited to her own books; she’d have to educate herself. Meanwhile, she was expected to learn charming skills that would be useful when it came time to find a suitable match for marriage: musicianship, social grace and drawing were just a few of the skills that marriageable young woman of the upper middle class were expected to acquire.

Yet when Virginia and Vanessa joined the Bloomsbury Group, the entire Victorian moral system dropped from beneath their feet and they found themselves in an environment in which frankness was in and inhibition out. Add to that the fact that the people gathered at the Stephens’ Bloomsbury house on Thursday nights were some of the best minds of the time-including Lytton Strachey, John Maynard Keyes, Clive Bell, Roger Fry, Desmond MacCarthy and Duncan Grant-and you had an imposing club. However, as the Bloomsbury Group’s fame grew (with each accomplishment from its members), its infamy grew in direct correlation. Artists saw it as a snobbish, exclusive club-or worse, a clique. Virginia’s friends were shocked by the company she was keeping, especially her stepbrothers, the Duckworths. Rooted firmly in the stiff Victorian moral code in which men and women had cordial relationships, though certainly not overly familiar ones, the Duckworths found Virginia and Vanessa’s behavior shocking. They were scandalized when they learned that the girls had taken to staying up until three in the morning visiting with Thoby’s friends. Despite her half-brothers’ reservations, Virginia and Vanessa thrived in Bloomsbury.

Summarize Virginia’s stance on talented women writers and their place in society, as well as the opportunities afforded them in which to practice their art.

Virginia was likely recalling her own lack of opportunity as a young woman when she wrote A Room of One’s Own. A slender treatise on the importance of opportunity for talented female writers, the book took society to task for limiting the choices available to women of talent, and suggested that the only way for those women to produce the great works of literature that they were capable of producing was to make sure they had five hundred pounds a year and a room to call their own.

While the ideal writer is androgynous in mind-that is, sexless; a writer whose writing is not informed by his or her sex. Virginia found women whose anger at their lack of opportunity seeped into their prose artless. However, that anger must be wiped clean, and in order for that to happen, women must be given the opportunity to attend university and to be free from the social expectations heaped upon her shoulders even before she leaves the nursery. Economic independence is a necessity, for one thing. A relaxation of the social mores, is another. Virginia writes in A Room of One’s Own of a hypothetical Shakespeare’s sister who might have been laboring in a laundry or in an ale house, and who, given the opportunities Woolf was now demanding, might have been even better than Shakespeare.

Essay Topics

Why were women not afforded the opportunity to attend university, and what were they expected to do instead?

Describe Virginia’s pattern of composition; that is, what kind of mental cycles did she go through before, during and after writing a novel?

How did World War One affect Virginia’s career and, more importantly, how did it affect her writing, as well as that of many of the Modernist writers?

Describe the dynamics in the relationship between Clive Bell and Virginia. What brought them together after a few years of animosity?

Why did other artists and British society at large find the Bloomsbury Group so threatening?

Describe the dynamics of Virginia’s relationship with Lytton Strachey? What kinds of rivalry, what kinds of love?

Describe the philosophy, or modus operandi, used by the Bloomsbury Group in order to encourage free and open discussion (hint: a philosophy promoted by G.E. Moore)

Name some of Virginia’s Modernist contemporaries and compare and contrast their work to hers.

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Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf

Anonymous Was a Woman For the overwhelming majority of human history, women have been viewed as subservient beings whose foremost functions were child rearing and homemaking. Until recently, it was widely accepted that a woman’s place was in the home; financial responsibility for the family fell exclusively on the man’s shoulders. Recently, the distinct line distinguishing gender roles has become blurred and it is not uncommon for the woman to be the provider and her husband the homemaker.

In the era immediately preceding the modern feminist movement, many individuals advocated omen’s rights and encouraged women to be fiscally and personally independent. One such advocate was the Victorian writer Virginia Woolf. During the era in which she lived, successful, proficient women were a rarity. However, Woolf avidly urged women to follow her example and surmount this societal obstacle in order to achieve professional accomplishment. In his 1961 play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Edward Albee creates Martha, who is essentially the antithesis of Woolf’s independent, professional woman.

While she is by no means the stereotypical meek and gentle ousewife of the early and mid twentieth century, Martha is clearly impeded by gender expectations. The feminism embodied by Woolf and typified in her speech, “Professions for Women”, provides insight into the underlying significance of the recurring song “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf” as it relates to Martha in Albee’s play. In Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Albee delves into the stereotypical roles of men and women. Martha, the hostess wife, is depicted as a woman dependent on the aid of men.

Before meeting her husband George, Martha lived under the support and guidance of her father. Even when she became an adult, her goal was not to find success, but rather to find a man whose success she could live through. The thought of personal sustainment was a fleeting one, if one at all. After knowing her guests, Nick and Honey, for a mere few hours, Martha drunkenly divulges to them intimate details of her life. When recounting her early adulthood, Martha says, “So after I got done with college and stuff, I came back here and sort of sat around, for a while.

I wasn’t married, or anything… I was a hostess for Daddy and I took care of him… and it was… nice. It was very nice. (Albee 85-86). Although she attended college, Martha never intended the fruit of her education to be applied professionally. While most college graduates might seek employment upon graduating, Martha had no such aim. Instead, she passively allowed herself to be pushed down the path that society had cleared for her. As with countless women before her, Martha’s life was controlled by the men in it; until she married George, Martha was preoccupied with the care of her father.

One man was seamlessly replaced by another and the hesitation in her speech suggests that she was less than satisfied with this. While Martha and many other women have succumbed to the pressures of society, a select few were able to overcome them and find success. Of these exceptional women, Virginia Woolf stands out as an intelligent, outspoken supporter of women’s rights. The pit of reliance that Martha fell into was exactly what Woolf spoke out against. In her essay “Three Guineas”, Woolf states that, “… o depend on upon a profession is a less odious form absolutely necessary for women to break the shackles of financial dependence in order to be free. Through her various speeches, essays, and other writings, Virginia Woolf clarifies her opinions and proves to be an extremely intelligent and thoughtful woman. Woolf’s mastery of language competes with some of the most revered male authors throughout history. Despite the male dominance in society, Virginia Woolf was able to elevate herself to an equal level.

In addition to overcoming obstacles personally, Woolf actively advised other women to do the same. In her speech to a group of women in the National Society for Women’s Service, Virginia Woolf elucidates the prejudices that stand in the way of women professionals (Woolf, “Professions”). Despite the advances made by her and other prominent females, Woolf insists that women must continue sincerely in the fght for professional liberty. As Woolf speaks earnestly in an attempt to promote female liberation and advancement, Martha counteracts the effort by taking a backseat position in her own life.

After deciding she would like to secure her legacy at the university which her father runs, she concludes that the best and only way to accomplish this is by marrying into it. Instead of trying to become an active component herself, Martha relies on her relations with men, as she historically has, to solidify her fate. When she marries George, Martha expects that he will be able to rise to an authoritative position and will eventually replace her father as president; to her immense disappointment, George reveals himself as a “flop” and stands no chance of promotion (Albee).

Throughout the play, Martha harps on George for his lack of professional accomplishment, but it is more than likely that some if not all of her disappointment in him stems from an even deeper dissatisfaction with herself. By continually matching wits with her husband, Martha proves to be a competent and cunning woman. Unlike Woolf, however, she refuses to channel her intellect roductively. Due to the impeding decisions that she repeatedly makes, Martha becomes the enslaved woman that Woolf so fervently rebukes.

The third and final time the song “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” appears in the play, Martha responds by saying “l… am… George… ‘… am” (Albee 257). In this closing scene, Martha’s tough fapde crumbles revealing a poignant vulnerability. Obviously Martha is not literally afraid of Virginia Woolf; rather, she is intimidated by the values that Woolf embodies. While Martha may realize that she is capable of self-sustainment, she submits to the osition that society has put her in and relies on men to support her.

Instead of using her intellect in the workplace as Woolf advises, Martha employs it maliciously and plays mind games with her houseguests. Without former knowledge of Virginia Woolf and her accomplishments, one might not fully or even remotely comprehend the implication of Martha’s response. However, with the understanding of Woolf and her feminist values, it becomes clear why Martha’s character might fear the strength and independence that Woolf promotes. As with countless women before her, Martha is weary of breaking the tradition of her male dominated society.

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Virginia Woolf Woolf, Virginia (Short Story Criticism) – Essay


(Short Story Criticism)

Virginia Woolf 1882-1941

(Born Adeline Virginia Stephen) English novelist, critic, essayist, short story writer, diarist, autobiographer, and biographer.

The following entry provides an overview of Woolf’s life and works of short fiction.

Recognized as one of the major figures of modern literature, Woolf is highly regarded both for her innovative fiction techniques and insightful contributions to literary criticism. In her short fiction, she explored such themes as the elusive nature of storytelling and character study, the nature of truth and reality, and the role of women in society. Like her novels, these highly individualized, stylistic works are noted for their subjective explorations and detailed poetic narratives that capture ordinary experience while depicting the workings and perceptions of the human mind. Written in an elliptical and impressionistic style, Woolf’s brief, apparently plotless stories are considered to have significantly influenced the development of modern short fiction.

Woolf was born into a talented and distinguished literary family in London in 1882, the third of four children of Sir Leslie Stephen, a prominent literary scholar, and his second wife, Julia. Virginia’s parents maintained friendships with figures of the Victorian intellectual aristocracy, often hosting visits from such eminent writers as Thomas Hardy, George Meredith, and Henry James. Virginia and her sister, Vanessa, did not receive a formal education, but access to their father’s extensive library provided a rich source for their private learning. In 1895 the Stephens’ comfortable existence was disrupted by the sudden, tragic death of their beloved mother, Julia. Virginia’s subsequent mental breakdown was the first of several that troubled her throughout her life. After her father’s death in 1904, Woolf, along with her sister, and two brothers, Thoby and Adrian, moved to the Bloomsbury district of London. It was there they met weekly with several of Thoby’s Cambridge associates to discuss the arts and together formed what is now known as the Bloomsbury Group. Within this circle of friends that included, among others, John Maynard Keynes, Clive Bell, Vita Sackville-West, and Lytton Strachey, Woolf was exposed to a variety of modern theories on art and literature that deeply affected the development of her own ideas. Also during this time, she published her first essays and reviews, a practice she continued throughout her life. In 1912 she married Leonard Woolf, a writer and socialist political figure, also among the Bloomsbury circle, whose stabilizing influence on Virginia is considered to have nurtured her literary career. Nevertheless, in 1913, after completing her first novel, The Voyage Out (1915), she collapsed from mental exhaustion, and the ensuing breakdown, her most severe, lasted several years.

In 1917, following Virginia’s recovery the proceeding year, she and Leonard founded the Hogarth Press—a business venture which was intended partly as a release from the anxiety she experienced when writing, and which subsequently kept her from having to send her work to an outside publisher. By 1924 Hogarth had grown into a successful and respected business, publishing all of Virginia’s writings as well as the early works of such writers as Katherine Mansfield, T. S. Eliot, and Sigmund Freud. During the period 1922 to 1941, Virginia immersed herself in writing fiction, completing the critically acclaimed novels Mrs. Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), and The Waves (1931), which form the foundation of her literary reputation. In addition, her nonfiction works from this time, particularly A Room of One’s Own (1929) and Three Guineas (1938), established her as an important contributor to modern critical and feminist writing. Yet, despite these successes, Woolf feared the onslaught of another breakdown—from which, she believed, it would be impossible to recover—and in 1941, she took her own life by drowning. The posthumous publication of many of Woolf’s essays, short stories, journals, diaries, and letters attest to an abiding interest in her career.

Major Works of Short Fiction

In her short fiction Woolf typically focused on minute physical detail and experimented with stream-of-consciousness techniques, interior monologue, and symbolism to capture the subjective workings of human thought. “Kew Gardens” typifies her lyrical portrayal of varied narrative perspectives through the interior monologue of an omniscient narrator. In this seemingly plotless story, Woolf creates the atmosphere of an afternoon at London’s Kew Gardens by fusing the shifting points of view of several people with those of a snail, insects, flowers, and even such inanimate objects as buses and airplanes. In “Mark on the Wall” she employs interior monologue to impart the musings of a narrator who, in speculating about a small detail on a wall, ponders a variety of topics, including personal reminiscence, history, and nature. Every rumination returns to the mark only to stray anew into reverie, as each of the narrator’s seemingly meandering thoughts builds upon one another to create an intricate discourse on the nature of reality and truth. Themes in Woolf’s short fiction are intrinsically fused with narrative form. Similar to Joyce’s short stories, in which epiphany is frequently an essential element, Woolf’s short fiction often depends on “moments of being” to delineate themes. Whereas Joyce’s notion of epiphany focuses on the power of a single event to reveal truth, Woolf’s “moments of being” encompass various incursions into time and place. In “Moments of Being: ‘Slater’s Pins Have No Points,’” the protagonist, Fanny Wilmot, searches for a lost pin while she simultaneously attempts to gain insight into the personality of her elderly piano teacher, Julia Craye. In the brief time she searches for the pin, Fanny juxtaposes thoughts about Julia’s past with the present and speculates on Julia’s happiness. The narrative returns after each rumination about Julia’s life to Fanny’s search for the pin until, finally, at the instant when Fanny finds the pin, she experiences the revelation that Julia is indeed happy.

Woolf’s fascination with the elusive nature of storytelling, as well as the inherent difficulty of knowing character, provided subject matter for several of her short stories. In “An Unwritten Novel” she explored this theme through the capricious mind of the narrator as she rides a train with a stranger, observing details of the unknown woman’s appearance and behavior to construct a story surrounding her life. At the end of the tale the narrator is stunned to realize that her conclusions are utterly incorrect. In this and in several other stories, Woolf overturned conventional Edwardian precepts that relied on observable details to discern veracity and illustrated the unknowable nature of truth and character. In both her fiction and nonfiction Woolf was devoted to raising the social consciousness of readers. Her disarming and often humorous feminist works are informed with pointed criticism of sexism, as well as praise for neglected women writers. For example, “A Society” highlights ten years in the lives of a group of women who meet regularly to question conventions of art, literature, scholarship, law, and military achievement in a male-dominated society. One of the group’s vows is to forego having children until they have resolved their questions. However, when one woman, Castilia, becomes pregnant, a new resolution is adopted to allow only the unchaste into their society, and Castilia is appointed president. The story’s ironic stance, humor, and extensive use of allusion to the Bible and mythology serve, for several critics, to elevate it above the level of polemic.

Like her contemporary James Joyce, with whom she is often compared, critics argue that Woolf revolted against the traditional narrative methods of her time and experimented with stream-of-consciousness prose and interior monologue. They note that she first introduced many of these formal experiments in short stories that often present “moments of being”—instances of intense sensibility during which disparate thoughts and events culminate in a flash of insight. Recent critical studies of Woolf’s short fiction have investigated the symbolism of mirrors and glass in her work, traced revisions of her stories, assessed the influence of Thomas Browne and Bertrand Russell on her fiction, and explored aspects of her alleged anti-Semitism. Commentators have discussed her as a lesbian writer, and have emphasized parallels between her lesbian-themed stories with those of Gertrude Stein. Most critics acknowledge that Woolf’s short stories frequently served as experimental studies in which ideas for her longer works of fiction originated and developed. Yet many commentators have contended that Woolf’s experiments with poetic style, her psychological focus, and her subjective point of view expanded the limits of time and perception within the framework of the short story, influencing and contributing significantly to the development of modern short fiction.

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Principal Works

(Short Story Criticism)

*The Mark on the Wall 1917

Kew Gardens 1919

Monday or Tuesday 1921

A Haunted House, and Other Short Stories 1944

Mrs. Dalloway’s Party: A Short Story Sequence 1973

The Complete Shorter Fiction of Virginia Woolf 1985

The Voyage Out (novel) 1915

Night and Day (novel) 1919

Jacob’s Room (novel) 1922

Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown (criticism) 1924

The Common Reader (criticism) 1925

Mrs. Dalloway (novel) 1925

To the Lighthouse (novel) 1927

Orlando: A Biography (novel) 1928

A Room of One’s Own (essays) 1929

The Waves (novel) 1931

The Common Reader: Second Series (criticism) 1932

Flush: A Biography (biography) 1933

The Years (novel) 1937

Three Guineas (essays) 1938

Roger Fry: A Biography (biography) 1940

Between the Acts (novel) 1941

The Death of the Moth, and Other Essays (essays) 1942

The Moment, and Other Essays (essays) 1947

The Captain’s Death Bed, and Other Essays (essays) 1950

A Writer’s Diary: Being Extracts from the Diary of Virginia Woolf (diary) 1953

Hours in a Library (essay) 1957

Granite and Rainbow: Essays by Virginia Woolf (essays) 1958

Collected Essays. 4 vols. (essays) 1966-67

The Letters of Virginia Woolf. 6 vols. (letters) 1975-80

Moments of Being: Unpublished Autobiographical Writings (autobiographical essays) 1976

Books and Portraits (essays) 1977; also published as Some Further Selections from the Literary and Biographical Writings of Virginia Woolf: Books and Portraits, 1979

The Diary of Virginia Woolf. 5 vols. (diary) 1977-84

The Essays of Virginia Woolf. 4 vols. (essays) 1986-93

A Moment’s Liberty: The Shorter Diary of Virginia Woolf (diary) 1990

A Passionate Apprentice: The Early Journals, 1897-1909 (journals) 1990

*This work was also published with Leonard Woolf’s “Three Jews” as Two Stories in 1917.

Marilyn Kurtz (essay date 1990)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Kurtz, Marilyn. “Glass Breaking: Later Fiction.” In Virginia Woolf: Reflections and Reverberations, pp. 115-23. New York: Peter Lang, 1990.

[In the following excerpt, Kurtz considers the symbolism of windows and mirrors in Woolf’s later short fiction.]

Windows and mirrors play as compelling a part in the later fiction of Virginia Woolf as they do in the earlier works. Even the short stories are infused with images of glass, for here, as in the novels, Virginia Woolf makes explorations into personal identity and the human condition through vehicles of glass in a quest for meaning.

Because of their power to separate and divide (as the self.

(The entire section is 3488 words.)

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Wayne Narey (essay date winter 1992)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Narey, Wayne. “Virginia Woolf’s ‘The Mark on the Wall’: An Einsteinian View of Art.” Studies in Short Fiction 29, no. 1 (winter 1992): 35-42.

[In the following essay, Narey views “The Mark on the Wall” as an “artistic manifesto” of time and perspective influenced by the theories of Albert Einstein.]

James Naremore’s study of Virginia Woolf, The World without a Self, refers to her short story “The Mark on the Wall” as “a sketch in which the protagonist indulges in what appears to be a Freudian daydream” (58-59). The Freudian aspect of the story comes from the free-associative quality of the protagonist’s thoughts, the only.

(The entire section is 3288 words.)

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Susan Clements (essay date spring 1994)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Clements, Susan. “The Point of ‘Slater’s Pins’: Misrecognition and the Narrative Closet.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 13, no. 1 (spring 1994): 15-26.

[In the following essay, Clements regards “Slater’s Pins Have No Points” as an “emblematic representation” of difficulties faced by lesbian writers and focuses “on the destructive and ultimately self-effacing practice of misrecognition.”]

“Chloe liked Olivia,” I read. And then it struck me how immense a change was there. Chloe liked Olivia perhaps for the first time in literature.

—Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s.

(The entire section is 5382 words.)

Marc D. Cyr (essay date spring 1996)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Cyr, Marc D. “A Conflict of Closure in Virginia Woolf’s ‘A Mark on the Wall.’” Studies in Short Fiction 33, no. 2 (spring 1996): 197-205.

[In the following essay, Cyr explores the meaning of the mark in “The Mark on the Wall” and debates the sense of closure in the story.]

Virginia Woolf’s “The Mark on the Wall” concludes with the identification of that mark as a snail, this after several pages of digressions—on history, reality, society, art, writing, and life itself—incited by the flimsy ruse of an ontological inquiry. Readers have reacted variously to this revelation: As T. E. Apter notes, some, like M. C. Bradbrook, have found it.

(The entire section is 4078 words.)

Herta Newman (essay date 1996)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Newman, Herta. “Stories about Storymaking.” In Virginia Woolf and Mrs. Brown: Toward a Realism of Uncertainty, pp. 17-29. New York: Garland Publishing, 1996.

[In the following essay, Newman assesses Woolf’s success as a storyteller, concluding that her stories “fail to satisfy the reader’s desire for certainty.”]

But what are stories? Toys I twist, bubbles I blow, one ring passes through another. Sometimes I begin to doubt if there are stories. 1

Virginia Woolf’s stories have not generally received the acclaim accorded to her novels and essays. Yet she is an inveterate storyteller, and it is in.

(The entire section is 4022 words.)

Sally Greene (essay date fall 1997)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Greene, Sally. “Brownean Motion in ‘Solid Objects.’” Virginia Woolf Miscellany, no. 50 (fall 1997): 2-3.

[In the following essay, Greene assesses the influence of Thomas Browne on Woolf’s fiction, particularly “The Mark on the Wall.”]

As Woolf refashioned her early empirical realism into a modernist practice, her work began to reflect a deeper engagement with the Renaissance, including the works of an old friend, Sir Thomas Browne. While she was finishing Night and Day (1919), she was embarking on a new direction in short fiction. “The Mark on the Wall” and other stories collected in Monday or Tuesday (1921) reflect, in their.

(The entire section is 1357 words.)

Nóra Séllei (essay date 1997)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Séllei, Nóra. “The Snail and The Times: Three Stories ‘Dancing in Unity.’” Hungarian Journal of English and American Studies 3, no. 2 (1997): 189-98.

[In the following essay, Séllei finds thematic and stylistic similarities in “The Mark on the Wall,” “Kew Gardens,” and “An Unwritten Novel.”]

“[Y]esterday I … arrived at some idea of a new form for a new novel. Suppose one thing should open out of another—as in ‘An Unwritten Novel’—only not for 10 pages but 200 or so—doesn’t that give the looseness and lightness I want; doesn’t that get closer and yet keep form and speed, and enclose everything?” asks Virginia Woolf.

(The entire section is 4993 words.)

Corinne E. Blackmer (essay date 1997)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Blackmer, Corinne E. “Lesbian Modernism in the Shorter Fiction of Virginia Woolf and Gertrude Stein.” In Virginia Woolf: Lesbian Readings, edited by Eileen Barrett and Patricia Cramer, pp. 78-93. New York: New York University Press, 1997.

[In the following essay, Blackmer analyzes the lesbian-themed short stories of Woolf and Gertrude Stein to gain insight into their “distinctive approaches to creating lesbian modernist literature.”]

To the extent that lesbians have been associated with the obscure, the neglected, and the marginal, there is something quintessentially “lesbian” about bringing the shorter fictions of Virginia Woolf and Gertrude Stein.

(The entire section is 6882 words.)

Michael Lackey (essay date winter 1998)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Lackey, Michael. “The Gender of Atheism in Virginia Woolf’s ‘A Simple Melody.’” Studies in Short Fiction 35, no. 1 (winter 1998): 49-63.

[In the following essay, Lackey perceives “A Simple Melody” to be a transitional work in Woolf’s short fiction oeuvre and examines her portrayal of male atheism in the story.]

Posthumously published, the 1925 short story “A Simple Melody” is one of the most pivotal works in Virginia Woolf’s corpus, signaling a decisive break with her first four novels, yet anticipating the central issues of her last five. Typical of Woolf’s fiction, the story features a main character who is an.

(The entire section is 6463 words.)

Annette Oxindine (essay date autumn 1998)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Oxindine, Annette. “Sexing the Epiphany in ‘Moments of Being,’ Woolf’s Nice Little Story about Sapphism.” Journal of the Short Story in English, no. 31 (autumn 1998): 51-61.

[In the following essay, Oxindine links the homoerotic and epiphanic moments in “Slater’s Pins Have No Points.”]

You remember there is a very fine instinct wireless telepathy nothing to it—in women—the darlings—which fizzles up pretenses, and I know what you mean though you don’t say it …

—Virginia Woolf to Violet Dickinson, 1903

Critical avoidance of the lesbian intimacy at the conclusion of.

(The entire section is 4182 words.)

Ellen Tremper (essay date 1998)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Tremper, Ellen. “Prologue: ‘The Journal of Mistress Joan Martyn’ and Wordsworth’s Guide to the Lakes.” In “Who Lived at Alfoxton?”: Virginia Woolf and English Romanticism, pp. 35-61. Cranbury, N.J.: Bucknell University Press, 1998.

[In the following essay, Tremper investigates the influence of William Wordsworth’s Guide to the Lakes on Woolf’s “The Journal of Mistress Joan Martyn.”]

Here are the poets from whom we descend by way of the mind.

Between the Acts

Virginia Woolf’s relations with her father, Leslie Stephen, were exceptional. Beyond.

(The entire section is 12600 words.)

Natania Rosenfeld (essay date 2000)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Rosenfeld, Natania. “Incongruities; or, The Politics of Character: Departures.” In Outsiders Together: Virginia and Leonard Woolf, pp. 81-95. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2000.

[In the following essay, Rosenfeld juxtaposes the style and themes of the two pieces collected in Two Stories: “The Mark on the Wall,” and Leonard Woolf’s “Three Jews.”]

Five years after their [Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s] marriage, in 1917, the newly founded Hogarth Press issued its first publication. The Woolfs saw their press as an opportunity for creative and intellectual freedom, and as a respite from mental labor. It would enable Virginia to.

(The entire section is 8073 words.)

Kathryn N. Benzel (essay date 2000)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Benzel, Kathryn N. “Woolf’s Early Experimentation with Consciousness: ‘Kew Gardens,’ Typescript to Publication, 1917-1919.” 1 In Virginia Woolf: Turning the Centuries, edited by Ann Ardis and Bonnie Kime Scott, pp. 192-99. New York: Pace University Press, 2000.

[In the following essay, Benzel speculates about the origin, creation, and revision of “Kew Gardens.”]

In Michael Cunningham’s novel The Hours, he describes a park that his character Virginia Woolf envisions in a dream:

It seems, suddenly, that she is not in her bed but in a park; a park impossibly verdant, green beyond green—a Platonic.

(The entire section is 3526 words.)

Jane de Gay (essay date 2000)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: de Gay, Jane. “An Unfinished Story: The Freshwater Drafts of ‘The Searchlight.’” In Virginia Woolf: Turning the Centuries, edited by Ann Ardis and Bonnie Kime Scott, pp. 207-15. New York: Pace University Press, 2000.

[In the following essay, de Gay traces the revision of “The Searchlight” into “A Scene from the Past,” and contends that the final version deserves more critical attention than it has been given.]

This paper will focus on a collection of drafts relating to Woolf’s short story “The Searchlight,” which differ significantly from the version published by Leonard Woolf in A Haunted House (1943). Unlike the published version.

(The entire section is 4329 words.)

Karin E. Westman (essay date spring 2001)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Westman, Karin E. “The First Orlando: The Laugh of the Comic Spirit in Virginia Woolf’s ‘Friendships Gallery.’” Twentieth-Century Literature 47, no. 1 (spring 2001): 39-71.

[In the following essay, Westman maintains that “Friendships Gallery” best represents Woolf’s development of a “new ‘art’ of biography that could negotiate the tension between fact and fiction” and identifies the story as the roots of her novel Orlando.]

The Comic Spirit laughed meanwhile.

—“Friendships Gallery” (284)

If Orlando (1928) has typically been read as the literary.

(The entire section is 12130 words.)

Anne Besnault-Levita (essay date spring 2003)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Besnault-Levita, Anne. “What ‘It’ Is About: The Implicit in Virginia Woolf’s Short Fictions.” Journal of the Short Story in English, no. 40 (spring 2003): 135-47.

[In the following essay, Besnault-Levita analyzes Woolf’s use of the pronoun “it” in her short fiction and explores “the implicit theories of meaning and interpretation behind the implicit as they are put to the test by Woolf’s fictional prose.”]

How does “it” mean, what is “it” about and what does “it” reveal about the ethics of Virginia Woolf’s poetics of the implicit, and therefore of fiction, are the three questions I would like to raise in this paper. My starting point.

(The entire section is 5102 words.)

Leena Kore Schröder (essay date fall 2003)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Schröder, Leena Kore. “Tales of Abjection and Miscegenation: Virginia Woolf’s and Leonard Woolf’s ‘Jewish’ Stories.” Twentieth-Century Literature 49, no. 3 (fall 2003): 298-327.

[In the following essay, Schröder explores elements of anti-Semitism in Woolf’s short story “The Duchess and the Jeweller” and Leonard Woolf’s “Three Jews.”]

There can be no straightforward account of attitudes toward Jewishness in the work of Virginia Woolf. This is a woman who lived happily married to a Jew and whose private references to Leonard as “my Jew” are marital jokes (Diary [The Diary of Virginia Woolf] 1: 11), yet whose diaries regularly.

(The entire section is 11856 words.)

Holly Henry (essay date 2003)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Henry, Holly. “Maps, Globes, and ‘Solid Objects.’” In Virginia Woolf and the Discourse of Science: The Aesthetics of Astronomy, pp. 71-92. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

[In the following excerpt, Henry investigates the influence of Bertrand Russell’s theories of material phenomena on her “Solid Objects.”]


In her short fiction experiments like “Solid Objects,” “Kew Gardens,” and “The Mark on the Wall,” Woolf explored the questions that Russell and Whitehead were working out in their own theories regarding what can be known of the material world.

(The entire section is 4598 words.)

Heather Levy (essay date spring 2004)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: Levy, Heather. “‘These Ghost Figures of Distorted Passion’: Becoming Privy to Working-Class Desire in ‘The Watering Place’ and ‘The Ladies Lavatory.’” Modern Fiction Studies 50, no. 1 (spring 2004): 31-57.

[In the following essay, Levy argues that “The Watering Place,” “The Ladies Lavatory,” and “The Cook” reveal Woolf’s exploration of the “fricative interrelationships between class, lesbian desire, and the occupation of public and private space.”]

The bodies and minds of working-class women are elided in most of Virginia Woolf’s earliest shorter fiction and then only partially or unflatteringly staged in most of her middle and.

(The entire section is 11728 words.)

Further Reading

(Short Story Criticism)

Abbott, Reginald. “What Miss Kilman’s Petticoat Means: Virginia Woolf, Shopping, and Spectacle.” Modern Fiction Studies 38, no. 1 (spring 1992): 193-216.

Offers a consumer/commodity perspective on Woolf’s short fiction.

Banfield, Ann. “Time Passes: Virginia Woolf, Post-Impressionism, and Cambridge Time.” Poetics Today 24, no. 3 (fall 2003): 471-516.

Argues that Woolf’s literary impressionism developed through her short stories.

Bishop, Edward. “‘Kew Gardens’ and Jacob’s Room: Pursuing ‘It’ and the ‘Greek Spirit.’” In Virginia Woolf, pp. 32-48. New.

(The entire section is 653 words.)

Virginia Woolf Homework Help Questions

In “Death of a Moth” by Virginia Woolf, Woolf compares the wonder of life and death by using a moth as an example of the simplicity of life and death and the need to accept the inevitable, although.

In this speech by Virginia Woolf, she talks about the need to kill the Angel in the House. The Angel in the House is the ideal of womanhood at that time. There are two important aspects to this.

These two modernist writers are both famous for the way that they use stream of consciousness in their works to record the ongoing thoughts and feelings of their characters as they develop at the.

Virginia Woolf’s “The Death of the Moth” illustrates the impossible act of a moth trying to pass through a windowpane in order to escape the interior. The speaker feels sorry for the small.

Although A Room of One’s Own is not a piece of fiction but an essay discussing and attempting to show the disparity between men and women’s issues and the belief that women are inferior by nature.

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