In Depth

Virginia Woolf: Google Doodle marks writer’s 136th birthday

Mrs Dalloway and To The Lighthouse author credited with rejuvenating the English novel

Virginia Woolf has been commemorated with a Google Doodle on what would be her 136th birthday.

Woolf’s bold and imaginative style is credited with changing English fiction, says The Independent, “pushing it beyond the tried-and-tested narrative structures of the Victorian era into fresh and experimental new territory”.

The woman who would go on to be Virginia Woolf was born Adeline Virginia Stephen in 1882 to a well-to-do London family headed by her father, author and historian Sir Leslie Stephen.

Along with her three siblings and four half-siblings, the young Woolf grew up in an intellectual milieu. She was tutored at home, but unlike her two brothers, did not attend university - an omission she would later lament as the result of prejudice against women in higher education.

The death of her mother and her beloved older half-sister while Woolf was still a teeenager provoked the first of a series of nervous breakdowns which would go on to inform her psychologically acute and emotionally nuanced work.

In 1912, she married Leonard Woolf, a former civil servant turned writer. Despite evidence of her bisexuality, the marriage was a happy one.

Both became members of the Bloomsbury Group, a network of prominent intellectuals, writers and artists centred around the titular area of London.

Other members included the economist John Maynard Keynes, biographer Lytton Strachey and Room With a View author E. M. Forster.

Over a prodigious literary career, Woolf penned a wide variety of essays, criticism and novels, the most famous of which include To The Lighthouse and Mrs Dalloway. After struggling with depression and mood swings for decades, in 1941, at the age of 51, she drowned herself in a river near her home in Lewes, East Sussex.

She is remembered for pioneering the stream-of-consciousness style, whereby thoughts and feelings are expressed on the page seemingly spontaneously, as they are in the mind. Her fiction “elevated sometimes mundane settings while examining the complex interior lives of her characters,” says CNET.

In her famous 1929 essay, A Room of One’s Own, Woolf wrote about women’s erasure from literary and historical narratives, and stressed the need for women to have literal and metaphorical space to voice their own thoughts and experiences.

The essay, with its famous observation that “'A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction,” remains one of the foundation texts of modern feminism.

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