Sunday, March 13, 2011

Beginnings -- Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf, 1902

It is so interesting to learn about the beginning of a writing career such as that of the brilliant English novelist Virginia Woolf.  On Tuesday of last week, The Writers Almanac told us that on March 9, 1913, almost one hundred years ago, Virginia Woolf delivered the manuscript for her first novel "The Voyage Out" to the Duckworth Publishing House in London.  She had been working on it for almost 7 years.  By 1912 she had written five drafts.  Between 1912 and 1913 she rewrote the entire novel one more time, almost from scratch, typing six hundred pages in two months.  Anyone who writes can only imagine the stress this experience must have been for her.  The book was finally accepted, but the extensive revision process took its toll on Woolf and may have contributed to a mental breakdown that delayed the novel's publication.  It was eventually published in 1915.

"The Voyage Out," 1915

This first novel by Woolf shows aspects of what would become her distinctive Modernist style.  Another interesting first in this novel is the appearance of Clarissa Dalloway, a character who would remain in Woolf's mind for another ten years and become the subject of of her masterpiece "Mrs. Dalloway" (1925).  Although "The Voyage Out" may be her least read novel, many critics feel it is important because it displayed many of the principal themes that were to appear in  in her later works.


But even earlier than that day on March 9, 1913 when she handed in the manuscript of "The Voyage Out," there were other stirrings of her literary career that are fascinating to read about.  Born into a Victorian family, she did not have the formal education that was provided for men at the time.  But her father was the esteemed scholar Leslie Stephen who had an admirable library filled with literary masterpieces which  Woolf devoured.  She also had tutors in various subjects, including Greek.

Short story by Woolf published by The Hogarth Press

As early as 1905 she began writing book reviews for literary journals.  Her letters and her diaries reveal a love for pen and paper and handmade books that augur her later career as a publisher and printer of beautiful small press books, some hand printed by her on her dining room table.  This was the book  publishing company The Hogarth Press, founded by Virginia and her husband Leonard Woolf.

Another early publication by the Hogarth Press


Virginia Woolf, 1920's

"Mrs. Dalloway,"1925

From "The Voyage Out" to "Mrs. Dalloway" and her other masterpieces, Woolf's literary journey is one that is fascinating to read about and can truly enhance our reading of her books.


  1. V.W. pride! An inspiration to any writer!

  2. So interesting - I have never read The Voyage Out - Mrs. Dalloway is of course a favorite. Yet another to put on the growing "to read" list!

  3. Some of her books I love. Others, I can appreciate the writing, but struggle with....I've always found that uneven quality for me bothersome. I wonder if others feel that way.
    BTW - loved Invisible - thanks for the tip. His best yet!

  4. Kathy, I'm so glad you l liked Invisible. I agree with you about Woolf's early books, they can be uneven. But she hit her stride with Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse, two of my favorite books. Some of the writing is so beautiful it takes my breath away. You might want to read those if you haven't had the chance to.

  5. I've read Mrs. Dalloway several times, but not To the Lighthouse. Will put it on my list for sure - Thanks!

  6. Once more you inspire me. More on my reading list.
    I've just read your recommendation of Barbara Pym's
    Excellent Women. Loved it. You keep me on my toes.

  7. Incredibly exciting post.

  8. That is so interesting. Thank you and have a great day, my dear

  9. Must be an enjoyable read The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf. loved the way you wrote it. I find your review very genuine and orignal, this book is going in by "to read" list.