Happy Birthday, Virginia

Sunday, January 25, 2009 at 9:26 AM

“I was in a queer mood, thinking myself very old: but now I am a woman again - as I always am when I write.” – Virginia Woolf
Lately, I have reacquainted myself with many of the feminist writers of last century, those for whom my teachers always displayed admiration, or a keen critical eye. Today marks the 127th birthday of one of the most important modernist and feminist literary figures of the twentieth century, Virginia Woolf.

To me, Woolf has always embodied the ideal of an independent woman years ahead of her time. This was evident in one of her famous non-fiction works, A Room of One's Own (1929), in which she analyzed and summed up the failed role of women in literary fiction. With this in mind, Woolf proposed a thesis that influenced generations of women to produce countless literary works: "A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction."

In the early 1900s, Woolf was a part of London's Bloomsbury Group, a loose organization of intellectuals (including John Maynard Keynes, E.M. Foster, and Roger Fry) who regularly gathered in the famous Victorian neighborhood of Bloomsbury.

While Woolf was influenced by the society that surrounded her, she employed an innovative writing technique, using fractured narratives and stream of consciousness to analyse the underlying emotion of her characters. This technique, emulated by many authors today, allowed her to fill her writings with visual impressions. When reading Mrs. Dalloway (1925), I can imagine how Clarissa Dalloway felt:
"In people's eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jungle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment of June"
This is similarly the case with the Ramsay family in To the Lighthouse (1927), and also again in The Waves (1931). The Waves is a personal favorite of mine, and is considered by many to be Woolf's masterpiece, where six friends’ reflections make up the novel’s center surrounded by a wave-like atmosphere.

Although loved by many readers, critics of the writings of Virginia Woolf can be found in many books, magazines, plays, films and even blogs. Yet, no one can deny the influence that she has had on literature, not just on her own time but even today, as her works and life continue to be relevant.
“Lock up your libraries if you like, but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you set upon the freedom of my mind.” – A Room of One’s Own


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