Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Virginia Stephen 1882 to 1906

Before beginning to read her books I thought that I would write a little about Virginia Woolf’s life to put her work into context. In this first post I am going to look at her life from 1882, when she was born, until 1906 when the first story I am going to read was written.

If you want a complete history of Virginia Woolf’s life and her family history I would suggest that you get a copy of her biography by Quentin Bell, her nephew. Written in two volumes, Vol. I Virginia Stephen 1882 to 1912 and Vol. II Mrs Woolf 1912 to 1941 it is a comprehensive look at her life and work. Not only does it trace her family history back several generations, but it also includes lots of personal accounts about Virginia from her friends and family. It is also where the below information has been sourced from.

Virginia Woolf was born Adeline Virginia Stephen in London on 25th January 1882. She had a large family as both of her parents had been married (and widowed) before and had children from their previous marriages.

Her mother Julia had married a Herbert Duckworth and had 3 children with him, George, Gerald and Stella. Herbert died in 1870. Virginia Wool’s father Leslie Stephen had married Minny Thackeray, daughter of W. M. Thackeray (who wrote Vanity Fair) Minny and her sister Anny were good friends with Julia Duckworth. Leslie and Minny had a daughter Laura in 1870. She was what at the time was called a backwards child and she was eventually sent to an asylum in York, In 1874 Minny became very unwell and was visited regularly by Julia. After Minny’s death a friendship between Leslie and Julia grew out of mutual loss and eventually they were married in 1878.

As well as 4 half brothers and sisters, Virginia had 3 full siblings, Vanessa and Thoby, who were older, and a younger brother Adrian. Growing up Virginia and her sister had a close relationship. Whilst their brothers were sent to public school Vanessa and Virginia were educated at home by their mother and father. This was something that Virginia felt strongly about and a theme that she often revisited.

In 1895 Virginia’s mother died and it was after this that Virginia had the first of many breakdowns that she was to suffer from throughout her life. Following her mother’s death Virginia’s half sister Stella took on the role of looking after the family. Sadly she too was taken ill and died in July of 1897.

More tragedy was to follow, in 1902 her father became ill with what was suspected as cancer. In May 1903 he was given six months to live but did not die until February the following year. Again, following the death of someone close to her Virginia had another breakdown and was sent to various relatives to recover. Whilst she was away her Vanessa and her brothers arranged to move out of their parents house in Hyde Park Gate and to move in to 46 Gordon Square, Bloomsbury.
Virginia joined her siblings in 1905 and began her life in the world in which the Bloomsbury Group developed.


  1. Just wanted to say thanks for stopping by my blog :-)

    I'm a big fan of Virginia Woolf. I haven't read Quentin Bell's biography, but I'm about halfway through Hermione Lee's, which is very good.

    Good luck with reading all of Woolf's books. I'll be interested to read your thoughts on them.

  2. Hi Karen

    Thank you for stopping by. I loved Hermione Lee’s book too, a different approach but a great read


  3. Hi Karen

    I got confused, it was Lyndall Gordon's biography that I have read. Just started Hermione Lee's, it is quite a read!!