The incomparable Virginia Woolf will be brought to life on our screens once more this autumn, in an upcoming episode of Downton Abbey. Here are 7 reasons why the literary genius still fascinates us.
1. She inspired an Oscar-winning film.
Woolf’s extraordinary life and work inspired the Oscar-winning 2002 film The Hours. Nicole Kidman scooped the Best Actress award for her portrayal of the famous writer.
2. She produced incredible prose.
Her works, including Mrs Dalloway and To The Lighthouse, remain household names and classics for good reason. Her stream of consciousness storytelling was an innovation, while her novels explored important themes such as war, mental illness, feminism and homosexuality.
3. She suffered serious personal setbacks.
Woolf endured recurring bouts of depression and mood swings. She spent time in a women’s mental institution on three occasions, and had the first of several nervous breakdowns at 13, following the death of her mother. She and her sister also had to deal with the trauma of being sexually abused as children by their half brothers. Despite these issues, Woolf barely had any gaps in her productivity. A remarkable achievement.
4. She had a tragic death.
Woolf’s suicide was shocking, a tragedy worthy of one of her own novels. She had struggled with her mental health for all of her life, and the loss of her home in the Blitz coupled with the fear that her husband, who was Jewish, might be captured by the Nazis, drove Woolf to wade into a river with stones in her pocket in March 1941, before allowing herself to be swept away. Her body was discovered three weeks later.
5. She had a colourful love life…
Woolf’s passionate lesbian affair with socialite Vita Sackville-West was infamous. It inspired one of Woolf’s best-loved novels, Orlando, which Sackville-West’s son Nigel Nicolson later described as ‘the longest and most charming love letter in literature’.
6. …And her relationship with her husband was beautiful.
She met Leonard Woolf in 1912, and the two shared a remarkably close bond, despite her affair with Sackville-West, which Woolf described as ‘rather a bore for Leonard, but not enough to worry him’. In her suicide note, Woolf wrote to her husband: ‘You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier till this terrible disease (her depression) came… What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you.’
7. She was all about female empowerment.
Woolf’s best-known non-fiction works, A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas, explored the future of women in society and education, as well as the difficulties that female writers faced because men held all of the legal and economic power at the time. The former also memorably posed the question: what if Shakespeare had a sister? Woolf is still regarded as one of the most important feminist writers in history. A true inspiration.