Virginia Woolf Books

Virginia Woolf Books



Virginia Woolf Books

Recommended Reading by and About Virginia Woolf


These three novels are required reading for people taking the trip for course credit because they are associated with places we will visit.  Woolf wrote a total of ten novels, published 1915-1940.

Mrs. Dalloway (published 14 May 1925) – takes place in one day in London, mostly in Westminster and Regent’s Park.  Details of several characters’ movements around the city are given in such detail that they can be plotted on a city map.  This is the novel that inspired Michael Cunningham’s novel The Hours, now a movie with Nicole Kidman as Woolf.

To the Lighthouse  (published 5 May 1927) –Woolf’s most autobiographical novel, set in a coastal summer house, ostensibly the Hebrides, but much more like Woolf’s own childhood summer home in St. Ives, Cornwall.  With Mrs. Dalloway, Woolf’s most studied novel (hundreds of articles published about each of them), and the Woolf novel most often taught.

Orlando (published 2 Oct 1928) – Woolf’s most successful novel up to that time, in terms of sales.  Depicts an aristocrat named Orlando, who lives 400 years and transforms from man to woman in the 19th century.  Orlando is based on Woolf’s friend Vita Sackville-West, whose family history provides details of Orlando’s long life.  Orlando’s country house strongly resembles Knole, the family home where Vita grew up.


A Room of One’s Own (24 Oct 1929) – a landmark in feminist criticism, especially significant for documenting the importance of material culture in women’s literary success.  Written about the same time as the three novels studied, AROO was originally given as a series of lectures, and then much expanded for publication.  Woolf argues that for a woman writer to succeed she must have money and a room of her own.  The most often excerpted part of this is the story of “Shakespeare’s Sister,” an imaginary character who illustrates why a woman with Shakespeare’s talent could not have succeeded in the age of Shakespeare.

A Writer’s Diary (published UK 1953) –selected diary entries, mostly about books Woolf was writing or her thoughts on writing.  Her complete diaries were published in 5 volumes in the 1970s and are fascinating reading.

Moments of Being  (published US 1976) – collected autobiographical writings.  Woolf always intended to write a formal autobiography, but never did.  She was a member of a group called the Memoir Club, who read autobiographical pieces to each other.  Several of the essays here were written for that group.  Of greatest interest are “Reminiscences,” begun in 1907, ostensibly as a memoir of Woolf’s sister Vanessa, and “A Sketch of the Past” (begun in 1938), which gives a mature view of that same family history and also introduces the concept “moments of being.”

Congenial Spirits: The Selected Letters of Virginia Woolf , ed. Joanne Trautmann Banks (1989).
Woolf’s collected letters fill six volumes and are as interesting as her diaries. Banks edited those volumes with Nigel Nicholson (Vita Sackville-West’s son) and published them 1975-80.  Since then more letters have been found, for a total of over 4000.  This selection of letters includes a few new ones, restored passages from letters that had previously been censored to protected the feelings of people then living, and a generous selection of what Banks felt to be the best letters. 

Good Books about Woolf and her Circle

Bell, Quentin.  Bloomsbury Recalled.  New York: Columbia UP, 1995.
Woolf’s nephew’s memoirs have whole chapters on individuals associated with the Bloomsbury Group, starting with a chapter each on his parents, Clive Bell and Vanessa Stephen Bell (Woolf’s sister).

Hussey, Mark. Virginia Woolf: A-Z. New York: Oxford UP, 1995. 
The best single reference book there is about everything Woolfian.  Now out of print.
Nicholson, Nigel. Portrait of a Marriage.  New York: Atheneum, 1973.
Biography of Vita Sackville-West and her husband Harold Nicholson by their son, including selections from Vita’s private papers that include material about her love affair with Woolf
*Wilson, Jean MoorcroftVirginia Woolf's London: A Guide to Bloomsbury and Beyond.  New York: Tauris Paperbacks, 2000.  Same as Virginia Woolf: Life and London (New York: Norton, 1987).  Only the title and cover are different.
If you can read only one book about Woolf’s life for this trip, read this one.  It’s a biography with special attention to places Woolf lived.  It includes a chapter of Woolfian walks, including Mrs. Dalloway’s walk from Westminster to Regent’s Park as well as one of Woolf’s favorite walks around the City of London, the oldest part of London, now known mainly as the financial district; but also the location of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London, and many other famous sites.  We’ll take some of these walks.  The book focuses on London, but includes material on Woolf’s country houses (Monk’s House and Talland House, in St. Ives), and her sister Vanessa’s country house, Charleston—all of which we will visit. 

Some Good Woolf Biographies

Bell, Quentin. Virginia Woolf: A Biography. New York, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972. 
This has been the most authoritative and influential biography of Woolf, though it has been superseded by more scholarly biographies in the 1980s and 90s. Quentin Bell was Woolf’s nephew, her sister Vanessa’s son. He and his sister Angelica inherited the Virginia Woolf Estate, controlling access to her papers.
Dunn, Jane.  A Very Close Conspiracy:  Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf.  Boston: Little, Brown, 1990.
Examines Woolf’s relationship with her sister, who was a successful painter who first moved the four Stephen children from the stuffy Kensington neighborhood where they grew up to Bloomsbury, where they became the center of an artistic and intellectual group.
Gordon, Lyndall. Virginia Woolf: A Writer's Life. New York: Norton, 1984; 1991.
This feminist biography emphasizes links between Woolf’s life and her work, particularly the major novels.
Leaska, Mitchell.  Granite and Rainbow: The Hidden Life of Virginia Woolf.  New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1998.  
Emphasizes the links between Woolf's life and works, somewhat controversially.
Lee, Hermione. Virginia Woolf. New York: Knopf, 1997.
Many Woolf scholars view this as the closest we have to a definitive Woolf biography.
Reid, Panthea. Art and Affection: A Life of Virginia Woolf. New York: Oxford UP, 1996.
Emphasizes Woolf’s relationship with her sister Vanessa Bell.

Source: https://www.uah.edu/woolf/book_list_travellers.doc

Web site to visit: https://www.uah.edu/woolf/

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