The essay was written in 1923, and in 1924 it was read to the Heretics, Cambridge. The essay is a polemical piece that attempts to go beyond Arnold Bennett?s thesis that character is the essence of novel writing, and his too easy conclusion as to why the young writers have failed to create credible characters.
Woolf chooses the year 1910 as the year in which a discernible shift in human relations takes place. This point is important to her ...
The essay was written in 1923, and in 1924 it was read to the Heretics, Cambridge. The essay is a polemical piece that attempts to go beyond Arnold Bennett’s thesis that character is the essence of novel writing, and his too easy conclusion as to why the young writers have failed to create credible characters.
Woolf chooses the year 1910 as the year in which a discernible shift in human relations takes place. This point is important to her because to understand what “real” character is, one has to understand the large context—the British society. In this light, she chooses Mrs. Brown as a metaphor for human nature.
Her analysis highlights the shortcomings of previous generations of writers; in particular the Edwardians and the Georgians, concluding that they also failed to create lasting characters. In this regard, history seems to be on Virginia Woolf’s side: while everyone remembers Mrs. Dalloway, no one remembers a single character created by either the Edwardians or the Georgians. What readers remember instead are the physical settings they created with old tools.
To facilitate the flow of ideas, this version of the essay includes section headings and bold typography. Endnotes provide brief outlines and descriptions of the major writers mentioned. The essay is presented, otherwise, as it was first published.
Virginia Woolf (1882 – 1941) was born into a privileged English household, where she was home-educated by her free-thinking parents. Apparently, like many girls of her age she had a happy childhood and adolescence, but as she recounted later, she had been sexually abused when she was six years old.
When her mother died she went into a period of depression, which was aggravated when her sister Stella also died two years later.
Despite her bouts of suffering, for four years she took classes in German, Greek and Latin at the Ladies’ Department of King’s College London. It was during this period that she developed her feminist stance.
After some turbulent years of psychological disorders, and after being institutionalized, she committed suicide at the age of 59.
Virginia Woolf is now recognized as a major twentieth-century author, a great novelist and essayist and a key figure in literary history as a feminist and a modernist. Born in 1882, she was the daughter of the editor and critic Leslie Stephen, and suffered a traumatic adolescence after the deaths of her mother, in 1895, and her stepsister Stella, in 1897, leaving her subject to breakdowns for the rest of her life. Her father died in 1904 and two years later her favorite brother Thoby died suddenly of typhoid. With her sister, the painter Vanessa Bell, she was drawn into the company of writers and artists such as Lytton Strachey and Roger Fry, later known as the Bloomsbury Group. Among them she met Leonard Woolf, whom she married in 1912, and together they founded the Hogarth Press in 1917, which was to publish the work of T. S. Eliot, E. M. Forster and Katherine Mansfield as well as the earliest translations of Freud. Woolf lived an energetic life among friends and family, reviewing and writing, and dividing her time between London and the Sussex Downs. In 1941, fearing another attack of mental illness, she drowned herself.
Her first novel, The Voyage Out, appeared in 1915, and she then worked through the transitional Night and Day (1919) to the highly experimental and impressionistic Jacob's Room (1922). From then on her fiction became a series of brilliant and extraordinarily varied experiments, each one searching for a fresh way of presenting the relationship between individual lives and the forces of society and history. She was particularly concerned with women's experience, not only in her novels but also in her essays and her two books of feminist polemic, A Room of One's Own (1929) and Three Guineas (1938). Her major novels include Mrs. Dalloway (1925), the historical fantasy Orlando (1928), written for Vita Sackville-West, the extraordinarily poetic vision of The Waves (1931), the family saga of The Years (1937), and Between the Acts (1941).