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6 amazing facts about the bisexual author Virginia Woolf

6 amazing facts about the bisexual author Virginia Woolf

Profile portrait of Virginia Woolf

Today is what would have been the 136th birthday of British auhor Virginia Woolf.

To celebrate, the Google Doodle for the day is a portrait of her done by London-based illustrator Louise Pomeroy. It’s modeled after the famous profile of Woolf.

Her contributions to feminism, mental health visibility, and literature are remarkable.

On this special day, here are some of the best facts about Woolf’s life and legacy.

Her bisexuality

In 1922, Woolf met Vita Sackville-West. They began an intimate and sexual relationship with one another. According to a letter written to her husband, Harold Nicolson, in 1926, Sackville-West said they consummated their relationship twice.

The depth of the relationship went far beyond the physical, however. Sackville-West was a great supporter of Woolf, especially against her mental health problems.

Six years after first meeting, in 1928, Woolf published Orlando. The story is a highly-regarded romp, telling the life story of Orlando, who’s born male but magically becomes a woman at 30. He lives for more than 300 years without aging and engages in relationships with both genders. The book was inspired by Sackville-West and her son called the book ‘the longest and most charming love letter in literature’.

Here’s a letter Sackville-West wrote to Woolf:

Mental health visibility

Woolf died in 1941 at the age of 59 after she took her own life by drowning.

She struggled from depression and other mental health problems throughout her life. Woolf suffered her first nervous breakdown in 1895, at the age of 13, after the death of her mother.

In 1910, 1912, and 1913, she spent three brief periods at Burley House in Twickenham. It was described as a nusing home for women with nervous disorders.

Sackville-West was the one to encourage Woolf that writing was not harmful to her health, and in fact quite the opposite.

However, when World War II began and Britain faced the Blitz, her obsession with death darkned her mood. She left a suicide note for her husband, Leonard Woolf.

‘You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be,’ she wrote. ‘I don’t think two people could have been happier till this terrible disease came.’

Woolf’s struggle with mental illness was tragic. Her legacy, however, goes far beyond it and helps lessen the stigma.

Inspiring feminism

Woolf is considered one of the greatest feminist authors.

In 1929, she published A Room of One’s Own. The non-fiction book first began as two essays addressed to undergraduate women at the ODTAA Society at Girton College, Cambridge, and the Arts Society at Newnham College.

The work focused on the difficulties women faced — particularly female authors — because of the disproportionate power men held.

Much academic research of Woolf is focused on the feminist and queer themes of her work.

A legacy rediscovered

However, Woolf’s legacy as a great feminist figure wasn’t adopted until the feminist movement of the 1970s.

After World War II, Woolf’s popularity among groups decline. The first authorative biography of her life was published in 1972 by her nephew Quentin Bell.

Then, with the rise of feminism, people rediscovered her work and adopted her as a feminist icon.

In  A Room of One’s Own, she wrote: ‘Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.’

A romantic

Despite her struggles in life, Woolf was in many ways a romantic.

Though she grew up in London, some of her fondest memories were of a summer home known as Talland House in Cornwall.

On spending summers and her childhood there, she wrote in To The Lighthouse: ‘Why am I so incredibly and incurably romantic about Cornwall? One’s past, I suppose; I see children running in the garden … The sound of the sea at night … almost forty years of life, all built on that, permeated by that: so much I could never explain.’

The Bloomsbury Group

One of her greatest legacies is of The Bloomsbury Group.

It originally began at the turn of the Twentieth Century and was comprised of English writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists. Beyond Woolf and her husband, some of the best known members were John Maynard Keynes and E.M. Forster.

They lived, worked, and studied together near Bloomsbury, London (hence the name). Though they did not engage in political activism, the group largely leaned liberal.

The group’s modern attitudes towards feminism and sexuality is what first opened Woolf up to her relationship with Sackville-West.

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