To celebrate LGBT+ month, who best to celebrate as an influential LGBT+ writer than highly acclaimed Virginia Woolf (Adeline Virginia Woolf), author of Mrs Dalloway, To the Lighthouse and many other poetic pieces of literature.
Born in 1895, Virginia Woolf grew up as part of a family practicing strong Victorian values, a time where the expression of being LGBT+ was largely suppressed and could be extremely dangerous (Only In 1861 was the death penalty abolished for gay relationships). Woolf herself enjoyed relationships with both women and her husband Leonard Woolf, whom she married in 1912. Perhaps the most influential relationship and strongest was that with Vita Sackville-West. It is this relationship that many academics believe inspired her novel ‘Orlando: A Biography’. A novel exploring issues around gender and sexuality, it is considered both a feminist and lesbian feminist classic giving Woolf a well-deserved position as an influential LGBT+ novelist. Woolf also founded her own printing press along with Leonard known as the Hogarth Press. Woolf aimed to publish key modern fiction writers and to promote modernist ways of thinking.
Most of Woolf’s iconic novels use strong feminist themes, in an era in which literature was readily banned. Woolf was extremely talented at incorporating LGBT+ ideas and themes through inferences and undertones within her writing. Not only does this make Woolf a beautifully talented writer but extremely ahead of her time and society in using these themes within literature to resonate with many of those suppressed in exploring their own sexuality. Many critical works after her death, including the likes of ‘Virginia Woolf: Lesbian Readings’ (edited by Eileen Barrett and Patricia Cramer) view Woolf’s work through the prism of LGBT+ in modern eras, exploring aspects of LGBT+ relationships that were unspoken of back in the early 1900’s.
Virginia Woolf’s life ended harshly and abruptly, committing suicide at the age of 59 in 1941 after suffering at the hand of her mental illness which also had contributed to her first suicide attempt in 1913. A highly poetic and sensual writer, Woolf stands out among LGBT+ novelists through her expression of her own relationships and how effortlessly feminism is portrayed in her literature.
Words by Megan Tarbuck