A Brief Biography Of An Activist and "The Bloomsbury Group"

Image: Hilal Kosovalı

Image: Hilal Kosovalı

These past few days I have been reading a book which taught me the relativity of time; how day can capture a whole juvenility, memories, disappointments, connotations, decisions and delusions… Mrs. Dalloway is a book which captures other memories, hopes and truths about other people’s lives as well. A narration which flows like a river and suits Virginia Woolf’s stream of consciousness. After reading "Mrs. Dalloway“, the little crumbs of information that I had known about Virginia Woolf began seeming insufficient . More I learned about her, the more I admired her and the intelligent works she created.

That inspired me to write this article about an activist’s biography and an organization that she belonged: “The Bloomsbury“.

Adeline Virginia Stephen was born in January 25, 1882 in London, England. Both her mother Julia Jackson who possessed elegance and reputation for saintly self-sacrifice, and her father Leslie Stephen who was the first editor of the Dictionary of National Biography lost their first spouses unexpectedly. Julia Jackson Duckworth and Leslie Stephen married in 1878 and had four children: Vanessa, Thoby, Virginia and Adrian. They had a strong bond with their older half siblings and loyalties shifted among them. She enjoyed telling stories and she used to tell bedtime stories to other children about her neighbors. At age nine, she was the genius behind the Hyde Park Gate News (a family newspaper) that often teased Vanessa and Adrian. Vanessa was mothering them and Adrian was their mother’s favorite. At that time, she couldn’t go to school but had a great education with her elder sister. Although they were homeschooled, she was resentful of the opportunities that were afforded to her brothers simply because they were boys, so she decided to use all the opportunities she had. She started reading the books that were in her father’s library. Her father who was an eminent literary figure would unlock the door and get books down from the shelf but she was reading so voracious thats she spent hours in that library and by the time she was 13, her father decided to give her the key. As a literary critic and biographer, her father used to invite writers such as Henry James, William Thackery and poet James Russel Lowe quite often. The lists which followed one another in her family caused a great depression. A little after her nervous breakdown, Vanessa decided to move to their summerhouse which they didn’t go since their mother’s death. That’s when she decided the title of her brilliant novel, To The Lighthouse, inspired by the lighthouse near their house. 

She met her husband at a dinner which was organized by her sister and she had a very happy marriage. They had an understanding in their marriage, when she met Vita Sackwille-West, who was a successful writer, their romantic relationship was not a secret. Their friendship lasted for the rest of their lives but the relationship lasted only a decade but her 1927 novel Orlando was dedicated to and inspired by Vita Sackwille-West. Her son described Orlando as “The longest and most charming love letter in literature“. Before meeting Vita Sackwille-West, she met Madge Symond who was the inspiration for Sally in Mrs. Dalloway and shortly after, she made acquaintance with Kitty Maxse who was the inspiration for Clarissa Dalloway. 

Although she didn't like Henry James, she was fond of Dostoevki: “The novels of Dostoevski are seething whirlpools, gyrating sandstorms, waterspouts which hiss and boil and stuck with us.“ 

Leonard Woolf had a pet monkey- a marmoset. Nearly everyone except Leonard disliked Mitz and Quentin Bell once wrote in his memoir that the monkey was “deeply in love with Leonard and would spit out its jealousy upon the rest of humanity“. When she was married, Woolf decided to enroll in cooking school but unfortunately, her wedding ring ended up baked in the pudding! She used to write standing up (like her sister Vanessa who was a painter an used to paint standing up) so that her work would seem less difficult than Vanessa’s unless they looked more equal. She also treated her writing like painting, and disliked to step away from her   “canvas“ to get a better look.

Virginia Woolf suffered from mental illness and her psychiatrist George Savage didn’t believe in depression and bought into a popular theory that suggested to have pulled three teeth. She wasn’t satisfied with the treatment but ended up wearing false teeth; to get her revenge, she turned him into the fumbling, incompetent doctor in Mrs. Dalloway.

On March 28, 1941 she couldn’t bear the depression anymore and filled her coat pockets with rocks and walked into the River Ouse behind her house. She was intelligent, loving and caring. She has a unique place in my heart.