7 reasons why you shouldn't be afraid of Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf was brave enough to address issues like depression and homosexuality in an age where women were looked down upon

Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Not me, certainly. And not anyone who is adventurous enough to ponder, to think inwards, ponder about how they feel and evaluate the sensibilities of the storm of emotions that one goes through in their lives.

Virginia Woolf is a literary genius, to say the least. Not only was she brave enough to address issues like depression and homosexuality in an age where women were looked down upon but gained literary merit by being brave enough to experiment with her writing and ensuring that her works need to be taken as seriously as the male writers of her generation.

A portrait of Woolf by Roger Fry (Courtesy: Leeds Art Gallery)

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Here are the 7 reasons why you shouldn’t be afraid of picking her books:

1. Because you want to plan a party
You want to plan a party. You go out to buy some flowers. But what will you do when a simple outing turns into an existential crisis? To prepare yourself for such possible mid-life travesty, pick up Mrs Dalloway — the story of a high-society post-World War 1 woman in England who prepares for a party but loses herself in folds of her past and memories, figuring out how her life would have been if she had married another man.

2. You discover yourself while reading her
In our contemporary urban chaos, we don’t get much time to think about ourselves. But Woolf’s novels make you pause, feel the things that her character feel and ponder whether your life is as distraught or filled with conflicts as the characters are.

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Virginia and Leonard Woolf (Courtesy: Smith College Library)

3. ‘Feminism’ is the word of the year
Virginia Woolf wasn’t the first female novelist (she was Murasaki Shikibu), but she was one of the first to place women’s issues into the limelight at a time when women were fighting to even have the right to vote. Night and Day deals with women’s suffrage and also questions whether a loveless and unhappy marriage is anything but. Most of her novels have female characters who, if not physically expressive of their sexuality, are not afraid to ponder.

4. You want to know what is Stream of Consciousness
Stream of Consciousness is a narrative technique which focuses on the rush and flow of thoughts of characters rather than the plot. Virginia Woolf employs this technique in her later novels — Between The Acts and To The Lighthouse — which till then only male writers like James Joyce had used. Her novels are not written in a conventional narrative, rather dare to experiment with form and structure.

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Lytton Strachey and Virginia Woolf. (Courtesy: Lytton Strachey, His Mind and Art (1957) by Charles Richard Sanders)

5. Because you want to understand what romance is
Does being in love mean falling head-over-heels for someone or does it mean seep into a space of comfort gradually, slowly, completely? Does it mean to have a short and intense affair like in Jacob’s Room or long and sustainable marriage like in To The Lighthouse and Mrs Dalloway?

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6. Woolf was way ahead of her time
In Mrs Dalloway, the protagonist recounts whether her life would have been different had she been with her female friend and possible romance, Sally Seton. The story is set in the early 1920s. In Orlando, Woolf describes the adventures of an English nobleman who changes his sex to live 300 years. The novel released in 1928. In contrast, the LGBT movement started off 50 years later, in the 1970s. Even Woolf’s first novel The Voyage has political commentary on homosexuality.

7. She’ll make you feel what it’s like to stand on a cliff’s edge
Both Mrs Dalloway and To The Lighthouse have characters who go on internal musings and jolt you into feeling the rush of emotions that the characters feel. While in Mrs Dalloway you get to know a man who jumps off from a window to end his life, in the latter, Woolf literally makes you stand by the sea, on a cliff, as the protagonist recounts his own childhood while observing his kids.