8 Reasons Virginia Woolf Was A Feminist Author Way Ahead Of Her Time

Virginia Woolf
PHOTO: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Virginia Woolf was a feminist ahead of her time and one of the great modernist writers of the early 20th century. She wrote both fiction and nonfiction, and she was at the forefront of feminist and intellectual thought. She struggled with mental illness and drowned herself at the age of 59, but despite that, she remained a strong and independent woman throughout her life. Here are the eight reasons Virginia Woolf was a feminist ahead of her time.

A Room Of One's Own
PHOTO: AMAZON
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Virginia Woolf's "A Room Of One's Own"

In her 1929 book-length essay, "A Room of One’s Own," Virginia Woolf writes, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” By this, Woolf means that women need space and economic independence in order to achieve success. Through these ideas, she critiques society for not always granting women that independence. "A Room of One's Own" is seen as a groundbreaking feminist text, even today.

The Bloomsbury Group
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The Bloomsbury Group

With a number of other famous authors, philosophers, artists, and intellectuals, Woolf was a part of the Bloomsbury Group, which met at her home in the Bloomsbury area of London. There, they would meet weekly and discuss the arts, literature, feminism, politics, sexuality, among other topics. Woolf was one of the leading members of the group.

Orlando
PHOTO: AMAZON
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"Orlando"

Woolf’s 1928 novel "Orlando" is about a poet, Orlando, who changes from a man to a woman and lives for hundreds of years. At the time, this was a radical novel for a number of reasons, the sex change being at the forefront. Orlando deals with the ways in which women have been treated and viewed by society throughout history, and the character, going from man to woman, is forced to acclimate. Despite its controversial ideas and publicly liberal views on sexuality that were not as common at the time, "Orlando" was a success, both in terms of sales and critical acclaim.

Vita Sackville-West
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Vita Sackville-West

Woolf dedicated "Orlando" to her friend and lover Vita Sackville-West. Though Virginia Woolf was married to Leonard Woolf, the two of them, along with several of their contemporaries in the Bloomsbury Group, had fairly liberal views on sex and sexuality, particularly for their time. Woolf carried on an affair Sackville-West for some time. You can read more about their relationship in "The Letters of Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf." It is important to note that among her friends and contemporaries, Woolf was openly bisexual.

Androgyny & Fluidity
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Androgyny & Fluidity

Woolf saw sexuality and gender as fluid, and she writes about this in "A Room of One’s Own." Woolf argues that we all have an “androgynous mind,” adding, “It is fatal for anyone who writes to think of their sex. It is fatal to be a man or woman pure and simple; one must be woman-manly or man-womanly.” Woolf argues that there is “male” and “female” in everyone. Though she still has a binary idea of sex and gender, she is ahead of her time in arguing that those binaries are not individual and separate, but rather characteristics that all individuals embody. In many ways, she attempts to break down gender roles.

Hogarth Press

Hogarth Press

In 1917, Woolf founded her own publishing house, Hogarth Press, with her husband Leonard. She taught herself how to use a handpress and published some notable works of the time. Hogarth still exists today as an imprint of Random House.

The Inner Lives Of Women
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The Inner Lives Of Women

Woolf wrote about the everyday, inner lives of women at a time when that wasn’t written about. "Mrs. Dalloway," for instance, follows one day in Clarissa Dalloway’s life. Clarissa is a middle-aged woman trying to organize a party, and though that may sound inconsequential, through Woolf’s stream of consciousness prose, we are able to see and understand the life and hardships of this woman.

The Patriarchy
PHOTO: MIRAMAX
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The Patriarchy

In her other book-length essay, "Three Guineas," Woolf writes about the dangers of a patriarchal society. "Three Guineas" is a fictional response to a man who asks for her help to prevent war. In the essay, she writes, “Behind us lies the patriarchal system; the private house, with its nullity, its immorality, its hypocrisy … Before us lies the public world, the professional system, with its possessiveness, its jealousy … its greed … It is a choice of evils.” In both the public and the private world, Woolf argues throughout the essay, women are oppressed, and their voices aren’t heard. Woolf was a proponent of feminism and women’s rights throughout her lifetime.

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DEENA ELGENAIDI

Deena ElGenaidi is a writer living in Brooklyn. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter @deenaelg 

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