Published by Hogarth Press in 1928, Orlando is at once an oddity, an indulgence, but also a slice of genius. The novel – because despite masquerading as a biography, it is a work of narrative... More > fiction – tells the unlikely, impossible story of Orlando through his years as a male member of the Elizabethan Court, an affair with a Russian Princess, a subdued period of contemplation during the reign of James 1, his time as an ambassador in Constantinople and the sudden transformation into a woman.
Not content with such a plot twist Woolf allows her character to live on through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, using the journey to trace the female place in society while allowing Orlando the freedom to seduce, be seduced and to love in equal measure. After 80,000 words, Woolf leaves her heroine in the England of 1928 having completed a poem, The Oak Tree, that had been started some four centuries earlier.< Less
To the Lighthouse was published in 1927 by Hogarth Press two years after Mrs Dalloway and a year before Orlando. The plot – not the most important aspect at all – concerns a... More > family’s decision to visit a lighthouse on two separate occasions, the first, unsuccessfully, when the children are young and the second, successfully, when the children are ten years older but the mother has died. The essential parts of the plot, the death of the mother and the demise of a son, are merely referred to (the first in brackets!), but are central to the tone and feel of the second part in which the initially maligned father proves his worth in the eyes of his children.< Less
Published posthumously by Hogarth Press shortly after Wooolf’s suicide, Between The Acts was her last novel and, strangely perhaps, closest to the first. It takes place over a day before,... More > during and after the staging of an amateur pageant in an English village just before the onset of the Second World War. Unlike her major fictional works, Between The Acts is dialogue driven, rather than introspective, and there is also an omniscient sense to it, as though Woolf is directing the characters much as they would later be directed in the pageant. The play itself takes place in three scenes disconnected by years of history leading from a Shakespearian romance, onto a Restoration comedy and finally a triumphant Victorian parade in a notional Hyde Park.< Less
Published in 1915, but written and revised in stages from 1912, The Voyage Out was Woolf’s first novel. The plot follows Rachel Vinrace on her voyage aboard her father’s ship to South... More > America. During the voyage, Rachel meets a number of well-constructed characters that include Clarissa Dalloway (later given her own novel), and others that have been shown to be based on Llyton Strachey and Vanessa Bell.
Outwardly, this arrangement allows Woolf to run through a satire of Edwardian life, but deeper down the novel shows evidence of autobiographical elements. The father’s ship, for example, might represent Woolf’s perception of a life as set out by her own father, dead perhaps six or seven years prior to her writing the novel. Also the plot features a recollection of a mother’s death which the principal character is unable to bring herself to remember and certain dream sequences have been highlighted for their insight into Woolf’s own mental predisposition.< Less
Published in 1937 by Hogarth Press, The Years was the last novel released during Woolf’s lifetime. It was also the longest in development, having gone through a steady flow of refinements since... More > it was first conceived as a novel-essay in 1931. Much like the previous novel, The Waves, this is as much or more about structure than it is about plot, following the progress or otherwise of the Pargiter family from 1880 up to ‘the present’. Again like The Waves, the stages of narrative presented as brief snapshots are interspersed with poetic vistas of British weather.
That the dates coincide with Woolf’s life are not coincidence, writing to Hugh Walpole in 1932 she declared that, “ … only autobiography is literature – novels are what we peel off …” This can be taken in two ways: that a writer is obliged to get through the novels before coming to the more worthy autobiography; or that what’s presented as a novel is no more than the thin outer skin covering up the autobiography underneath.< Less
Considered by many critics to be Woolf’s masterpiece, Mrs Dalloway was published by Hogarth Press in 1925. The plot follows a single day in the lead up to a party being hosted by Clarissa... More > Dalloway, interspersed with flashbacks and switches in point of view to other principal characters so as to provide a background of their lives and comment on the social structure of the 1920s.
In addition to Mrs Dalloway, the other focus is Septimus Warren Smith, a veteran of the war who suffers from ‘shell shock’. Though the two never meet, the hinge of the day’s activities is Smith’s suicide and the subsequent impact it has on Mrs Dalloway’s thoughts – she thinks him quite admirable.< Less
Originally published in 1938 by Hogarth, Three Guineas is a work of non-fiction composed of replies to three imaginary letters, the first asking Woolf how to prevent war, the second asking her how... More > women could enter the professions, and the third how women can become educated. While the latter themes are familiar enough to Woolf, the first is less so and is necessarily difficult for Woolf to advocate. As a feminist, she was against fascism because it advocated a society in which women play no part in public life, yet as a pacifist – she'd seen the effects of the First World War – she was opposed to waging war to fight it.
Given when it was published and further the manner of its writing – it was intended to act as a counterpoint to the fictional elements of The Years – Three Guineas was a book Woolf could easily have left in manuscript form. That she didn't provides modern day readers with a record of her beliefs and how they might have developed in subsequent years.< Less
The Waves, published by Hogarth Press in 1931, might be said to be plotless in essence whilst also serving as a counterpoint to her earlier novel Jacob’s Room. The structure, because... More > that’s a more helpful notion, is built around the soliloquys of six characters while a seventh, much like Jacob but this time kept silent, hovers in the background. Interspersed between these six voices are attendant naturalistic descriptions of waves breaking on a shore at different points of the day from dawn to dusk; another instance of Woolf’s childhood memories surfacing.
Through the different characters, and using the seventh, Perceval, as a collective, but flawed, icon, Woolf examines notions of the self and the collective through differing viewpoint. Some see Woolf’s peers in a selection of the characters including Llyton Strachey, E. M. Forster and T. S. Eliot, but such identifications are less important than what she has to say using these points of view as distinct mouthpieces.< Less
With the first volume published in 1925 and the second in 1932, The Common Reader brings together a collection of Woolf's critical essays and articles, in total forty entries covering historical and... More > contemporary authors and themes. By no means is this a complete collection of her critical work – she was reviewing in established magazines well before she'd published any of her own work – but it is representative of her views at the height of her abilities.
It's also a reflection of Woolf's working life. By all accounts, she wrote for publication only at certain times of the day – usually in the morning – but she also put a considerable amount of time aside to read, typically amassing a pile of intended volumes or immersing herself in a single author for a few days at a time. Unfortunately, the use of the word 'common' in the title served to open her up for subsequent criticism because by and large these are subjects not especially appealing to the common man or woman.< Less
Published by Hogarth in 1921, Monday or Tuesday is a collection of eight short stories. The set includes the title piece, Monday or Tuesday, which, along with Blue and Green, and, to a lesser extent,... More > A Haunted House, suggest themselves as literary pastiches, closer to impressionism than conventional, plot-driven episodes. Even the longer stories, such as A Society and An Unwritten Novel are insular, relying on stream of consciousness methods to create an approach to expressing a character's feeling towards the exterior world.
Where ordinarily, a short story collection will provide a suitable introduction to a novelist, this set serves to push the reader straight into the depths of Woolf's mind set and in doing so gives a strong impression of the modernist bent as it existed in the early twenties. By the time of publication, Woolf would most likely have read Joyce's Ulysses in manuscript form and she would also have been in close contact with T.S. Eliot.< Less