The Mind of a Writer

By Jenni Mann

138 years after her birth Virginia Woolf still fascinates readers, writers, and gossip lovers alike. In her 59 years Woolf’s life was filled with a myriad of drastic, dramatic and daring experiences, even just one of which would be enough for a lifetime of stories. Read The Mind of a Writer to discover more.

Virginia Woolf; an observer of people, an asker of questions. Known for her writing in the style of a stream of consciousness, these qualities made her characters real and raw, and the subject of her work as what she found important; life and its meanings. 

A writer’s mind has the power to expand the views of so many. Yet so often we find that it faces so much turmoil. The mind of a writer can be a complex puzzle and one that is rarely solved. In a new documentary that is out to buy today ‘What Was Virginia Woolf Afraid Of?’ we see literary critics, phycologists, and biographers alike work to analyse her deeply troubled yet remarkable life and mind. 

With contributions from Bill Goldstein, Lyndall Gordon, Nicole Ward, Dame Hermione Lee, Edward Mendelson, the documentary tells us about the vivid life led by Virginia Woolf. The relationships she had, the politics that she believed in, the way she wrote, and the mental illness that took over her life at times and shaped her writing. 

This documentary is part of a series from Odyssey Television that brings us new insights into the life and works of writers. Others include The Pity of War: Poets at the Front, E.M. Forster: His Longest Journey and Rudyard Kipling: A Secret Life, which are all out on DVD and are available to be purchased now.

The insight that the documentary of Virgina Woolf gives into her life and work shows the viewer an incredible account of a real, three-dimensional, intriguing person. With her bold, eloquent and radical novels that are still so influential today, each one touching on so many recognisable parts of the raw human experience, an appreciation for the person and life behind the literary sensation cannot help but be formed. An opportunity to try and understand the mind of this prolific writer.

Often, people are drawn to the person behind the art; we want to know why, in this case, she wrote what she did and to have the opportunity to delve into her world. And that intrigue is a testament as to why she is still so influential today. A avid diary keeper, her personal works are filled with tales that show real humanity, and the personality behind the well-known name. They show her looking inside herself and analysing every inch and offering this same judgment to everyone she met. 

The Bloomsbury Group were a huge part of these tales, with her husband, sister, and friends (an unconventional family of sorts) all being involved. The group was made up of intellectuals – artists and writers alike who’s lives became so entangled with one another, that the stories of them would create fly-off-the-shelf biographies in the years to come. But really, they were young people finding a place to be themselves in a world that didn’t let them talk freely. 

She used her own experiences to transform moments of intensity from prose to poetry with the high emotion she attributed to her characters. Her characters were often comments on people in her own life; with ‘To The Lighthouse’s Ramsay family a shadow of her own in her childhood, and ‘Orlando’ based on Vita Sackville-West. Vita was the woman that Virginia began a love affair with, and wrote about extensively in her diaries. 

Vita’s son, Nigel Nicholson, described Orlando as “the longest and most charming love letter in literature, in which [Virginia] explores Vita, weaves her in and out of the centuries, tosses her from one sex to the other, plays with her, dresses her in furs, lace and emeralds, teases her, flirts with her, drops a veil of mist around her, and ends by photographing her in the mud at Long Barn, with dogs, awaiting Virginia’s arrival the next day.”

The 1928 book revolutionised the politics of LGBTQ+ relationships in a time decades away from mainstream acceptance of homosexuality. So we can see why it, and the lives behind the fiction, are still so influential and enticing. Diving into this emotional and intelligent relationship, Giuseppe Cafiero‘s new audio book ‘Virginia Woolf: The Ambiguity of Feeling’, is a heart-wrenching tale that takes listeners inside the love affair between the eloquent pair. 

Giuseppe Cafiero chronicles the pair’s escape to France to embrace their forbidden love, as readers explore the thin line between unconsciousness and reality.

Virginia Woolf was an astonishing woman whose novels and life were bold and expanded beyond the ideals of the society she lived in, and still captivates us today. Through these new works we are able to delve deeper into the reality of the person behind the enigma, and discover the heart wrenching and awe inspiring life and mind of the iconic writer. 

It is not often that history remembers women kindly, especially women that spoke their minds or didn’t conform to society. Virginia’s views were radical for her time, and this was also a time where any sort of mental health issues were misunderstood and rarely treated in a helpful manner.

However, a modern retrospective of her life see’s a clearly courageous woman. Courageous to keep an even keel when dealing with what we can understand better today to be a terrible suffering, courageous about her marriage, courageous in her ability to keep pushing on after the striking loss of family members, and courageous throughout so much of her writing.

 What Was Virginia Woolf Afraid Of? is out on DVD on the 16th November 2020.

Virginia Woolf: The Ambiguity of Feeling audiobook is available to listen to now, here.

If you liked this, why not have a read of Light Literature or WEBBED; Literature and the Conscious Mind.