Virginia Woolf — most know the name, but few know the obscure biographical facts behind the name. Today, for example, is the day of her birth. To celebrate the 59 years that Woolf spent observing and writing about our world, we bring you 59 tidbits about her life. So, go ahead! Get better acquainted with one of the 20th century’s most important authors after the jump.
1. As a child, it took Woolf longer than usual to begin speaking in coherent sentences.
2. For a time, Woolf wrote while standing at a desk 3’6″ tall because she wanted to be like a painter who could instantly step away from her canvas to get a better view.
3. While still in the nursery, she was nicknamed “The Goat.”
4. Woolf first tried to kill herself at the age of 22 by jumping out of a window. The window she jumped from, however, was not high enough to cause serious harm.
5. While writing her first novel, The Voyage Out, Woolf asked friends and relatives for advice whenever she got stuck or had doubts. After that, no one was allowed to see her manuscripts until they were finished.
6. Woolf’s dog, Hans, was known for interrupting parties by getting sick and relieving itself on the hearthrug.
7. As a child, Woolf was a formidable bowler.
8. Woolf once discovered a diary she had written during one particular sane and lucid period in her life, and laughed upon rereading it.
9. Woolf was highly critical of her friends’ eating habits at the dinner table, often reproving them for eating with either too little grace or too much enthusiasm.
10. Woolf once said that her death would be the “one experience I shall never describe.”
11. Some of Woolf’s first articles were published in The Guardian.
12. For a summer, she went mad believing that the birds were chirping in Greek and King Edward VII was uttering curses from behind nearby shrubbery.
13. When Woolf taught at Morley College, she made her students write essays about themselves.
14. Woolf delighted in the physical act of writing words on paper. From the age of 11, she was continually experimenting with different kinds of pens in hope of finding one that would provide the perfect sensation.
15. Woolf was an ardent fan of attending concerts and the opera.
16. At an early age, Woolf would torment her older sister, Vanessa, by scratching her nails against the wall.
17. As a teenager, Woolf became so terrified of people that she blushed when someone spoke to her and was incapable of looking strangers in the eye.
18. Early in her literary career, Woolf once remarked that the names of fictional characters were of little importance.
19. When separated from her sister, Vanessa, Woolf wrote letters to her daily.
20. For a time, Woolf considered marrying the British writer and fellow Bloomsbury Group-member Lytton Strachey, partially because he was a homosexual and she considered him more of a brother than a sexual partner.
21. One of the things Woolf disliked most in life was being peered at or having someone take her photograph.
22. In 1909, Woolf and others in the Bloomsbury Group invented fictional characters and attempted to write a novel by sending letters back and forth in the mail.
23. At the age of 27, Woolf admitted to being afraid of sex.
24. Woolf read and wrote compulsively to compensate for the fact that she lacked what she called “a real education,” meaning a university degree.
25. Woolf got the idea to write a sequel to A Room of One’s Own while lying in the bath.
26. Woolf once said she felt miserable for a full 24-hours after her brother-in-law, Clive Bell, made fun of her hat.
27. After getting married, Woolf thought she should learn some domestic skills, so she enrolled in a school of cookery. Shortly after, she accidentally baked her wedding ring in a suet pudding.
28. During the height of World War II, when it looked as if the Nazis would win, Woolf and her husband, Leonard, considered committing suicide via poisoning themselves with car exhaust. The couple kept a sufficient amount of petrol in their garage just in case.
29. Woolf was a difficult shopper, often arguing with shopkeepers over what products they had for sale and what products she imagined they should have for sale.
30. When Woolf was 13-years-old and her mother, Julia, had just died, she said it was “the greatest disaster that could happen.”
31. On one occasion, Woolf went shopping for a book she was meant to review after losing her original copy. When told at a bookstore that they weren’t stocked with this particular book, she grew angry and caused a scene. Woolf found the supposedly lost copy of the book in her bag when she returned home.
32. One summer, Woolf bought a Singer, a luxurious automobile, and took driving lessons. After driving it through a hedge, however, Woolf preferred to sit in the passenger’s seat.
33. Woolf was never fashion savvy. She perpetually worried about being properly dressed for the occasion.
34. Woolf felt that James Joyce wrote for a clique. She referred to other readers and writers of Joyce’s ilk as “these people” belonging to the “Underworld,” a group of people more interested in reputations than talents.
35. Woolf was not especially interested in contemporary painting.
36. Woolf often walked up to eight miles in the afternoon, sometimes jumping over ditches, climbing up hills, or maneuvering through barbed-wire fences if necessary.
37. Before Woolf was even 7 years old, her mother, Julia, was teaching her Latin, French, and History.
38. Woolf struggled with anorexia, believing that her body was monstrous, and that her mouth and stomach were sordid in their demand for food.
39. Woolf was a pacifist who would not advocate the use of violence for any reason.
40. The following is an excerpt from a letter Woolf wrote to her sister, Vanessa, in June 1911: “I could not write, & all the devils came out — hairy black ones. To be 29 & unmarried — to be a failure — Childless — insane too, no writer.”
41. Woolf’s husband, Leonard, owned a pet monkey named, Mitz.
42. Woolf and five of her male friends once received a 40-minute tour of the British battleship H.M.S. Dreadnought with the ship’s commander after painting their faces black, dressing in robes, and presenting themselves as the Prince of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) and his entourage.
43. When Woolf’s childhood music teacher, Miss Mills, asked her what the meaning of Christmas was, she responded by saying to celebrate the Crucifixion before bursting into laughter and being removed from the room.
44. Woolf once said, “I don’t like old ladies who guzzle.”
45. To lower her increasing anxieties as a teenager, Woolf’s family doctor, Dr. Seton, suggested she stop all lessons and play outside for four hours per day.
46. At one point, Woolf attempted to budget the daily household expenditures, but soon gave up, leaving it to her husband, Leonard.
47. Woolf usually became depressed upon finishing writing a book.
48. Close to the time of Woolf’s death, a bomb was dropped on the bank of the River Ouse, causing a miniature lake to form that reached the edge of her garden and attracted multitudes of waterfowl.
49. Woolf was a member of the Fabian Society, a political movement in favor of democratic socialism.
50. Woolf once had a review on a book about the French Reformation rejected by The Times Literary Supplement for being devoid of serious criticism from a historical point of view.
51. Woolf and her husband, Leonard, originally wanted to spend their honeymoon in Iceland, but because it was too late in the season, visited France and Spain, instead.
52. Despite Woolf’s growing reputation as an author and intellectual, she began supporting the feminist cause by spending hours upon hours writing addresses on envelopes.
53. Sometimes Woolf would write while sitting on an old armchair with a board of three-ply on her lap.
54. Woolf listened to Beethoven’s late quartets while writing The Waves.
55. Whenever Woolf’s husband, Leonard, would come in contact with a dog, he would shout at it until the animal felt dominated — after which Leonard would return to a calm state and befriend it.
56. When Woolf asked T.S. Eliot at a particular dinner party to define his belief in God, Eliot did not answer.
57. When Woolf’s comedy, Freshwater, was performed in 1935 at the studio of her sister, Vanessa, it’s said that Vanessa’s husband, Clive Bell, and his brother Cory laughed so hard that no one else in attendance could hear the dialogue.
58. In her early twenties, Woolf’s journal entries consisted of fastidious essays written as though for publication describing a day in the country or a night listening to music.
59. As a child, Woolf would tell nightly bedtime stories to the other children about the family next door, the Dilkes.
The last photograph of Virginia Woolf
The writer’s final sitting with a professional photographer was also the only colour photograph of her ever taken.