Virginia Woolf, Sir Leslie Stephen, and William Shakespeare
Woolf's youth was spent in her father's company, and during the last years
of his life he relied extensively on Virginia's assistance to prepare his
Mausoleum Book, a memoir dedicated to the memory of his late wife
for their children. His project absorbed all of hers, and until his death
Woolf was unable even to contemplate a life of her own. On 28 November
1928, her deceased father's birthday, Woolf's diary records the observation,
"His life would have entirely ended mine. What would have happened? No
writing, no books;--inconceivable." While this tension in the passage's
description of Woolf's relationship with her father has been remarked by
most critics, it has not as yet been noted that it occurred one month after
the lectures at Newnham and Girton that became "Room" and about the same
length of time after the publication of Orlando (11 October 1928)
in which she imagines another Elizabethan female author whose work is thwarted
much as that of the "Room"'s Judith. That Woolf felt a competitive relationship
with Shakespeare, himself, as well as with her father, may be deduced from
the passage written two years later (13 April 1930) in which she remarks,
"I never yet knew how amazing his stretch and speed and word coining power
is, until I felt it utterly outpace and outrace my own, seeming to start
equal and then I see him draw ahead and do things I could not in my wildest
tumult and utmost press of mind imagine . . . the words drop so fast one
can't pick them up." (14).
- Virginia Woolf, A Writer's Diary. Ed. Leonard Woolf. N.Y.: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1954.
- For an paper in progress exploring Woolf's psychological relationship with Shakespeare and her own father, click here.