virginia woolf portraits

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Virginia Woolf, Vita Sackville-West and two dogs sitting on a grass bank. Monk’s House (Rodmell, England), 1933.

“I try to invent you for myself, but find I really have only 2 twigs and 3 straws to do it with. I can get the sensation of seeing you—hair, lips, colour, height, even, now and then, the eyes and hands, but I find you going off, to walk in the garden, to play tennis, to dig, to sit smoking and talking, and then I cant invent a thing you say—This proves, what I could write reams about—how little we know anyone, only movements and gestures, nothing connected, continuous, profound. But give me a hint I implore.”

– Virginia Woolf in a letter to Vita Sackville-West

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Virginia Woolf and Lytton Strachey photographed by Lady Ottoline Morrell. c.1923.

“Nothing is easier or more intimate than a talk with Lytton. If he is less witty, he is more humane.”

–Virginia Woolf, from a diary entry dated 22 January 1919.

VIRGINIA WOOLF 1882–1941

English modernist writer, and central figure of the Bloomsbury Group, known for Mrs Dalloway, To the Lighthouse, and A Room of One’s Own. Raised in an intellectual and literary home, she was dealt an emotional blow at a young age when her mother, father, and two siblings died in quick succession. This led to her first struggle with mental illness, the bouts of depression which would plague her throughout her life. At 30, she married Leonard Woolf, and together they started a publishing house that began printing her work. Before her marriage, Woolf had enjoyed a few intense friendships with other women, and often linked creativity to female companionship. But those relationships were never sexual until she met Vita Sackville-West—a known “Sapphist"—at the age of 40. Their relationship lasted about three years, during which Woolf wrote Orlando. The book, which casts Vita as a man transformed into a woman who lives for three centuries, is seen as a novel-length love letter, though not the only one of Woolf’s works to address lesbianism either obliquely or openly. They remained close friends up until Woolf’s suicide.

The truth was she did not want intimacy; she wanted conversation. Intimacy has a way of breeding silence, and silence she abhorred. There must be talk, and it must be general, and it must be about everything. It must not go too deep, and it must not be too clever, for if it went too far in either of these directions somebody was sure to feel out of it, and to sit balancing his tea cup, saying nothing.
—  “Portrait of a Londoner” by Virginia Woolf