Seventy years on, Woolf reveals a new character

There was more to the Bloomsbury novelist than her bohemian lifestyle, it has emerged

As a leading member of the Bloomsbury set, as famous for their bisexual bed-hopping as their creative output, Virginia Woolf could have gone down in history as a bohemian first, a novelist second.

But an in-depth re-examination of her work by leading academics concludes her novels are far more sophisticated than previously thought – with subtle political and classical references woven into the text. It also reveals that Woolf, despite her claim that she had "never been to school", was educated to degree level. Academics are now calling for her to be viewed in the same light as the great modernist writers, such as T S Eliot and James Joyce.

The findings are part of a major research project by Cambridge University Press, helped with funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, as part of a reissuing of Woolf's oeuvre to mark the 70th anniversary of her death later this month.

While almost all editions of James Joyce's Ulysses and T S Eliot's poem The Waste Land come with lengthy annotations – in Eliot's case, written by himself – Woolf's novels tend to be read as stand-alone works of fiction. The new editions, to be published by CUP, will offer annotations that shed light on the many hidden references and will map out textual changes, showing how the books evolved between proofs and editions.

The public perception of Woolf has been shaped by an early biography by her nephew Quentin Bell and by Woolf's own comments about her lack of formal education. In fact, she attended lectures at King's College London, in subjects such as history, German, Greek and Latin, and although she never got a degree, there is evidence to suggest she may have sat exams.

Anna Snaith, a reader in 20th-century literature at King's College London, who annotated the CUP edition of The Years, said the new publications would put paid to the idea that Woolf lacked formal further education. "She was a thoroughly committed political writer and a rigorous intellectual. It is astonishing how rigorous she was with her reading and studies," she said.

Born Virginia Stephen into a well-connected literary family, she was largely home-educated, and suffered a series of breakdowns and depressions following the premature deaths of her mother and half-sister, Stella. She married the publisher Leonard Woolf before embarking on a career as a novelist, her best-known books being To the Lighthouse, Mrs Dalloway and A Room of One's Own, a non-fiction essay in feminism.

However, much of the fascination with her revolves around her affair with the writer Vita Sackville-West, the product of an ethos of liberal sexual values among the writers and painters in the social circle centred on Woolf's house in Gordon Square.

Virginia Nicholson, Woolf's great-niece, also a novelist and the daughter of Quentin Bell, welcomes the CUP research project. "I'm very pleased that she should reach a wider readership, whether more or less educated," she says. "It's great that CUP is finding more dimensions to her work. But I hope their claims that she is more literary and complex won't make people think that she is in any way obscure or inaccessible. Although her books are undoubtedly clever, many of them have appeal for being just a jolly good read."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Austen Lloyd: Practice / HR Manager - Somerset

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A rare and exciting opportunity for a Practice...

Ashdown Group: HR Executive

£20000 - £23000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: An exciting opportunity...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: A mainstream Secondary school in C...

Guru Careers: HR Administrator / Training Coordinator

COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: An HR Administrator / Training Coordinator is requi...

Day In a Page

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Attwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'