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."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Geography Teacher

£24000 - £33600 per annum + pre 12 week AWR : Randstad Education Manchester Se...

E150/2014 - English Language Checker (Grade B3)

On Application: Council of Europe: The European Court of Human Rights’s judgme...

Marketing Executive

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Charter Selection: A professional services company ...

Project Manager - Bristol South West

£400 - £450 per day: Orgtel: Project Manager (PM), Key Banking Client, Retail ...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice