With widespread media available like blogs, YouTube, Facebook and other social sites, keeping a personal journal is easier than ever today. It has prompted more people to record more of their personal lives than at any other point in world history. But even with so many new journals, diary buffs still appreciate the personal entries from famous and influential personalities just as much. Like Virginia Woolf’s personal diaries, for example.
Famous for her interwar period works, such as To the Lighthouse, Mrs. Dalloway and Orlando, Virginia made her mark as perhaps the most important modernist of the 20th century. She was also a very extensive diary writer, with 7 different volumes coming out after her death, dealing with everything from her general thoughts to her many travels.
Born Adeline Virginia Stephen in London, England in 1882, Virginia Woolf worked as a novelist, a publisher, a critic and an essayist until her death in 1941 at the age of 59. She married Leonard Woolf in 1912 and remained married for the remainder of her life. Virginia began writing at a very young age, and most of her work (especially that found in her journals) was tragic, dealing with the sudden loss of her mother while Virginia was only 13, and then her sister only 2 years later.
In 1904, her father than died suddenly, prompting another in a series of nervous breakdowns Virginia had suffered. This one, however, was the worst of the bunch, causing her to become institutionalized for a short time. It was later discovered that Virginia’s breakdowns were in part caused by the sexual abuse she and her sister Vanessa had suffered at the hands of their half-brothers.
Though it’s an odd and almost cruel way to judge a writer’s work, Woolf’s literary prowess strengthened significantly as her mental state became more severely damaged. The more strife Woolf had to deal with, the more insightful and beautiful her literature was. It’s only because of her personal journals that people get to witness just how tortured Woolf’s soul was.
While many in Virginia Woolf’s personal life would describe her as introverted in person, she was incredibly extroverted on paper. Her many diaries cover almost every intimate detail you could imagine. Because they have been edited and published in volumes, however, it’s hard to get the entire context of Virginia’s personal life unless you read them all.
A Writer’s Diary, the first extract released from her personal diaries, was released in 1953. 23 years later, in 1976, a moving autobiographic portrait of Woolf, Moments of Being, was released. In 1990, a shorter diary, A Moment’s Liberty, was released. These specific diaries are wide ranging in their topics, dealing with a lot of Virginia’s day-to-day struggles and thoughts and feelings as a writer and a woman living in the period.
Perhaps the best diary of the bunch, in terms of giving personal insight, is Passionate Apprentice: The Early Journals. This is a collection of Virginia’s earliest writings from 1897 until 1909. And there are also travel-specific diaries, such as Travels with Virginia Woolf, as well as diaries dealing with her closest friends and family, The Platform of Time.