Master of Arts (MA)
Religion & Culture / Religious Studies
Faculty of Arts
The principal concerns of this thesis are the connections that Virginia Woolf made between writing, revelation, women and biography, set in the historical and literary contexts of her life in England from the late nineteenth century to her death in 1941. Her vision of biographical form, language and the biographical self is assessed within the environment established by her father, her Victorian childhood and education, Bloomsbury attitudes and a spirituality shaped by her Anglican heritage and her experiences of gender. My contention is that her novelist’s sense of the relationship between fact and fiction, her critical analysis of the significance of language and gender, her perception of unique dimensions of the lives of women and her exploration of her own spirituality were a revolutionary combination that suggested fundamental changes in biographical form and expectation. Facets of her concerns, strategies and spirituality are examined chiefly through an analysis of Moments of Being, a posthumously published autobiographical collection. Written between 1907 and 1940 the essays span Woolf’s professional career and reveal the development of her ideas and style. Moments of Being is considered in relation to her essays, “The New Biography” and “The Art of Biography,” her fictional biography Orlando, and Roger Fry, the only conventional biography she wrote. A central observation in this thesis is that Woolf and her father shared a moral imperative derived from their heritage. His assertion that theological language failed to account for the rational and scientific aspects of life in the world is paralleled in her perception of the failure of patriarchal language to account for the lives of women. Both saw these inadequacies of thought and language as damaging to the human spirit. Without her father’s vocabulary, which had been shaped by his Christian childhood and agnostic explorations, Woolf sought words to describe the shock of revelation in her “moments of being” and to depict the reality that sustained them. Her quest led her to link writing and being and to blur boundaries between self and others, biography and autobiography, fact and fiction, past and present. Prevailing views on aesthetics and literature contributed to her perception of biography. This thesis considers Woolf’s revolutionary view of biographical form and theory to have been rooted in the reforming sensibility she shared with her father, her novelist’s vision of life freed from the oppressions of gender and the perception of reality, yielded through moments of being, that was the core of her spirituality.
Walker, Stephanie Kirkwood, "Invisible presences: Virginia Woolf and biography" (1988). Theses and Dissertations (Comprehensive). 98.