Virginia Woolf - A woman unafraid
Updated: Dec 5, 2020
When I read Debora Coughlin's Outspoken, I fell deeply in love with the many women there. Utter respect for women who stood their ground no matter what their educational background, socio-economic status, nothing of that mattered, what mattered was that they stood their ground! They stood up for what they believed! Not many of us have that inside us and those who do, can be very loud because they will talk until someone hears them and will protests, write speeches, stand on Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park, or Trafalgar Square, or whatever the place is in the corner of your world. Where do people stand up and make great speeches where you are from? Imagine that spot and a woman standing for what she believes to be right and just.
After reading Coughlin's book, I decided to paint these strong, outspoken women in a study book I have. I then met a French lady who also very much stands for what she believes in, she wears her heart on her sleeves and lives life as openly as honestly as she can. Yes, she also participates in protests in France. One of her favourite authors and women is Virginia Woolf, and as she was already on my list of women to paint, I got to it! I found a few pictures of Woolf and got studying. I realised that all I knew about Woolf was one of the many lectures she delivered at Cambridge University and up to page 172 of Virginia Woolf: A Biography written by her nephew, Quentin Bell. Oh, and the movie The Hours, which after reading a quick review decidedly put me off as it was considered a vastly inaccurate portrait of Woolf. Which I can now say I agree because Bell paints a very different picture of his aunt. A picture that, unfortunately, supports the idea that she suffered from Bipolar Disorder. Bell describes her in such detail that is rather immersive, you feel as if you were there, a fly on the wall watching their daily lives though his eyes. Woolf enjoyed being surrounded by friends and participating in conversations. She loved observing people and then taking down notes on their characters and personalities. But then there would be occasions when the parties and gatherings became too much, and coupled with book deadlines, she would become overwhelmed and stay for a month, as she said in her own words:
(...) a month's incarceration at 'Burley', Cambridge Park, Twickenham, a kind of polite madhouse for female Lunatics.**
Her letters to Vanessa show us her great sense of humour, quick wit, and the occasional self-deprecating humour. She also understood that, as a woman in the early 1900s, she had been trained to conform to a patriarchal society:
'My dear, you are a young woman. You are writing about a book that has been written by a man. Be sympathetic; be tender; flatter; deceive; use all the arts and wiles of our sex. Never let anybody guess that you have a mind of your own.'**
It was the little things that attracted me to Virginia Woolf and I will continue reading more about her and learning as much as possible as I know I have barely scratched the surface. It's always interesting to see someone grow, mature, evolve, watch their self-confidence grow as they understand themselves a bit more and what they want from life. She did everything at her own pace, and at her own time, she thought things through, rather than dive head first in. But once she decided on something, she explored it and questioned it; she even explored same sex relationships which we know about from her letters, with the most famous one being her relationship with Vita Sackville-West. She learned and evolved as much as she could, and hadn't it been for her death at the age of 59, her legacy would have been even more impressive.
*Bell, Quentin. Virginia Woolf: A Biography. Pimlico; New edition 1996. p.165
**Coughlin, Deborah. Outspoken: 50 Incredible Speeches by Incredible Women. Penguin Random House UK. 2019. p.20