Virginia Woolf has a pretty significant reputation, and people like to throw her name around a lot.

Whether that’s to sound well-read or simply because there’s a bit of ‘something’ to her writing that you are yet to encounter, let’s take a look at why she has developed a major cultural presence, even by contemporary standards.

Yes, Virginia Woolf is certainly worth reading. You are likely to learn a lot about (or at least enjoy witnessing her ability to depict) the way people think, feel and develop strange obsessions from spending time with her characters. Woolf does deliver something quite unique as a writer.

Is Virginia Woolf Hard to Read?

Yes, Virginia Woolf may seem difficult to read for a while, or at first.

This will have a lot to do with what you usually enjoy reading.

Her style can be quite long-winded and stylistically or aesthetically overbearing, but this doesn’t mean off the bat that you won’t enjoy her works or appreciate the sentiments therein.

There’s quite a lot of detail in Woolf’s writing, much as there is in the work of all valued writers, and this attention to minutiae does actually build strong and memorable characters.

It’s worth persevering to watch how Woolf builds tension before you dismiss her writing altogether.

If you’re not getting along with a book, sometimes the best thing you can do is walk away and come back to it after a couple of years have passed.

Certain themes may resonate more once you find yourself older, wiser and reading under slightly different circumstances.

How Should I Read Virginia Woolf?

You can read Virginia Woolf any old way, you don’t need to hang upside-down or put on your best ‘reading mindset’ necessarily to take something valuable away from spending time with her writing.

All you really need to do to derive enjoyment from reading Woolf is allow her the time and space to convince you of the characters she introduces you to.

Woolf often enters long passages of description or of focus upon a single detail or object.

My advice would be to allow her to carry you along, even if you are dubious about the relevance or significance of the description in question.

You may not be able to see her characters as people initially, but they really are folk like you and I with similar concerns and desires, and this will become clearer as you read on and discover what ails them or makes them feel most joyous.

Here’s a great book you can read on Reading Virginia Woolf, by Julia Briggs.

Is Virginia Woolf a Good Author?

Yes, Virginia Woolf is a good author. She cultivated her craft over many years, writing countless novels, essays and plays.

As with any author, her writing improved through hard graft and hours spent at the desk.

Woolf’s writing became increasingly experimental over the course of her life and her opinions and observations gained in confidence, momentum and profundity as she became more comfortable using different forms of non-fiction to articulate them.

Virginia Woolf has been regarded as one of a few pioneering Modernist writers, with a particular style of her own which many contemporary writers continue to deliberately emulate.

Importantly, Woolf contributed to our understanding of how particular novelistic structures, such as that of a novel which unfolds over a single day or period of a few days, can be used to strong comment or effect. 

Is Virginia Woolf Overrated?

Woolf is one of the greatest writers of all time, and so perhaps no amount of adulation is too much. There are some who would say that, yes, Virginia Woolf is overrated. She receives a lot of attention online, on global stages and through contemporary media, from readers, reading groups and from scholars.

If you haven’t read Woolf yet, you still may have heard of her from the title of an Edward Albee play, titled ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’

There are a lot of theses and monographs published on Woolf, and even more young students who are quick to name Woolf as one of their literary heroes.

There is so much to learn from closely studying Woolf novels that we cannot say that the praise she receives is overrated.

What is A Room of One’s Own?

A Room of One’s Own is the title of one of Virginia Woolf’s essays, published in 1929 and developed out of speeches Woolf delivered to two different sets of college students.

In the essay, Woolf describes money or a way to financially support oneself, and a room of one’s own, or space free from distraction, as crucial to being able to write fiction.

Woolf then explores the experiences of multiple hypothetical writers, each constructed to illustrate circumstances which either allow them money and a room of their own within which to write, or do not.

On the basis of these examples, Woolf shares her understanding of what must be prioritized, and enabled through social reform, to allow individuals to attain success writing fiction.

Woolf also offers many a cautionary and moving tale regarding those who do not, or are not able to attain money and a room of their own within which to write.

Woolf’s message regarding the need to carve out space and time, through attaining resources, to fund creative pursuits, has gone on to become a mantra and source of guidance for fiction writers and other artists globally.

Is Virginia Woolf Worth Reading?

Yes, Virginia Woolf is worth reading. Her novels are criticised for being light and dreamy in places, but also capable of delivering extreme emotional verisimilitude and depth.

Woolf writes with a heightened understanding of human psychology, and she also writes with an extremely masterful sense of and command of temporality.

Her plots are engaging but also offer relatability to readers. If you usually read contemporary fiction, Woolf may actually offer you a wonderful way into the world of classic (or at least Modernist) literature.

Many of the themes she addresses remain the focus of contemporary novelists, and many of her literary techniques remain popular devices within contemporary usage.

If you are hesitant to read Woolf, try a few different novels and essays to see whether you find connection.

Chances are, you’ll at the very least be able to appreciate her ability to sketch out how people really do think and behave.

Categories: Fiction

Ol James

Letter Review is currently edited by Ol James, who is a PhD candidate in Creative Writing, casual academic, and guest lecturer at the UNSW. Ol has worked as the Reviews Editor at Southerly Literary Journal and an Editorial Assistant / Fiction Reader at Overland. Ol has had short stories published in leading literary journals such as Overland, Southerly, Seizure, and TEXT. Ol has had novels long listed for major awards such as the KYDUMA, has received government funding to produce plays from Create NSW and screenplays from Screen NSW, and has performed / produced self authored original work at major theatrical venues.