We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Becoming Virginia Woolf

Her Early Diaries and the Diaries She Read

Barbara Lounsberry

Publication Year: 2014

Encompassing thirty-eight handwritten volumes, Virginia Woolf's diary is her lengthiest and longest-sustained work, and last work to reach the public. In the only full-length work to explore deeply this luminous and boundary-stretching masterpiece, Barbara Lounsberry traces Woolf's development as a writer through her first twelve diaries--a fascinating experimental stage, where the earliest hints of Woolf's pioneering modernist style can be seen.

Starting with fourteen-year-old Woolf's first palm-sized leather diary, Becoming Virginia Woolf illuminates how her private and public writing was shaped by the diaries of other writers including Samuel Pepys, James Boswell, the French Goncourt brothers, Mary Coleridge, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Woolf's "diary parents"--Sir Walter Scott and Fanny Burney. These key literary connections open a new and indispensable window onto the story of one of literature's most renowned modernists.

Published by: University Press of Florida

Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

pdf iconDownload PDF (105.2 KB)

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (65.3 KB)
pp. ix-x

First thanks go to my brother, Christopher Severin, who gave me as a Christmas gift the second volume of Virginia Woolf’s Diary. Thus began a journey of great fascination and reward. Anne Olivier Bell, whose wise and witty editing of Woolf’s 1915 to 1941 diaries sets the standard for such work, has been...


pdf iconDownload PDF (77.3 KB)
pp. xi-xii

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (110.5 KB)
pp. 1-10

A masterpiece. One of the great diaries of the world. So declared Quentin Bell, Virginia Woolf’s nephew, of her heart-stopping, boundary-stretching diary that serves as a doorway to her fiction and nonfiction. Woolf’s diary is her longest, her longest sustained, and her last work to reach the public. Diary scholar Harriet Blodgett calls it “a high point in English...

read more

1.Early Diary Influences

pdf iconDownload PDF (225.5 KB)
pp. 11-44

The word “influence” comes from the Latin influere, meaning “to flow in.” This chapter reveals how early others’ diaries flow through Virginia Woolf’s young mind, and shape not only her soon-to-be-started diary but also her future public prose. At age fourteen she finds her diary parents—important...

read more

2. The Experimenter

pdf iconDownload PDF (105.3 KB)
pp. 45-53

Fifteen-year-old Virginia appears to have followed her inclination to “fling diaries & diarising into the corner.” At least no diary for 1898 survives. Her imagination stirs again, however, in late summer 1899. Now seventeen, she embarks with her family in August on a seven-week holiday in the fen country

read more

3. Choosing the Outsider Role

pdf iconDownload PDF (158.0 KB)
pp. 54-74

Virginia Woolf’s third diary, her 1903 diary, may be the most important of all her thirty-eight diary books. In the crucible of family crisis—her father’s slow death—a saving move occurs. The twenty-one-year-old compares London with the country across her 1903 diary: London represents for her...

read more

4. Professional Writer

pdf iconDownload PDF (91.6 KB)
pp. 75-80

Red-letter dates color the 1904–5 diary. That is, Virginia Stephen stamps or writes the dates in red ink, then shifts to black ink for the entry proper. Like her last (1903) journal, this 1904–5 diary is self-bound with a gray paper cover. However, it is much smaller than the 1903 diary: only four-and-a-half...

read more

5. Embracing the Unconscious

pdf iconDownload PDF (253.6 KB)
pp. 81-120

At age twenty-one Virginia Woolf chooses the outsider role; at twenty-three she turns inward. “All greatness is unconscious, or it is little and nought,” Thomas Carlyle wrote in “Sir Walter Scott”—an essay Woolf likely knew (37). Her 1905 ghostly, haunted Cornwall diary and the 1906 to 1908 Great Britain...

read more

6. The Problem of Description

pdf iconDownload PDF (262.5 KB)
pp. 121-162

The many paths to apt description occupy Virginia Woolf’s mind across her seventh and eighth diary books. Her first task in her 1906 to 1909 Continental travel diary is to skirt the trap of guidebook prose during her trip to Greece and Turkey. In Constantinople she works hard to rid herself of Western...

read more

7. The Diary Coalesces

pdf iconDownload PDF (354.1 KB)
pp. 163-224

“To coalesce” means to grow together or fuse. This happens to Woolf’s diary from 1915 to 1918. In 1915, the now married diarist blends place and portrait, event and thought, into an engaging life diary mural. In 1917, she re-grounds herself after illness through her country Asheham House natural...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (71.5 KB)
pp. 225-226

Virginia Woolf leaves a trail in her first dozen diaries that shows how she comes to be the writer we know. Her diaries disclose (when carefully studied) a clear path of development no biographer yet has shown. The diaries reveal the young writer’s early fascination with change. At seventeen she offers...


pdf iconDownload PDF (122.7 KB)
pp. 227-240

Works Consulted

pdf iconDownload PDF (85.0 KB)
pp. 241-246


pdf iconDownload PDF (1014.6 KB)
pp. 247-257

Acknowledgements, Copyrights, About the Author

pdf iconDownload PDF (60.6 KB)

E-ISBN-13: 9780813048819
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813049915

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2014

Research Areas


UPCC logo

Subject Headings

  • Woolf, Virginia, 1882-1941 -- Diaries.
  • Novelists, English -- 20th century -- Diaries.
  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access