Section 1: Early Years
Born to the cultural elite—her father was a noted author, editor, and critic; her mother a model for several pre-Raphaelite painters; her aunt a famous photographer—Woolf’s passion for literature and writing was nurtured from a young age. Her early years were not without pain and hardship, however. The deaths of her mother (1895), half-sister Stella (1897), and brother Thoby (1906) devastated her. Moreover, she was a victim of sexual abuse by her half-brothers and lived under the emotional strain caused by her father’s all-consuming grief over her mother’s death; it overshadowed the household from 1895 until his own death in 1904.
From early childhood, Woolf explored the craft of writing in diaries and notebooks. She developed lasting relationships with writers and artists, especially those at the heart of the Bloomsbury Group. The members of this coterie were known as much for their politically liberal and sexually progressive views as for their innovations in literature, art, and design. Woolf also found enduring support and collaboration in her husband, Leonard Woolf, and her sister, the artist Vanessa Bell, despite the sisters being very different in temperament.