Who's afraid of (reading) Virginia Woolf?

4 min read

Where to start with Virginia Woolf vintage books

Where To Start With Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf was one of the most prominent writers of the modernist literary movement. She became particularly famous for her fictional work, Mrs Dalloway and her extended essay, A Room of One’s Own. Woolf’s work has made a lasting impact on 20th century fiction and non-fiction, particularly for her pioneering use of the stream of consciousness as a narrative device.

Alongside writing novels, Woolf was also a brilliant essayist and feminism became central subject of many of her critical works. Her novels also dealt with feminist themes and her pioneering work in this field was brought to the forefront with the growth of feminist criticism in the 1970s.

While Woolf’s lyrical style may seem challenging at first, readers soon become accustomed to this way of writing. If you’re hoping to read Virginia Woolf for the first time, this wonderful selection of her works is a great place to start.

  1. Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway, vintage editions

    Mrs Dalloway, 1925

    Mrs Dalloway represents the epitome of Woolf’s wonderfully fluid style. The story itself is relatively simple, set in the years after WWI. It focuses on a single day in the life of the central character, Clarissa Dalloway. Woolf is less concerned with defining Mrs Dalloway than with observing her effect on those around her. Her story becomes intertwined with that of WWI veteran Septimus, who suffers from PTSD. Small details of Mrs Dalloway’s life merge to become greater universal truths and in doing so create an intense tale that dives deep into the interior lives of its characters. Woolf’s understanding of life and people is admirable and her fluid prose perfectly submerges readers in her work.

    Shop for vintage editions of Mrs Dalloway →

  2. Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse, vintage editions

    To The Lighthouse, 1927

    This fascinating novel tells of the Ramsey family and their friends. Most of the tale takes place inside the minds of the characters as they spend a holiday together at the Ramsey’s summer home in the Hebrides. Woolf uses streams of consciousness to explore the minds of her characters and show how experience is understood through individual perception. As ever, Woolf presents this story with clarity and precision, exploring important themes such as the passing of time, consciousness, memories and experience. Every moment matters, even though it may not be obvious at first, creating the impression that nothing and everything occur at once within this novel. 

    Shop for vintage editions of To the Lighthouse →

  3. Virginia Woolf, Orlando, vintage editions

    Orlando, 1928

    Orlando is perhaps Woolf’s most complex novel. It takes the form of an elaborate love letter, penned to her friend and lover Vita Sackville-West. The book follows the journey of the poet Orlando, who survives life in an Elizabethan court as a young man and lives into the 20th Century. Orlando is a gender non-conforming character who wakes up one day changed from a man to a woman. Woolf’s novel challenges established views on sexuality and gender and is considered a highly influential modernist work. Her writing explores life beyond moral limits through and the ability to traverse space, time and social barriers.

    Shop for vintage editions of Orlando →

  4. Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own, vintage editions

    A Room of One’s Own, 1929

    This extended essay departs from Woolf’s fictional works, instead offering an exploration into the role of women in fiction. The essay was based on several lectures which Woolf delivered at two women’s colleges in Cambridge. Her writing is guided by a fictional narrator who discusses the role of female authors and characters in the literary sphere. As the title of this work suggests, Woolf argues that women need to occupy their own space, unimpeded by the social, financial and political factors imposed on them by a patriarchal society. The essay has become a vital part of the feminist cannon, an homage to unsung heroines, in particular marginalised female writers.

    Shop for vintage editions of A Room of One's Own →

  5. Virginia Woolf, The Waves, vintage editions

    The Waves, 1931

    The Waves is a mysterious novel that rests part way between poetry and prose. It would be better to hold off on this book until you are well acquainted with some of Woolf’s other writings. Set on the coast of England, this book is not one of easy answers. It is told through a series of monologues, delivered by six characters as they attempt to navigate the world around them. These characters pass from childhood to middle age between the pages, exploring the world through sensory experience. Like the waves of the title, Woolf’s writing is fluid and hypnotic, drawing readers into a visual, experimental and thrilling tale.

    Shop for vintage editions of The Waves →

How To Read Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf is not the easiest writer to get to grips with. As a reader, it is important to first understand the story and to then look beyond the plot itself to more conceptual ideas. Woolf’s novels explore a vast range of themes and ideas, inviting readers to understand the world as she does. So, if you’re looking for a Woolf book to try, look no further than this list and dive into her fascinating and mysterious world.

Browse our curated collection of vintage Virginia Woolf books →


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