Virginia Woolf (1882 – 1941) was born into a privileged English household, where she was home-educated by her free-thinking parents. Apparently, like many girls of her age she had a happy childhood and adolescence, but as she recounted later, she had been sexually abused when she was six years old.
When her mother died she went into a period of depression, which was aggravated when her sister Stella also died two years later.
Despite her bouts of suffering, for four years she took classes in German, Greek and Latin at the Ladies’ Department of King’s College London. It was during this period that she developed her feminist stance.
After some turbulent years of psychological disorders, and after being institutionalized, she committed suicide at the age of 59.
About “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown.”
The essay was written in 1923, and in 1924 it was read to the Heretics, Cambridge. The essay is a polemical piece that attempts to go beyond Arnold Bennett’s thesis that character is the essence of novel writing, and his too easy conclusion as to why the young writers have failed to create credible characters.
Woolf chooses the year 1910 as the year in which a discernible shift in human relations takes place. This point is important to her because to understand what “real” character is, one has to understand the large context—the British society. In this light, she chooses Mrs. Brown as a metaphor for human nature.
Her analysis highlights the shortcomings of previous generations of writers; in particular the Edwardians and the Georgians, concluding that they also failed to create lasting characters. In this regard, history seems to be on Virginia Woolf’s side: while everyone remembers Mrs. Dalloway, no one remembers a single character created by either the Edwardians or the Georgians. What readers remember instead are the physical settings they created with old tools.