Zena Alkayat and Nina Cosford celebrate Virginia Woolf’s legacy in a beautiful illustrated biography

Zena Alkayat, Nina Cosford, Virginia Woolf

Published 2015 by Frances Lincoln, 128p

Virginia Woolf marked a change of vision and sensibility in the modern literature. She had the boldness to use a new tone and a new language, revealing frustrations, hesitations and changes of mind; Woolf built her characters by exposing their psychologies. Her work, engaging and sometimes difficult, stands for her intelligence and distinction.

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Zena Alkayat and Nina Cosford’s biography, part of a series that celebrates the life and work of several cultural icons, explores Virginia Woolf’s literary talent and intellectual resourcefulness, her contribution to the development of the Bloomsbury Group and her lifelong depression that culminated with Woolf’s suicide.

Adeline Virginia Stephen was born in 1882 in a family of intellectuals: Their house was full of books, letters and mementos. From her childhood Virginia found an obsessively pleasure in reading and writing; after a period of darkness following her mother’s death, Virginia and her family moved in a new house – the place where the Bloomsbury Group will be formed, an unconventional small society that discussed art, politics, philosophy and great ideas. Virginia’s brother, Thoby and her sister, Vanessa were also members of the group, all enjoying their freedom and building their artistic careers. They became influential and the meetings continued even after Thoby’s death.

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In December 1910, Roger Fry hosted the exhibition ‘Manet and the Post-Impressionists’. It included radical, anti-formal artwork by Cezanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin and Matisse. London was left shocked, amused, outraged and challenged.

Virginia married Leonard Woolf and they faced together the atrocities of the World War One and Virginia’s periods of illness. They bought a printing press and moved in a cottage near Charleston but Virginia often longed for London and its streets, galleries and museums.

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It was in London where she met the aristocratic Vita Sackville-West whom she had a passionate affair. Shortly after their separation, Woolf wrote The Lighthouse and Orlando and started working on A Room of One’s Own.

The acknowledgement of her talent could not compete with the beginning of the World War Two and her episodes of depression and in the morning of 28th March 1941, Virginia left her husband a farewell letter, filled her pockets with stones and drowned in River Ouse.

Virginia Woolf’s genius continues to impress; a suicidal woman is always a mystery and a source of fascination but it is Woolf’s entire life that inspires and seduces; she was a great writer, an ambitious feminist and a complex personality and Zena Alkayat and Nina Cosford beautifully managed to capture all these.

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Complement this delightful biography with a poetic picture book that describes the special relationship Virginia had with her sister, Vanessa.

Illustrations courtesy of Nina Cosford.
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