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Plato (427-347 BC), Greek philosopher, student and friend of Socrates, and author of The Republic; "Then, I said, let us begin and create in idea a State; and yet the true creator is necessity, who is the mother of our invention."
Plato had a profound influence on Western political and scientific thought, for as Alfred North Whitehead said, "All western philosophy consists of footnotes to Plato." His works cover various subjects like education, ethics, epistemology, mathematics, metaphysics, natural science, politics, and philosophy. Included among them are Laws; "I can show you that the art of calculation has to do with odd and even numbers in their numerical relations to themselves and to each other.", Parmenides; "You cannot conceive the many without the one." and The Republic; "The knowledge of which geometry aims is the knowledge of the eternal.", ultimately discussing man's relationship with his soul, the state, and the universe.
Although many of his ideas and theories are controversial, "Plato is philosophy, and philosophy, Plato, at once the glory and the shame of mankind, since neither Saxon nor Roman have availed to add any idea to his categories."--Ralph Waldo Emerson `Plato, or The Philosopher', he is also well known and respected as being a faithful disciple of Socrates and being the primary source of information on the man, his life and ideas. A number of Plato's works contain the conversations he purportedly heard between his teacher and others; his philosophy, the charges of his impiety, ensuing trial and his last days in the Socratic Dialogues including Apology;
"The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways--I to die, and you to live. Which is better God only knows."--Socrates before he drinks the cup of poison hemlock.
Plato was born into an aristocratic family in Athens, Greece around 427 BC, the son of Ariston and his wife Perictione. It is said that `Plato' is a nickname in reference to his wrestler's broad shouldered physique. Athens was in conflict with Sparta during the Peloponnesian War at the time, and Plato soon became disillusioned with the Empire and abandoned his political aspirations. Around the age of twenty he became a student of Socrates.
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Devoting his life to seeking the truth and examining such issues as virtue and piety through the dialectic questioning of his pupils, Socrates was also critical of the religious and political institutions of the day. Soon he was charged with heresy and corrupting the youth of Athens, and thus began Plato's writing in earnest. Apology and Crito were among his Socratic works to follow. After his teacher's death, around the age of forty Plato founded the Academy, of which Aristotle was a pupil, in a grove sacred to the demigod Academus, near Athens. Astronomy, mathematics, and philosophy were among the subjects taught there. Apart from a few years spent travelling and studying in other parts of the Mediterranean, Plato spent the majority of his life in Athens until his death in 347 BC.
Plato further developed his ideas and theories in such works as Symposium; Phaedo--"False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil."; and The Republic, including his Theory of Forms and various Platonisms. From The Republic we get his metaphor of the cave: prisoners are chained inside a cave, their only reality that which they see directly in front of them on the wall. Shadows of men, animals, and objects are cast on it because there is a fire behind them. The prisoners believe that the shadows are speaking and thus learn to `name' things and form their ideas of what is `real'. Now, take the prisoner from this cave, and he will be blinded by the light, and slowly learn that his reality is not quite what it seems. So suggests Plato in his Theory of Forms, that the words we use to `name' things are not truly representative of reality, that the universal is found separately from the tangible, for as Socrates said;
"it is the greatest good for a man to discuss virtue every day and those other things about which you hear me conversing and testing myself and others, for the unexamined life is not worth living."

charles dickens

Charles Dickens
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Charles Dickens (1812-1870), English Victorian era author wrote numerous highly acclaimed novels including his most autobiographical David Copperfield (1848-1850);
“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born (as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o'clock at night. It was remarked that the clock began to strike, and I began to cry, simultaneously.”
As a prolific 19th Century author of short stories, plays, novellas, novels, fiction and non, during his lifetime Dickens became known the world over for his remarkable characters, his mastery of prose in the telling of their lives, and his depictions of the social classes, mores and values of his times. Some considered him the spokesman for the poor, for he definitely brought much awareness to their plight, the downtrodden and the have-nots. He had his share of critics like Virginia Woolf and Henry James, but also many admirers, even into the 21st Century.
Gilbert Keith Chesterton wrote numerous introductions to his works, collected in his Appreciations and Criticisms of the works of Charles Dickens (1911) and in his highly acclaimed biography Charles Dickens (1906) he writes: He was the voice in England of this humane intoxication and expansion, this encouraging of anybody to be anything. Critic John Forster (1812-1876) became his best friend, editor of many of his serialisations, and official biographer after his death, publishing The Life of Charles Dickens in 1874. Scottish poet and author Andrew Lang (1844-1912) included a letter to Dickens in his Letters to Dead Authors (1886). Elbert Hubbard (1856-1915) in his Little Journeys (1916) series follows in the footsteps of Dickens through his old haunts in London. George Gissing (1857-1903) also respected his works and wrote several introductions for them, as well as his Charles Dickens: A Critical Study (1898) in which he writes: Humour is the soul of his work. Like the soul of man, it permeates a living fabric which, but for its creative breath, could never have existed. While George Orwell (1903-1950) was at times a critic of Dickens, in his 1939 essay Charles Dickens he, like many others before, again brought to light the author still relevant today and worthy of continued study: Nearly everyone, whatever his actual conduct may be, responds emotionally to the idea of human brotherhood. Dickens voiced a code which was and on the whole still is believed in, even by people who violate it. It is difficult otherwise to explain why he could be both read by working people (a thing that has happened to no other novelist of his stature) and buried in Westminster Abbey.
Charles John Huffman Dickens was born on 7 February, 1812 in Portsmouth, Hampshire, England (now the Dickens Birthplace Museum) the son of Elizabeth née Barrow (1789-1863) and John Dickens (c.1785-1851) a clerk in the Navy Pay Office. John was a congenial man, hospitable and generous to a fault which caused him financial difficulties throughout his life. He inspired the character Mr. Micawber in David Copperfield (1849-1850). Charles had an older brother Frances, known as Fanny, and younger siblings Alfred Allen, Letitia Mary, Harriet, Frederick William known as Fred, Alfred Lamert, and Augustus Newnham.
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When Dickens’ father was transferred to Chatham in Kent County, the family settled into the genteel surroundings of a larger home with two live-in servants—one being Mary Weller who was young Charles’ nursemaid. Dickens was a voracious reader of such authors as Henry Fielding, Daniel Defoe, and Oliver Goldsmith. When he was not attending the school of William Giles where he was an apt pupil, he and his siblings played games of make-believe, gave recitations of poetry, sang songs, and created theatrical productions that would spark a lifelong love of the theatre in Dickens. But household expenses were rising and in 1824, John Dickens was imprisoned for debt in the Marshalsea Prison. All of the family went with him except for Charles who, at the age of twelve, was sent off to work at Warren’s Shoe Blacking Factory to help support the family, pasting labels on boxes. He lived in a boarding house in Camden Town and walked to work everyday and visited his father on Sundays.
It was one of the pivotal points in Dickens’ education from the University of Hard Knocks and would stay with him forever. The idyllic days of his childhood were over and he was rudely introduced to the world of the working poor, where child labour was rampant and few if any adults spared a kind word for many abandoned or orphaned children. Many of his future characters like Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, and Philip Pirrip would be based on his own experiences. The appalling working conditions, long hours and poor pay typical of the time were harsh, but the worst part of the experience was that when his father was released his mother insisted he continue to work there. While he felt betrayed by and resented her for many years to come, his father arranged for him to attend the Wellington House Academy in London as a day pupil from 1824-1827, perhaps saving him from a life of factory work and setting him on the road to becoming a writer.
In 1827 the Dickens were evicted from their home in Somers Town for unpaid rent dues and Charles had to leave school. He obtained a job as a clerk in the law firm of Ellis and Blackmore. He soon learned shorthand and became a court reporter for the Doctors Commons. He spent much of his spare time reading in the British Museum’s library and studying acting. In 1830 he met and fell in love with Maria Beadnell, though her father sent her to finishing school in Paris a few years later. In 1833, his first story of many, “A Dinner at Poplar Walk” was published in the Monthly Magazine. He also had some sketches published in the Morning Chronicle which in 1834 he began reporting for and adopted the pseudonym ‘Boz’. At this time Dickens moved out on his own to live as a bachelor at Furnival’s Inn, Holborn. His father was arrested again for debts and Charles bailed him out, and for many years later both his parents and some of his siblings turned to him for financial assistance.
Dickens’ first book, a collection of stories titled Sketches by Boz was published in 1836, a fruitful year for him. He married Catherine Hogarth, daughter of the editor of the Evening Chronicle on 2 April, 1836, at St. Luke’s in Chelsea. A year later they moved into 48 Doughty Street, London, now a museum. The couple would have ten children: Charles Culliford Boz (b.1837), Mary (Mamie) (1838-1838), Kate Macready (b.1839), Walter Landor (b.1841), Francis (Frank) Jeffrey (b.1844), Alfred Tennyson (b.1845), Sydney Smith (b.1847), Henry Fielding (b.1849), Dora Annie (1850-1851), Edward Bulwer Lytton (b.1852). Also in the same year, 1836, Dickens became editor for Bentley’s Miscellany of which Pickwick Papers (1836-1837) was first serialised.
Thus began a prolific and commercially successful period of Dickens’ life as a writer. Most of his novels were first serialised in monthly magazines as was a common practice of the time. Oliver Twist between 1837 and 1839 was followed by Nicholas Nickleby (1838-1839), The Old Curiosity Shop (1840-1841), and Barnaby Rudge (1841). Dickens’ series of five Christmas Books were soon to follow; A Christmas Carol (1843), The Chimes (1844), The Cricket on the Hearth (1845), The Battle of Life (1846), and The Haunted Man (1848). Dickens had found a readership who eagerly anticipated his next installments.
After the death of Catherine’s sister Mary in 1837 the couple holidayed in various parts of England. After Dickens resigned from Bentley’s in 1839, they moved to 1 Devonshire Terrace, Regent’s Park. Further travels to the United States and Canada in 1842 led to his controversial American Notes (1842). Martin Chuzzlewit was first serialised in 1843. The next year the Dickens traveled through Italy and settled in Genoa for a year of which his Pictures From Italy (1846) was written.
Dombey and Son (1846) was his next publication, followed by David Copperfield (1849). In 1850 he started his own weekly journal Household Words which would be in circulation for the next nine years. From 1851 to 1860 the Dickens lived at Tavistock House where Charles became heavily involved in amateur theatre. He wrote, directed, and acted in many productions at home with his children and friends, often donating the money raised from ticket sales to those in need. He collaborated with Wilkie Collins on the drama No Thoroughfare (1867). Novels to follow were Bleak House (1852-1853), Hard Times (1854), and Little Dorrit (1855-1857). In 1856 Dickens purchased Gad’s Hill, his last place of residence near Rochester in Kent County. He continued in the theatre as well, acting in Wilkie Collins’ The Frozen Deep in 1857 with actress Ellen Ternan (1839-1914) playing opposite him. The two fell in love and Dickens would leave Catherine a year later.
By now Dickens was widely read in Europe and in 1858 he set off on a tour of public readings. A year later he founded his second weekly journal All the Year Round, the same year A Tale of Two Cities (1859) was first serialised. Great Expectations (1860-1861) was followed by Our Mutual Friend (1864-1865). In 1865, traveling back from Paris with Ellen and her mother, they were involved in the disastrous Staplehurst train crash, of which Dickens sustained minor injuries, but never fully recovered from the post-traumatic shock of it. Two years later he traveled to America for a reading tour. His ‘farewell readings’ took place in London’s St. James Hall. Charles Dickens died from a cerebral hemorrhage on 9 June 1870 at his home, Gad’s Hill. He is buried in Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey, London, his tomb inscribed thus: “He was a sympathiser to the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed; and by his death, one of England’s greatest writers is lost to the world.” Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), Scottish historian and author, upon hearing of his death said: The good, the gentle, high-gifted, ever-friendly, noble Dickens—every inch of him an honest man. Unfinished at his death, The Mystery of Edwin Drood was published in 1870.
My father had left a small collection of books in a little room upstairs, to which I had access (for it adjoined my own) and which nobody else in our house ever troubled. From that blessed little room, Roderick Random, Peregrine Pickle, Humphrey Clinker, Tom Jones, the Vicar of Wakefield, Don Quixote, Gil Blas, and Robinson Crusoe, came out, a glorious host, to keep me company. They kept alive my fancy, and my hope of something beyond that place and time, - they, and the Arabian Nights, and the Tales of the Genii, - and did me no harm; for whatever harm was in some of them was not there for me; I knew nothing of it. It is astonishing to me now, how I found time, in the midst of my porings and blunderings over heavier themes, to read those books as I did.—Ch. 4, David Copperfield


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William Shakespeare (1564–1616), `The Bard of Avon', English poet and playwright wrote the famous 154 Sonnets and numerous highly successful oft quoted dramatic works including the tragedy of the Prince of Denmark, Hamlet;
"Neither a borrower nor a lender be;For loan oft loses both itself and friend,And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.This above all: to thine ownself be true,And it must follow, as the night the day,Thou canst not then be false to any man.Farewell: my blessing season this in thee!"--Lord Polonius, Hamlet Act I, Scene 3
While Shakespeare caused much controversy, he also earned lavish praise and has profoundly impacted the world over in areas of literature, culture, art, theatre, and film and is considered one of the best English language writers ever. From the Preface of the First Folio (1623) "To the memory of my beloved, The Author, Mr. William Shakespeare: and what he hath left us"--Ben Jonson;
"Thou art a Moniment, without a tombeAnd art alive still, while thy Booke doth live,And we have wits to read, and praise to give."
Over the centuries there has been much speculation surrounding various aspects of Shakespeare's life including his religious affiliation, sexual orientation, sources for collaborations, authorship of and chronology of the plays and sonnets. Many of the dates of play performances, when they were written, adapted or revised and printed are imprecise. This biography attempts only to give an overview of his life, while leaving the more learned perspectives to the countless scholars and historians who have devoted their lives to the study and demystification of the man and his works.
England's celebration of their patron Saint George is on 23 April, which is also the day claimed to be the birth date of Shakespeare. Although birth and death dates were not recorded in Shakespeare's time, churches did record baptisms and burials, usually a few days after the actual event. The infant William was baptised on 26 April 1564 in the parish church Holy Trinity of Stratford upon Avon. He lived with his fairly well-to-do parents on Henley Street, the first of the four sons born to John Shakespeare (c1530-1601) and Mary Arden (c1540-1608), who also had four daughters. John Shakespeare was a local businessman and also involved in municipal affairs as Alderman and Bailiff, but a decline in his fortunes in his later years surely had an effect on William.
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In his younger years Shakespeare attended the Christian Holy Trinity church, the now famous elegant limestone cross shaped cathedral on the banks of the Avon river, studying the Book of Common Prayer and the English Bible. In 1605 he became lay rector when he paid £440 towards its upkeep, hence why he is buried in the chancel. Early on Shakespeare likely attended the Elizabethan theatrical productions of travelling theatre troups, come to Stratford to entertain the local official townsmen, including the Queen's Men, Worcester's Men, Leicester's Men, and Lord Strange's Men. There is also the time when Queen Elizabeth herself visited nearby Kenilworth Castle and Shakespeare, said to have been duly impressed by the procession, recreated it in some of his later plays.
Although enrolment registers did not survive, around the age of eleven Shakespeare probably entered the grammar school of Stratford, King's New School, where he would have studied theatre and acting, as well as Latin literature and history. When he finished school he might have apprenticed for a time with his father, but there is also mention of his being a school teacher. The next record of his life is in 1582, when still a minor at the age of eighteen and requiring his father's consent, Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway (1556–1623) married in the village of Temple Grafton. Baptisms of three children were recorded; Susanna (1583-1649), who went on to marry noted physician John Hall, and twins Judith (1585-1662) who married Richard Quiney, and Hamnet (1585-1596) his only son and heir who died at the age of eleven.
It is not exactly clear what Shakespeare was doing in the first few years after the marriage, but he did go to London and worked at The Globe theatre, possibly as one of the Queen's Men whose works were harshly anti Catholic in a time of rising Protestantism. He was writing poems and plays, and his involvement with theatre troupes and acting is disparagingly condemned in a 1592 pamphlet that was distributed in London, attributed to Robert Green the playwright titled "Groats Worth of Witte" haughtily attacking Shakespeare as an "upstart crow";
"Yes trust them not: for there is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tyger's hart wrapped in a Player's hyde, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blanke verse as the best of you: and beeing an absolute Iohannes fac totum [Jack-of-all-trades, Master of none], is in his owne conceit the onely Shake-scene in a countrey. O that I might entreate your rare wits to be employed in more profitable courses: & let these Apes imitate your past excellence, and never more acquaint them with your admired inventions."
By 1593 the plague was haunting London and many who were able fled the teeming city for the cleansing airs of open country. While it was a time for many upstart theatres, the popular public entertainment of the day, they were often shut down and forbidden to open for stretches of time. Shakespeare probably spent these dark days travelling between London, Stratford, and the provinces, which gave him time to pen many more plays and sonnets. Among the first of his known printed works is the comedic and erotically charged Ovidian narrative poem Venus and Adonis (1593). It was wildly popular, dedicated with great esteem to his patron Henry Wriothesly, third earl of Southampton, the young man that some say Shakespeare may have had more than platonic affection for. It was followed by the much darker The Rape of Lucrece in 1594, The Passionate Pilgrim in 1599 and the allegorical The Phoenix and the Turtle (1601).
At this time of prolific writing, Shakespeare began his association until his death with The Lord Chamberlain's Men. With the accession of James I they became the King's Men, who bought and performed most of Shakespeare's plays. The troupe included his friend and actor Richard Burbage. They performed frequently at court, and in the theatres that Shakespeare was co-owner of including the Blackfriars, The Theatre, and The Globe in London until it burnt down during a performance of King Henry VIII. It is said that Shakespeare himself acted in a number of roles including the ghost in Hamlet and Old Adam in As You Like It. In the late 1590s he bought `New Place' on Chapel Street in Stratford, one of his many real estate investments.
Shakespeare wrote most of his plays as `quarto texts', that being on a sheet of paper folded four ways. A few of his plays were printed in his lifetime, though they appeared more voluminously after his death, sometimes plagiarised and often changed at the whim of the printer. First Folio would be the first collection of his dramatic works, a massive undertaking to compile thirty-six plays from the quarto texts, playbooks, transcriptions, and the memories of actors. The approximately nine hundred page manuscript took about two years to complete and was printed in 1623 as Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies. It also featured on the frontispiece the famous engraved portrait of Shakespeare said to be by Martin Droeshout (1601-c1651).
Under the favour of the court The Kings' Men became the eminent company of the day. Most likely Anne and the children lived in Stratford while Shakespeare spent his time travelling between Stratford and London, dealing with business affairs and writing and acting. In 1616 his daughter Judith married Quiney who subsequently admitted to fornication with Margaret Wheeler, and Shakespeare took steps to bequeath a sum to Judith in her own name. William Shakespeare died on 23 April 1616, according to his monument, and lies buried in the chancel of the Holy Trinity Church in Stratford upon Avon. While there is little known of her life, Anne Hathaway outlived her husband by seven years, dying in 1623 and is buried beside him. It is not clear as to how or why Shakespeare died, but in 1664 the reverend John Ward, vicar of Stratford recorded that "Shakespeare, Drayton and Ben Johnson had a merie meeting, and itt seems drank too hard, for Shakespeare died of a feavour there contracted." His tombstone is inscribed with the following epitaph;
Good friend for Jesus sake forbeareTo digg the dust encloased heareBlessed by y man y spares hes stonesAnd curst be he y moves my bones
It is generally agreed that most of the Shakespearean Sonnets were written in the 1590s, some printed at this time as well. Others were written or revised right before being printed. 154 sonnets and "A Lover's Complaint" were published by Thomas Thorpe as Shake-speares Sonnets in 1609. The order, dates, and authorship of the Sonnets have been much debated with no conclusive findings. Many have claimed autobiographical details from them, including sonnet number 145 in reference to Anne. The dedication to "Mr. W.H." is said to possibly represent the initials of the third earl of Pembroke William Herbert, or perhaps being a reversal of Henry Wriothesly's initials. Regardless, there have been some unfortunate projections and interpretations of modern concepts onto centuries old works that, while a grasp of contextual historical information can certainly lend to their depth and meaning, can also be enjoyed as valuable poetical works that have transcended time and been surpassed by no other.
Evoking Petrarch's style and lyrically writing of beauty, mortality, and love with its moral anguish and worshipful adoration of a usually unattainable love, the first 126 sonnets are addressed to a young man, sonnets 127-152 to a dark lady. Ever the dramatist Shakespeare created a profound intrigue to scholars and novices alike as to the identities of these people.
Some probably inspired by Shakespeare's study of Lives (trans.1597) by Greek historian and essayist Plutarch and Raphael Holinshed's Chronicles (1587). Some are reworkings of previous stories, many based on English or Roman history. The dates given here are when they are said to have been first performed, followed by approximate printing dates in brackets, listed in chronological order of performance.
Titus Andronicus first performed in 1594 (printed in 1594),Romeo and Juliet 1594-95 (1597),Hamlet 1600-01 (1603),Julius Caesar 1600-01 (1623),Othello 1604-05 (1622),Antony and Cleopatra 1606-07 (1623), King Lear 1606 (1608),Coriolanus 1607-08 (1623), derived from PlutarchTimon of Athens 1607-08 (1623), and Macbeth 1611-1612 (1623).
Shakespeare's series of historical dramas, based on the English Kings from John to Henry VIII were a tremendous undertaking to dramatise the lives and rule of kings and the changing political events of his time. No other playwright had attempted such an ambitious body of work. Some were printed on their own or in the First Folio (1623).
King Henry VI Part 1 1592 (printed in 1594); King Henry VI Part 2 1592-93 (1594); King Henry VI Part 3 1592-93 (1623); King John 1596-97 (1623);King Henry IV Part 1 1597-98 (1598);King Henry IV Part 2 1597-98 (1600);King Henry V 1598-99 (1600);Richard II 1600-01 (1597);Richard III 1601 (1597); andKing Henry VIII 1612-13 (1623)
Comedies, again listed in chronological order of performance.
Taming of the Shrew first performed 1593-94 (1623),Comedy of Errors 1594 (1623),Two Gentlemen of Verona 1594-95 (1623),Love's Labour's Lost 1594-95 (1598),Midsummer Night's Dream 1595-96 (1600), Merchant of Venice 1596-1597 (1600),Much Ado About Nothing 1598-1599 (1600),As You Like It 1599-00 (1623), Merry Wives of Windsor 1600-01 (1602), Troilus and Cressida 1602 (1609), Twelfth Night 1602 (1623),All's Well That Ends Well 1602-03 (1623), Measure for Measure 1604 (1623), Pericles, Prince of Tyre 1608-09 (1609), Tempest (1611), Cymbeline 1611-12 (1623), Winter's Tale 1611-12 (1623).

LEO Tolstoy

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Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), Russian author, essayist and philosopher wrote the epic novel War and Peace (1865-69),
Man in connection with the general life of humanity appears subject to laws which determine that life. But the same man apart from that connection appears to be free. How should the past life of nations and of humanity be regarded—as the result of the free, or as the result of the constrained, activity of man? That is a question for history. (Epilogue 2, Ch. VIII)
Anonymously narrated, the novel is set during the Napoleonic wars, the era which forms the backdrop of Tolstoy’s painstakingly detailed depiction of early 19th century Tsarist Russia under Alexander I: her archetypes and anti-heroes. Through his masterful development of characters Pierre, Andrew, Natasha, Nicholas, Mary and the rest, War and Peace examines the absurdity, hypocrisy, and shallowness of war and aristocratic society. It all comes to a climax during the Battle of Borodino. Initially Tolstoy’s friends including Ivan S. Turgenev and Gustave Flaubert decided that the novels’ ‘formlessness’ weakened the overall potential for its success, but they were soon proved wrong. Almost one hundred years after his death, in January of 2007, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (1878) and War and Peace were placed on Time magazine’s ten greatest novels of all time, first and third place respectively.
Childhood: days of idyll, Moscow and Kazan University
Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy was born on 28 August 1828 into a long line of Russian nobility. He was the fourth child of Countess Maria Volkonsky (who Tolstoy does not remember, as she died after giving birth to his sister Mariya in 1830) and Count Nicolay Ilyich Tolstoy (1797-1837) a Lieutenant Colonel who was awarded the order of St. Vladimir for his service. At the age of sixteen he had fathered a son with a servant girl, Leo’s half-brother Mishenka. When Count Tolstoy resigned from his last post with the Military Orphanage, a marriage was arranged between him and Maria Volkonsky. After her death the Count’s distant cousin Tatyana Aleksandrovna Yergolskaya ‘Aunt Tatyana’, who already lived with them helped him in running the household, raising the children and overseeing their tutoring. Leo’s paternal grandfather Count Ilya Andreyevich Tolstoy (d.1820) had been an overly generous and trusting man; by the time Leo was born the Tolstoy fortunes had dwindled and the newlyweds settled at the Volkonsky family estate ‘Yasnaya Polyana’ (meaning ‘Clear Glade’) located in Tula Region, Shchekino District of central Russia. Leo’s maternal great grandfather Prince Nikolas Sergeyevich Volkonsky had established it in the early 1800s; upon his death his daughter Countess Volkonsky inherited it. It is now preserved as a State Memorial and National Preserve.
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From Leo’s Introduction to biographer Paul Birukoff’s Leo Tolstoy: Childhood and Early Manhood (1906) we gather the very clear and fond memories he has of his early years and his loved ones: my father never humbled himself before any one, nor altered his brisk, merry, and often chaffing tone. Count Tolstoy was a gentle, easy going man. Quick to tell a joke, he was reluctant to mete out corporal punishment that was so common at the time to the hundreds of serfs on their estate. He disliked wolf-baiting and fox-hunting, preferring to ride in the fields and forests, or walking with his children and their pack of romping greyhounds. Leo recounts outings with his siblings, friends, and paternal grandmother Pelageya Nikolayevna Tolstoy (d.1838) to pick hazelnuts; she seemed a dreamy magical figure to him. Sometimes he spent the evening in her bedroom while their blind story-teller Lev Stepanovich narrated lengthy, enchanting tales.
Leo greatly admired his oldest brother Nikolay ‘Koko’ (1823-1860). In recollecting their childhood Leo revered him, along with his mother, as saintly in their modesty, humility, and unwillingness to condemn or judge others. His other siblings were Sergey (b.1826), Dmitriy (1827-1855) and Mariya (b1830). The Tolstoy House was a bustling household, often with extended family members and friends visiting for dinner or staying for days at a time. The children and adults played Patience, the piano, put on plays, sang Russian and Gypsy folk songs and read stories and poetry aloud. A voracious reader, Leo would visit his father in his study as he read and smoked his pipe. Sometimes the Count would have young Leo recite memorised passages from Alexander Pushkin. The family home still contains the library of over twenty thousand books in over thirty languages. When not indoors, there was no shortage of outdoor activities for the children: tobogganing in winter, horseback riding, playing in the orchards, forests, formal gardens, greenhouses and bathing in the large pond which Leo loved to do all his life.
Days in the country however were to come to an end when, in 1836, the Tolstoys moved to Moscow so that the boys could attend school. The following summer Count Tolstoy died suddenly. He was buried at Tula. Leo had a hard time accepting this inevitability of life; the loss of his father was a profound experience to such a young boy and as he watched his beloved grandmother Pelageya (who died two years later) suffer through her grief, he had his first spiritual questionings. His father’s sister, Countess Aleksandra Osten Saken ‘Aunt Aline’ became the children’s guardian and Nikolay and Sergey stayed with her in Moscow while Leo and his sister Mariya and Dmitriy moved back to Yasnaya Polyana to live with Aunt Tatyana.
When Aunt Aline died in 1841, Leo, now aged thirteen traveled with his brothers to Kazan where their next guardians lived, Aunt and Uncle Yushkof. Despite the pall of death, loss of innocence and upheavals in living arrangements, Leo started preparations for the entrance examinations to Kazan University, wanting to enter the faculty of Oriental languages. He studied Arabic, Turkish, Latin, German, English, and French, and geography, history, and religion. He also began in earnest studying the literary works of English, Russian and French authors including Charles Dickens, Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol, Mikhail Lermontov, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Laurence Sterne, Friedrich Schiller, and Francois-Marie Arouet Voltaire.
Boyhood: military service and first writingsIn 1844, at the age of sixteen and the end of what Tolstoy says was his childhood, and the beginning of his youth, he entered the University of Kazan to study Turco-Arabic literature. While he did not graduate beyond the second year (he would later attempt to study law) this period of his life also corresponded with his coming out into society. He and his brothers moved out of their uncle’s home and secured their own rooms. No longer the provincial, there were balls and galas to attend and other such manly pursuits as drinking, gambling and visiting brothels. Tolstoy did not have much success as a student, but he would become a polyglot with at least some working knowledge of a dozen languages. He did not respond to the universities’ conventional system of learning and left in 1847 without obtaining his degree.
Back at Yasnya Polyana and during the next few years Tolstoy agonized about what next to do with his life. He expressed his aspirations, confusion and disappointments in his diary and correspondence with his brothers and friends. He attempted to set the estates’ affairs in order but again was caught up in the life of a young nobleman, travelling between the estate and Moscow and St. Petersburg. He was addicted to gambling, racking up huge debts and having to sell possessions to pay them off including parts of his estate. He would go on drinking binges, associating with various characters of ill-repute that his Aunt Tatyana repeatedly warned him about. To her and a few other confidantes he often confessed his remorse when sober and wrote in his diary; I am living a completely brutish life….I have abandoned almost all my occupations and have greatly fallen in spirit. (ibid, Ch. VI) He took to wearing peasant clothes including a style of blouse that would later be named after him, ‘tolstovkas’. He again attempted university exams in the hope that he would obtain a position with the government, but also pondered the alternative, to serve in the army.
When his brother Nikolay, who was now an officer in the Caucasian army, came to visit Yasnya Polyana for a short while, Tolstoy seized the opportunity to change his life. In the spring of 1851 they left for the Caucasus region at the southern edge of Russia. The unglamorous nomadic life they led, travelling through or staying in Cossack and Caucasian villages, meeting the simple folk who populated them, exalting in the mountainous vistas, and meeting the hardy souls who traversed and defended these regions left their indelible mark on Tolstoy. Having long corresponded with his Aunts, he now turned his pen to writing fiction. The first novel of his autobiographical trilogy Childhood (1852) was published in the magazine Sovremennik which would serialise many more of his works. It was highly lauded and Tolstoy was encouraged to continue with Boyhood (1854) and Youth (1857), although, after his religious conversion he admitted that the series was insincere and a clumsy confusion of truth with fiction (ibid, Introduction).
In 1854, during the Crimean War Tolstoy transferred to Wallachia to fight against the French, British and Ottoman Empire to defend Sevastapol. The battle inspired Sevastopol Sketches written between 1855 and 1856, published in three installments in The Contemporary magazine. In 1855 he left the army, the same year he heard about his brother Dmitry’s illness. He arrived at his beside just before he succumbed to tuberculosis, the same disease to take his brother Nikolay’s life on 20 September 1860. Again Tolstoy was in limbo, torn between his ‘unrestrained passions’ and setting forth a realistic plan for his life. He had tried unsuccessfully to educate the hundreds of muzhiks or peasants who tended his fields, founding a school for the children in the family estate’s Kuzminsky House, but it proved to be frustrating and ultimately unsuccessful. He set off on travels throughout Western Europe. By this time Childhood had been translated to English and Tolstoy was a well-known author, enjoying a Counts’ life as a bachelor. When he was unable to pay a gambling debt of 1,000 rubles to publisher Katkov, incurred while playing billiards with him, Tolstoy relinquished his unfinished manuscript of The Cossacks which was printed as-is in the January 1863 issue of the magazine The Russian Messenger. Again Tolstoy vacillated between bouts of sobriety and debauch;
I put men to death in war, I fought duels to slay others. I lost at cards, wasted the substance wrung from the sweat of peasants, punished the latter cruelly, rioted with loose women, and deceived men. Lying, robbery, adultery of all kinds, drunkenness, violence, and murder, all were committed by me, not one crime omitted, and yet I was not the less considered by my equals to be a comparatively moral man. Such was my life for ten years. (ibid, Ch. VI)
At times in these dark days he turned to the figure of his mother and all the good she represented and to which he aspired, for;
Such was the figure of my mother in my imagination. She appeared to me a creature so elevated, pure, and spiritual that often in the middle period of my life, during my struggle with overwhelming temptations, I prayed to her soul, begging her to aid me, and this prayer always helped me much. (ibid, Introduction)
But times were to change and things were soon to rapidly settle: Tolstoy fell in love.
Youth: marriage, children, War and Peace and Anna Karenina
In September of 1862, at the age of thirty four, Tolstoy married the sister of one of his friends, nineteen year old Sofia ‘Sonya’ Andreyevna Behrs (b.1844). Their children were: Sergey (b.1863), Tatiana (b.1864), Ilya (b.1866), Leo (b.1869), Marya ‘Masha’ (1871-1906), Petya (1872-1873), Nicholas (1874-1875), unnamed daughter who died shortly after birth in 1875, Andrey (b.1877), Alexis (1881-1886), Alexandra ‘Sasha’ (b.1884), and Ivan (1888-1895).
Wanting her to understand everything about him before they married, Tolstoy had given Sonya his diaries to read. Even though she consented to marriage it took her some time to get over the initial shock of their content. However, the tension and jealousy they sparked between them never clearly dissipated. In other matters Countess Tolstoy proved helpful to her husband’s writing career: she organised his rough notes, copied out drafts, and assisted with his correspondence and business affairs of the estate. Thus Tolstoy plunged into his writing: he started War and Peace in 1862 and its six volumes were published between 1863 and 1869. Listless and depressed even though it was met with much enthusiasm, Tolstoy travelled to Samara in the steppes where he bought land and built an estate he could stay at in the summer.
He started writing his next epic Anna Karenina with the opening line that gloomily alluded to his own life Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way in 1873. The first chapters appeared in the Russian Herald in 1876. The same year it was published in its entirety, 1878, Count Tolstoy suffered the most intense bout of self-doubt and spiritual introspection yet; he became depressed and suicidal; his usually rational outlook on life became muddled with what he thought was a morally upright life as husband and father. He harshly examined his motives and criticised himself for his egotistical family cares….concern for the increase of wealth, the attainment of literary success, and the enjoyment of every kind of pleasure (ibid, Intro.).
So Tolstoy wrote his Confessions (1879) and began the last period of my awakening to the truth which has given me the highest well-being in life and joyous peace in view of approaching death. (ibid) A number of his non-fiction articles and novels outlining his ideology and harshly criticising the government and church followed including “The Census in Moscow”, A Criticism of Dogmatic Theology (1880), A Short Exposition of the Gospels (1881), What I Believe (1882), What Then Must We Do? (1886), and On Life and Death (1892). The Death of Ivan Ilych (1886), his drama The Power of Darkness (1888), The Kreutzer Sonata (1890), Father Sergius (written between 1890-98), Hadji Murad (written between 1896 and 1904), The Young Czar (1894), What Is Art? (1897), The Forged Coupon (1904), Diary of Alexander I (1905), and The Law of Love and the Law of Violence (1908) were also written around this time. With the publication of Resurrection (1901) Tolstoy was excommunicated by the Russian Orthodox Church; but his popularity with the public was unwavering. Tolstoy the author now had a large following of disciples devoted to ‘Tolstoyism’.
Conversion and Last Years
Tolstoy’s main follower was a wealthy army officer, Vladimir Chertkov (1854-1910). Sonya would soon be caught in a bitter battle with him for her husband’s private diaries. Having embraced the pacifist doctrine of non-resistance as per the teachings of Jesus outlined in the gospels, Tolstoy gave up meat, tobacco, alcohol and preached chastity. He wrote The Kingdom of God Is Within You (1893), titled after Luke’s Gospel in the New Testament. When Mahatma Gandhi read it he was profoundly moved and wrote to Tolstoy regarding the Passive Resistance movement. They started a correspondence and soon became friends. Tolstoy wrote “A Letter to a Hindu” in 1908. Admiring their ideals of a simple life of hard work, living off the land and following the teachings of Jesus, Tolstoy offered his friendship and moral and financial support to the Doukhobors. A Christian sect persecuted in Russia, many Tolstoyans assisted them in their mass emigration to Canada in 1899. Tolstoy was involved with many other causes including appealing to the Tsar to avoid civil war at all costs. In 1902 he moved back to Yasnya Polyana.
In January of 1903, as he writes in his diary, Tolstoy still struggled with his identity: where he had come from and who he had become;
I am now suffering the torments of hell: I am calling to mind all the infamies of my former life—these reminiscences do not pass away and they poison my existence. Generally people regret that the individuality does not retain memory after death. What a happiness that it does not! What an anguish it would be if I remembered in this life all the evil, all that is painful to the conscience, committed by me in a previous life….What a happiness that reminiscences disappear with death and that there only remains consciousness
The ruminations were prompted by his friend Paul Biryukov asking him for his assistance in penning his biography. His literary executor Chertkov would write The Last Days of Leo Tolstoy (1911). For as the last days of Tolstoy were playing out, he still at times agonised over his self-worth and regretted his actions from decades earlier. Having renounced his ancestral claim to his estate and all of his worldly goods, all in his family but his youngest daughter Alexandra scorned him. He was intent on starting a new life and did so on 28 October 1910, making it as far as the stationmaster’s home at the Astapovo train station. Leo Tolstoy died there of pneumonia on 20 November 1910. Although he wanted no ceremony or ritual, thousands showed up to pay their respects. He was buried in a simple wooden coffin near Nikolay’s ‘place of the little green stick’ by the ravine in the Stary Zakaz Wood on the Yasnya Polyana estate; returned to that place of idylls where Nikolay told him one could find the secret to happiness and the end to all suffering.

Alexander Pushkin

Alexander Pushkin

Alexander Pushkin [Aleksandr Sergeyevich] (1799-1837), “Russia’s Bard” and one of the most important contributors to modern Russian literature wrote the epic 19th century romance Eugene Onegin [Yevgeny or Evgeny Onegin] (1833);
But, as it is, this pied collectionbegs your indulgence — it's been spunfrom threads both sad and humoristic,themes popular or idealistic,products of carefree hours, of fun,of sleeplessness, faint inspirations,of powers unripe, or on the wane,of reason's icy intimations,and records of a heart in pain.—Dedication…Love passed, the Muse appeared, the weatherof mind got clarity new found;now free, I once more weave togetheremotion, thought, and magic sound.—ch. 1…Moscow... how many strains are fusingin that one sound, for Russian hearts!what store of riches it imparts!—ch. 7
Pushkin’s masterpiece Eugene Onegin was first published in its entirety in 1833, though as was common at the time, serially printed between the years 1823 and 1831. Subsequent publications allowed for some revision and additions, the most commonly accepted version from 1837. It is a novel written in iambic tetrameter verse or what is now known as ‘Onegin stanzas’ or ‘Pushkin sonnets’, a style which many contemporary authors have adopted. It differs from Petrarchan or Italian sonnets (hendecasyllable) and William Shakespeare’s sonnet style (iambic pentameter) in that they are not obviously divided into smaller stanzas. The rhyme scheme is “aBaBccDDeFFeGG”, the lower case representing feminine rhymes and upper case masculine.
The dashing hero Eugene and Tatyana became models for many later Russian literary figures. It also follows the lives of Lensky and Tatyana’s sister Olga, while Pushkin famously digresses into myriad topics of autobiographical and philosophical vein. Through his allusions to other major literary works, Pushkin deals with themes of fiction versus real life, unrequited love and rejection while presenting an authentic depiction of 19th century Imperial Russian society. It was adapted for the stage and film, and is still widely read today. In his works Pushkin combined old Slavonic and vernacular speech to harmonious effect appealing to so many of his compatriots, though the lyrical nuance and subtlety of his satire, humour and insightful character developments prove to be a challenge for translators beyond the literal.
A proponent of social reform, Pushkin belonged to an underground revolutionary movement that sometimes interfered with his literary career when many of his poems, plays, and historical works were censored. Although he gained much criticism and caused much controversy in his time and later, he was a friend to many other Russian authors and influenced and inspired the likes of Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol (1809-1852), Ivan S. Turgenev (1818–1883), Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881), Maxim Gorky (1868-1936), and Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977) who translated and wrote introductions to some of his works, writing of Eugene Onegin;
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“Pushkin’s composition is first of all and above all a phenomenon of style, and it is from this flowered rim that I have surveyed its seep of Arcadian country, the serpentine gleam of its imported brooks, the miniature blizzards imprisoned in round crystal, and the many-hued levels of literary parody blending in the melting distance.”
Alexander Sergeevich Pushkin was born into a family of Russian nobility on 6 June 1799 in Moscow, Russia. His historical fiction “The Blackamoor of Peter the Great” is based on his African maternal great grandfather Abram Petrovitch Ganibal (1697-1781). Ganibal was the favored general of Peter the Great, highly proficient in mathematics, engineering, and cryptology and treated as a member of the royal family. Pushkin’s jaded yet proud defense of his ancestry in “My Genealogy” is in response to racial slurs aimed at him by his critics.
Pushkin grew to be a handsome man with dark curly hair and swarthy complexion. First educated by French and Russian tutors at home, his nurse also entertained him with traditional Russian folk tales. In 1811 he entered the Imperial Lyceum in Tsarskoe Selo near St. Petersburg where he studied languages and developed his first appreciation of poetry including that of Lord George Gordon Byron. He was soon writing his own poems and the journal The Messenger of Europe published some of them as early as 1814, when he was fifteen years old. Upon graduation in 1817, he accepted a position with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, moved to St. Petersburg, and for three years enjoyed “Venice of the North’s” society and intellectual life as a young nobleman. He was welcomed into the literary circle, writing and publishing poetry and expressing his liberal views in such works as “Ode To Liberty” and “The Village”. He also turned his pen to critically satirizing various court figures of the day, which drew the Emperor’s outrage and in 1820 he was exiled to the south of Russia.
Pushkin became a Freemason in Kishinev where he lived for three years before moving to Odessa with the help of influential friends. He continued to express his political views against autocracy and supported such causes as the overthrow of the Ottoman Empire in Greece. While frustrated and saddened by his inability to travel freely or openly publish his works, he also saw great beauty in the Caucasus and Crimea regions. Poems from this period include; “The Bandit Brothers” (1821/22), “The Prisoner of the Caucasus” (1822) the first of his Byronic verse tales, “The Gypsies” (1823-1824), “The Fountain of Bakhchisarai” (1824), and his fairy romance adopted from folk tales which was later adapted for the stage as an opera, “Ruslan and Lyudmila” (1820);
A princess pines away in prison,And a wolf serves her without treason;A mortar, with a witch in it,Walks as if having somewhat feet;There’s King Kashchey, o’er his gold withered;There’s Russian odour… Russian spirit!And I there sat: I drank sweet mead,Saw, near the sea, the green oak, growing,Under it heard a cat, much-knowing,Talking me its long stories’ set.Having recalled one of its stories,I’ll recite it to the world, glorious…
In 1824 Pushkin moved back to the family estate ‘Miskhaylovskoe’ near Pskov, just a few hours south of St. Petersburg, again living under the watchful eye of the Emperor. Even though he was not in St. Petersburg during the Decembrist Uprising of 1825 when Alexander I died, he was implicated along with other officers and aristocrats who refused to swear allegiance to Tsar Nicholas I. Many of his friends were hanged or exiled for life to Siberia for their involvement though Pushkin was cleared and received a pardon in 1826. In 1825 he had written the historical tragedy drama Boris Godunov;
One day some indefatigable monkWill find my conscientious, unsigned work;Like me, he will light up his ikon-lampAnd, shaking from the scroll the age-old dust,He will transcribe these tales in all their truth. —Father Pimen, prologuethough he was not allowed to publish it until five years later. It was followed by his epic historical romance “Poltava” (1828). In 1831, Pushkin married the strikingly beautiful Natalie Goncharova (1812-1863) with whom he would have four children; Alexander, Grigory, Maria, and Natalia. Their home on Arbat street in Moscow is now a Memorial Museum, lovingly restored in every detail to the lavish splendour of Pushkin’s time.
Pushkin’s dramas Mozart and Salieri and The Stone Guest, based on Don Juan’s life, were both published in 1830. The same year he wrote “The Tale of the Priest and of his Workman Balda”, a humorous look at a miserly priest willing to endure slaps to the forehead for free labour. Around the time of Eugene Onegin’s success, Pushkin made the acquaintance of Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol, with whom he would become great friends, mutual supporters to each other in life and their literary careers. Pushkin’s series of short stories Tales By Belkin (1831) was followed by The Golden Cockerel (1833). The same year Pushkin wrote about the St. Petersburg floods of 1824 and homage to Peter the Great, “Bronze Horseman”, “now, city of Peter, stand thou fast, foursquare, like Russia; vaunt thy splendor!” in reference to the colossal equestrian statue dominating Senate Square in St. Petersburg. Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky based operas on Pushkin’s The Queen of Spades (1834) as well as Eugene Onegin. The History of the Pugachev Rebellion (1834) and The Daughter of the Commandant (1836) are two historical works based on the peasant uprising of 1773-1775.
It is said that Tsar Nicholas himself was enamored with Pushkin’s wife Natalie, and set to publicly humiliate Pushkin by bestowing to him the lowest possible title at court where they attended balls, but the insult to Pushkin was too much to endure. His debts to support his wife and children were increasing and his marriage was in jeopardy; anonymous letters claimed that a young baron, French émigré Georges Charles de Heeckeren d'Anthès (1812-1895) was having an affair with Natalie. Pushkin challenged him to a duel and both suffered wounds, Pushkin succumbing to his two days later, on 29 January 1837. (d'Anthès would later marry Pushkin's sister-in-law.) Possibly complicit in the affair, government officials secretly buried Pushkin at night. He now rests beside his mother in the Sviatogorski Monastery Cemetery of Sviatye Gory, Pskov region, Russia. The State Museum of Fine Arts was named in honor of Pushkin in 1937. Alexander Pushkin’s legacy of inspiration and influence in Russia and the world over is still in evidence in 21st century poetry, literature, opera, ballet, music, film, and art.
In 1880 Fyodor Dostoevsky attended the dedication of the Pushkin Monument in Moscow, and Ivan S. Turgenev delivered a speech, in part;
“Art, if one employs this term in the broad sense that includes poetry within its realm, is an art of creation laden with ideals, located at the very core of the life of a people, defining the spiritual and moral shape of that life. … “In a period of a people’s life that bears the designation ‘transitional,’ the task of a thinking individual, of a sincere citizen of his country, is to go forward, despite the dirt and difficulty of the path, to go forward without losing from view even for a moment those fundamental ideals on which the entire existence of the society to which he belongs is built.”
‘Tis time, my friend, ‘tis time!For rest the heart is aching;Days follow days in flight, and every day is takingFragments of being, while together you and IMake plans to live. Look, all is dust, and we shall die.— “Tis time, my friend” (1834)

virginia woolf

Virginia Woolf
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Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), English author, feminist, essayist, publisher, and critic wrote A Room of One’s Own (1929);
All I could do was to offer you an opinion upon one minor point—a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction; and that, as you will see, leaves the great problem of the true nature of woman and the true nature of fiction unsolved.-Ch. 1
Now regarded as a classic feminist work, Woolf based her extended essay A Room on lectures she had given at women’s colleges at Cambridge University. Using such female authors as Jane Austen and Emily and Charlotte Bronte, she examines women and their struggles as artists, their position in literary history and need for independence. She also invents a female counterpart of William Shakespeare, a sister named Judith to at times sarcastically get her point across. Woolf proved to be an innovative and influential 20th Century author. In some of her novels she moves away from the use of plot and structure to employ stream-of-consciousness to emphasise the psychological aspects of her characters. Themes in her works include gender relations, class hierarchy and the consequences of war. Woolf was among the founders of the Modernist movement which also includes T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and Gertrude Stein.
The effects of bi-polar disorder at times caused Woolf protracted periods of convalescence, withdrawing from her busy social life, distressed that she could not focus long enough to read or write. She spent times in nursing homes for ‘rest cures’; frankly referred to herself as ‘mad’; said she heard voices and had visions. “My own brain is to me the most unaccountable of machinery—always buzzing, humming, soaring roaring diving, and then buried in mud. And why? What’s this passion for?” (from a letter dated 28 Dec. 1932). The subject of suicide enters her stories and essays at times and she disagreed with the perception that it is an act of cowardice and sin. When Virginia was not depressed she worked intensely for long hours at a time. She was vivacious, witty and ebullient company and a member of the Bloomsbury Group or ‘Bloomsbury’ which had been started by her brother Thoby and his friends from Cambridge. It quickly grew to encompass many of London’s literary circle, who gathered to discuss art, literature, and politics. During her life and since her death she has been the subject of much debate and discussion surrounding the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her half-brother, her mental health issues and sexual orientation. Also, her pacifist political views in line with Bloomsbury caused controversy. From Three Guineas (1931);
Therefore if you insist upon fighting to protect me, or “our” country, let it be understood, soberly and rationally between us, that you are fighting to gratify a sex instinct which I cannot share; to procure benefits which I have not shared and probably will not share; but not to gratify my instincts, or to protect either myself or my country. “For,” the outsider will say, “in fact, as a woman, I have no country. As a woman I want no country. As a woman my country is the whole world.”-Ch. 3
Regardless of the polemic, or because of it, even into the 21st Century Woolf’s prodigious output of diaries, letters, critical reviews, essays, short stories, and novels continue to be the source of much scholarly study. Adeline Virginia Stephen was born in London, England on 25 January 1882, daughter of Sir Leslie Stephen (1832-1904), literary critic and first editor of the Dictionary of National Biography. His first wife, daughter of William Makepeace Thackeray, Harriet Marion (b.1840) died in 1875. Virginia’s mother was his second wife, Julia Prinsep Jackson Duckworth (1846-1895) who inspired the character Mrs. Ramsay in To The Lighthouse (1927).
Virginia had two brothers, Thoby (1880-1906) and Adrian (1883-1948) who became a psychoanalyst. She was very close to her older sister Vanessa ‘Nessa’ (1876-1961) who would become a painter and marry art critic Clive Bell. She also had four half-siblings; Laura Makepeace Stephen (1870-1945), and George (1868-1934), Gerald (1870-1937) [who would found Duckworth and Co. Publishing] and Stella (1869-1897) Duckworth.
A number of the Stephen relatives were friends of Scottish historian and author Thomas Carlyle. Many other successful Victorian authors of the time were regular visitors to their bustling home in Hyde Park including Henry James and George Eliot; Virginia would write an article about her for the Times Literary Supplement in 1919. “Middlemarch, the magnificent book which with all its imperfections is one of the few English novels for grown-up people.” (“George Eliot”). Their works and many others’ including Charles Dickens’s and Thackeray’s were part of her home education. Her father had a massive library so she and her sister were not without material although Virginia would soon reject the values and morals of their generation.
The Stephens summered at ‘Talland House’ in St. Ives, County Cornwall in the southwest of England along the rocky shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Virginia had vivid and fond memories of these times which often had an influence on her writing including visits to a nearby lighthouse. However they ended when her mother died; she was just thirteen years old and suffered the first major breakdown of many that would plague her off and on the rest of her life. The death of Stella, who had become like a mother to Virginia and the death of her father caused another period of profound depression. “The beauty of the world ... has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder.” (A Room of One’s Own). Vanessa then moved her sister and brothers to another neighborhood in London, Bloomsbury. Virginia was feeling better and by 1905 was writing in earnest articles and essays, and became a book reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement. She also taught teaching English and History at Morley College in London.
In 1906 Virginia, Vanessa and their brothers traveled to Europe, where Thoby contracted typhoid fever and died from in 1906. Back in England the Bloomsbury Group was flourishing, their home a meeting place for writers, scholars and artists including Clive Bell, artist and art critic, who Vanessa married 1907. They would not stay together for long. After his third proposal, Virginia finally married left-wing political journalist, author and editor Leonard Woolf (1880-1969) on 10 August 1912. They would have no children. In 1914 when World War I broke out they were living in Richmond and Woolf was working on her first novel The Voyage Out (1915) a satirical coming-of-age story;
As the streets that lead from the Strand to the Embankment are very narrow, it is better not to walk down them arm-in-arm. If you persist, lawyers’ clerks will have to make flying leaps into the mud; young lady typists will have to fidget behind you. In the streets of London where beauty goes unregarded, eccentricity must pay the penalty, and it is better not to be very tall, to wear a long blue cloak, or to beat the air with your left hand.-Ch. 1
Leonard and Virginia would themselves get into the publishing business, together founding the Hogarth Press in 1917. Works by T. S. Eliot and Katherine Mansfield would be among their many publications including Virginia’s. Night and Day (1919) was followed by her short story collection Monday or Tuesday (1921) and essays in The Common Reader (1925). Jacob’s Room (1922) was followed by Mrs. Dalloway (1925) which inspired a film “The Hours” in 2002. To The Lighthouse (1927) was followed by Orlando: A Biography (1928);
Different though the sexes are, they inter-mix. In every human being a vacillation from one sex to the other takes place, and often it is only the clothes that keep the male or female likeness, while underneath the sex is very opposite of what it is above…..Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind is written large in his works.-Ch. 4
One of her more popular novels, it was adapted to the screen in 1993. A roman à clef, Orlando’s character is modeled after Vita Sackville West (1892-1962), friend and possible lover of Woolf; Princess Sasha based on her friend Violet Trefusis. Vita’s husband Harold Nicolson also plays a part as Marmaduke. Their son Nigel referred to it as “the longest and most charming love letter in literature.” “I was in a queer mood, thinking myself very old: but now I am a woman again—as I always am when I write.” (The Diary of Virginia Woolf, 31 May 1929.) The Waves (1931) is said to be Woolf’s most experimental work. Flush: A Biography (1933) is told through the eyes of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s spaniel. The Second Common Reader (1933) her next collection of critical essays, was followed by The Years (1937) and Roger Fry: A Biography (1940).
With the outbreak of WWII the Woolfs were living at their country retreat, ‘Monk’s House’ near the village of Rodmell in Lewes, Sussex, which is now preserved by the National Trust. In 1940 they received word that their London home had been destroyed. Fear of a German invasion loomed and Leonard’s Jewish heritage provoked the couple to make a suicide pact if the possibility of falling into German hands arose. Leonard as usual was ever vigilant to the onset of the next major depressive episode in his wife; she would get migraine headaches and lay sleepless at night. However, he and her doctor, who had seen her the day before, would never intuit that her next one was to be her last. Her letters to friends had been written in shaky handwriting and though she was actively working on her manuscript for what was to be the last publication before her death, Between the Acts (1941) she did express much disdain for its worth and wanted to ‘scrap’ it.
The scullery maid....was cooling her cheeks by the lily pond. There had always been lilies there, self-sown from wind-dropped seed, floating red and white on the green plates of their leaves. Water, for hundreds of years, had silted down into the hollow, and lay there four or five feet deep over a black cushion of swam—gold, splashed with white....poised in the blue patch made by the sky....It was in that deep centre, in that black heart, that the lady had drowned herself.
Virginia Woolf died on 28 March 1941 when she drowned herself in the River Ouse near their home in Sussex, by putting rocks in her coat pockets. Her body was found later in April and she was then cremated, her ashes spread under two elms at Monks’ House. She had left two similar suicide notes, one possibly written a few days earlier before an unsuccessful attempt. The one addressed to Leonard read in part;
Dearest, I feel certain I am going mad again....And I shan’t recover this time.....I am doing what seems the best thing to do....I can’t fight any longer....Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer....I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been. V.
After her death, Leonard set to the task of editing her vast collection of correspondence, journals, and unpublished works and also wrote an autobiography. He died in 1960. Posthumous publications include; The Death of the Moth and Other Essays (1942), A Haunted House and Other Short Stories (1944), and The Moment and Other Essays (1948). Virginia’s nephew, the late Professor Quentin Bell (1910-1996) wrote the award winning Virginia Woolf: A biography (2 vols, London: Hogarth Press, 1972).
Every season is likeable, and wet days and fine, red wine and white, company and solitude. Even sleep, that deplorable curtailment of the joy of life, can be full of dreams; and the most common actions—a walk, a talk, solitude in one’s own orchard—can be enhanced and lit up by the association of the mind. Beauty is everywhere, and beauty is only two finger’s-breadth from goodness. So, in the name of health and sanity, let us not dwell on the end of the journey. The Common Reader “Montaigne”-Ch. 6
Biography written by C. D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc. 2007. All Rights Reserved.
The above biography is copyrighted. Do not republish it without permission.
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Recent Forum Posts on Virginia Woolf
Woolf - COA?
It's about time I read something written by Woolf. I've been purchasing book after book, but haven't started reading them yet. So far I only have the usual suspects: Mrs Dalloway, Orlando and To the Lighthouse. Can't decide the reading order, though. Any reccommended course of action? Any other novel of hers you think I should also get? And which novel do you like best?
Posted By kandaurov at Thu 19 Jul 2007, 4:34 AM in Woolf, Virginia 4 Replies
Virginia Woolf & the issue of BIOGRAPHY
I'm reading a highly detailed biography of Virginia Woolf, written by Hermione Lee. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in her writings, it's highly informative. In the opening chapter of the book, however, I find myself extremely confused. Lee discusses 'biography' and it's importance in Woolf's life. What confuses me is that it makes Woolf appear to be a reformer of biography. I quote; "Virginia Woolf and her contemporaries are poised on the edge of the revolution which has turned biography into the iconoclastic, gossipy art-form it is now, when the only taboo is censorship." Here, Lee seems to be saying all of Woolf's works, including 'Orlando' and 'Friendship's Gallery', were signs of progression being made towards the cause of reforming the nature of biography. I am reading this biography because I know absolutely nothing about Woolf other than a few things here and there. I don't know anything about her as a writer. I am hoping that other people can perhaps help me. Is Lee's conclusion of Woolf an accurate one?
Posted By Miss Madison at Fri 15 Jun 2007, 7:54 AM in Woolf, Virginia 1 Reply
help!woolf's modern novel
hi!firstly i'm sorry for my english...i have to answer to this question for my school and it's urgent! here the question:what is "the modern novel" for Virginia Woolf?give reasons for your answer making any relevant reference to the passage we read from "Mrs Dalloway",the passage is the beginning of the book,it starts:"Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself."AND IT ENDS:...what she loved;life;London;this moment of june" i really thank Eva
Posted By evyline at Sun 20 May 2007, 11:36 AM in Woolf, Virginia 2 Replies
SweetHunting-A London Adventure
by Virginia Woolf No one perhaps has ever felt passionately towards a lead pencil. But here are circumstances in which it can become supremely desirable to possess one; moments when we are set upon having an object, an excuse for walking half across London between tea and dinner. As the foxhunter hunts in order to preserve the breed of foxes, and the golfer plays in order that open spaces may be preserved from the builders, so when the desire comes upon us to go street rambling a pencil does for a pretext, and getting up we say:"Really I must buy a pencil," as if under cover of this excuse we could indulge safely in the greatest pleasure of town life in winter-rambling the streets of London. In these minutes in which a ghost has been sought for, a quarrel composed, and a pencil bought, the streets had become completely empty.Life had withdrawn to the top floor, and the lamps were lit. The pavement was dry and hard; the road was of hammered silver. Walking home through the desolation one could tell oneself the story of the dwarf, of the blind men, of the party in Mayfair mansion, of the quarrel in the stationer's shop. Into each of these lives one could penetrate a little way,far enough to give oneself the illusion that one is not tethered to a single mind, but can put on briefly for a few minutes the bodies and minds of others. One could become a washerwoman, a publican, a street singer. And what greater delight and wonder can there be than to leave the straight lines of personality and deviated into those footpaths that lead beneath brambles and thick tree trunks into the heart of the forest where live those wild beasts, our fellow men? That is true: to escape is the greatest of pleasure;street haunting in winter the greatest of adventures. Still as we approach our own doorstep again, it is comforting to feel the old possessions, the old prejudices, fold us around; and the self, which has been blown about at so many street corners, which has battered like a moth at the flame of so many inaccessible lanterns, sheltered an enclosed. Here again is the usual door; here the chair turned as we left it and the china bowl and the brown ring on the carpet. And here-let us examine it tenderly, let us touch it with reverence-is the only spoil we have retrieved form all the treasures of the city, a lead pencil. This shor essay written by Virginia Woolf puzzles me a lot. The consiciousness writing is rather confusing. I'd like to hear your wonderful opinions!:yawnb:
Posted By godhelpme2 at Wed 11 Apr 2007, 1:04 AM in Woolf, Virginia 0 Replies
writing was for Virginia Wolf an antidote for madness
First of all ,I wish you members of this captivating forum,good ideas ,inspiration. I am fond of literature ,but extremely fond-and I consider it as a permanent source of being beautiful -a beautiful mind vIrginia Woolf uses ''the stream- of -consciousness technique" and this allows her to present the character intimate thoughts. There are many flashbacks,reflections in her novels .Woolf together with James Joyce revolutionized the form and structure of the modern novel. You can perceive Virginia,the solitude of her soul,the emptyness of her heart., in all her works. Was she unhappy?
Posted By sumalan monica at Mon 29 Jan 2007, 1:23 PM in Woolf, Virginia 0 Replies
How would you define each of these terms: perception treatment meaning when considering London in Woolf's Mrs Dalloway?
Posted By Mint at Fri 17 Nov 2006, 5:37 PM in Woolf, Virginia 0 Replies
virgina woolf to the lighthouse
I am looking for the d v d that can be used on the pal system for to the lighthouse by virgina woolf. thank you it d be greatly appreciated I am a new member Carmel
Posted By carmel at Sat 12 Aug 2006, 5:16 PM in Woolf, Virginia 3 Replies
HELP!!! about an essay on Virginia Woolf
Hi everyone, I've been desperately and unsuccessfully trying to find the source of the article/chapter “Enigmas of Imagination : Woolf’s Orlando through the Looking-glass” (by Pamela WEST). :bawling: Would anybody know which book this article comes from??? Thanks to the person who would help me out, he/she'll be my SAVIOR!!! :)
Posted By dianariane at Mon 7 Aug 2006, 9:06 AM in Woolf, Virginia 1 Reply
I have a question about : a haunt house
in the sentence 'beneath the Downs', does the 'Downs' mean a city?
Posted By Ser at Mon 24 Jul 2006, 1:18 AM in Woolf, Virginia 3 Replies
Images in The Waves
Hi everyone, I am doing a great deal of re-thinking on Woolf's incredible novel The Waves and the imagery it contains, and was wondering: for those of you who have read this book, which images, colors, or visuals stand out to you the most? Thanks a lot!
Posted By questa at Mon 5 Jun 2006, 8:08 PM in Woolf, Virginia 0 Replies
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Jacob's Room
Night and Day
The Voyage Out
Short Stories
The Mark On The Wall
A Haunted House
A Society
Monday Or Tuesday
An Unwritten Novel
The String Quartet
Blue & Green
Kew Gardens
George Eliot
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