Woolf, born Virginia Stephen in 1882, was the third child of Sir Leslie Stephen and Julia Duckworth. Sir Leslie Stephen was an ardent intellectual who worked tirelessly on The Dictionary of National Biography. The severe but morally upright figure of Mr. Ramsay in To the Lighthouse represents Woolf's feelings for a father who was often distant and absorbed in weighty philosophical issues, but whose love for his wife and children always shone through.
In 1888, Woolf had whooping cough and was to remain fragile of health for the remainder of her life. The holiday home in To the Lighthouse is based upon a house in St Ives in Cornwall where the Stephen children would stay. After her attack, Woolf went to St Ives to recuperate. The Stephens always invited a host of intellectual friends and they would travel together to a lighthouse near the home.
In 1895, Woolf's mother died. She had been responsible for holding together the family and the Stephens immediately descended into grief. Leslie buried himself in the DNB, whereas Virginia suffered the first of several nervous breakdowns. Virginia and her sister Vanessa were schooled at home whilst their brothers Thoby and Adrian went to Cambridge. Virginia was envious of her brothers' intellectual lifestyles. Vanessa became interested in art, but it was only after Leslie's death in 1904 that either of the girls could begin to properly express themselves artistically.
The famous Bloomsbury group was formed by the Stephen siblings and Thoby's friends from Cambridge. The most notable members of the group were Clive Bell, Roger Fry, Lytton Strachey, John Maynard Keynes, and E. M. Forster. Later would join Leonard Woolf and Duncan Grant. The group was formed upon a communal dislike for the values and stylistic mores of the Victorian era. Their philosophies were central to the Modernist movement.
Woolf's first novel, The Voyage Out, was published in 1915, followed by Night and Day in 1919. During this time she married Leonard Woolf and together they formed the Hogarth Press, which was to become the most respected publisher of modernist works by Virginia, Forster, T.S. Eliot and Katherine Mansfield. After Jacob's Room (1922), Woolf's fame began to grow, and with the publication of Mrs. Dalloway, a brilliant critique of post-war London, her position as the foremost Modernist author was confirmed. To the Lighthouse was published in 1924 and her most experimental novel, The Waves in 1931. Her lesbian relationship with Vita Sackville-West produced the sexually ambiguous Orlando in 1928. The Years, written in 1937, and finally Between the Acts, in 1941, signified the end of Woolf's literary career. On 28th of March, 1941, Woolf drowned herself in the River Ouse.