“Thinking Is My Fighting”: Virginia Woolf’s Life and Thoughts at the National Portrait Gallery

“There is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.” (V.W.)

The National Portrait Gallery (London) is hosting an exhibition about Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) entitled “Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision”. Curated by Frances Spalding, a British art historian, critic and biographer, the exhibition unfolds Woolf’s life in chronological order, showing portraits, photographs, manuscripts and objects that belonged to her.

IT thinkingfighting intextOn the website of the exhibition, it is possible to enjoy an audio tour explaining the 6 parts in which it is divided:

  1. Prologue: it introduces Woolf to a non-academic audience in the perspective of not only her mental vulnerability, but also of the times in which she was living, i.e. the Second World War, and therefore her exposition to danger and bombing.
  2. “Who was I then?”: this section delineates her intellectual upbringing and the family environment of her childhood.

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  1. Experiments and reforms: in this part, the exciting period is told in which Virginia and her sister Vanessa moved to Bloomsbury in 1904. Their brothers Thoby and Adrian were living there too, and the house was thriving with intellectuals and artists experimenting and reforming, guiding England towards Modern Art.
  2. “Painting and writing have much to tell each other”: after moving to Richmond, the Woolfs founded the Hogarth Press in 1917, which aimed to publish books that other publishers would not.
  3. Street haunting and novel writing: the Woolfs returned to Bloomsbury, supporting the desire of Virginia to be “in the violent jolt of the capital”, at the centre of Modernity. During this period, Virginia began to write her most experimental novels, along with “A Room of One’s Own” (1929), in which she analysed the social situation of women.
  4. “Thinking is my fighting”: being aware of the political situation at the time, her work becomes more political. She was particularly interested in the Spanish Civil War.

If I had to make a top 3 list of the most striking items of the exhibition, that would be:

  • The black list written by Hitler with the names of all the intellectuals to be deported if the UK was invaded: you can read Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s names in there.
  • Virginia’s walking stick: she always used to bring it with her whenever going for walks. On the day she committed suicide, Leonard understood the way she killed herself before her body was found in the river Ouse since she left her walking stick beside the bank.
  • Every lover of Virginia Woolf will shed a tear staring at the last letter she wrote to her husband Leonard before committing suicide.

The exhibition will end on October 26th, hurry up if you still haven’t visited it. I eagerly await your top 3 list in the comments below!


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