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Virginia Woolf Trivia

Brain Snacks: Tasty Tidbits of Knowledge

Virginia Woolf could be famously mean and snobby. Her first reaction upon meeting the writer Katherine Mansfield—a gifted writer whom admired Woolf tremendously—was "that she stinks like a—well civet cat that had taken to street walking. In truth, I'm a little shocked by her commonness at first sight; lines so hard & cheap." D---.13

In a personal essay in the 1930s, Virginia Woolf posed the question, "Am I snob?" She concluded: "Yes."14

Open marriages were accepted among members of the Bloomsbury Group. Virginia Woolf had a well-known relationship with the writer Vita Sackville-West. Woolf's sister Vanessa Bell had a child with her lover, the painter Duncan Grant. Her husband Clive Bell encouraged the affair and raised the resulting daughter, Angelica, as his own. In a twist that would have given Freud a heart attack, Angelica later married her biological father's former male lover, David Garnett, in 1942. The marriage did not last.15

Leonard Woolf owned a monkey as a pet, a marmoset named Mitz. The unpleasant creature had few fans beyond its owner. Mitz "seemed to be in a perpetual state of vicious fury … It was deeply in love with Leonard and would spit out its jealousy upon the rest of humanity," wrote Woolf's nephew Quentin Bell in his memoir. "Perhaps it was showing its affection when it crouched upon his arm and defecated upon him; this was so much its favorite occupation that Leonard had to have waterproofing upon the sleeves of his jacket."16

In 1910, Virginia Woolf and five male friends dressed up in blackface and exotic robes and presented themselves to the British Royal Navy as the Prince of Abyssinia (then a British colony, now Ethiopia) and his entourage. They requested—and received—a personal tour of the warship H.M.S. Dreadnought. For forty minutes they toured the ship with its Commander, babbling amongst each other in a made-up language. The gleeful pranksters alerted the press as soon as they were off the ship. The navy was horrified to learn that it had been duped.17

The writer Toni Morrison wrote her Cornell University master's thesis on themes of suicide in the novels of Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner.18

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