portrait of a young Virginia Woolf looking to the left (her right) and with her hair pulled back into a chignon

Virginia Woolf, 1902. Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature.

Virginia Woolf (1882–1941) spent her creative life pushing the boundaries of literature. Her techniques were new, experimental, modern. One of the most important figures of English literary modernism, Woolf rejected the conventional forms of her Victorian predecessors to experiment with shifting perspectives and, eventually, to work entirely within the consciousness of her characters. She set out to crystallize reality, to capture moments of being, to expose the innermost thoughts of her characters in the barest way.

Best known for her novels Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and To the Lighthouse (1927), as well as for A Room of One’s Own (1929) and other writings critical of patriarchy, she engaged with questions of gender, class, consciousness, and privilege, albeit from a perspective of great privilege herself.

Ideas often came to her in a rush. She could write fluidly and swiftly, revising as she went, but she also struggled to finish books and faced periods of doubt, anxiety, and—as she described it—apprehension. She suffered from mental and physical illness throughout her life, and died by suicide at the age of 59.

Virginia Woolf: A Modern Mind provides an intimate view of the author’s life and creative process through her personal notebooks and diaries, family photographs, and unpublished letters. The exhibition is drawn entirely from the holdings of The New York Public Library, which houses one of the most important collections of her writings in the world.

This exhibition is organized by The New York Public Library and curated by Carolyn Vega, Curator of the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature.

Download Bloomberg Connects, the free arts and culture app, to hear readings of Woolf‘s works and authors Francesca Wade and Brandon Taylor discuss her life, loves, and legacy.

Explore the Exhibition

Navigate through the five sections of the exhibition with the digital galleries below.

Installation Views

Virginia Woolf: A Modern Mind opened November 18, 2022 in the Wachenheim Gallery in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.

Installation photograph of the first section of the exhibition
Installation photograph of the "Fiction" section of the exhibition
Installation photograph of back wall of the exhibition gallery
Installation photograph of the "Fiction" section of the exhibition
Installation photograph of the "Criticism" section of the exhibition
Installation photograph of the "Legacy" section of the exhibition
Installation fisheye photograph showing the entire exhibition gallery
Installation fisheye photograph showing the entire exhibition gallery
Installation photograph showing the "Hogarth Press" section of the exhibition
Installation photograph showing a graphic of a young Virginia Woolf and her sister Vanessa Bell playing cricket

Learn More About Virginia Woolf at the Library

photograph of the Berg reading room

The New York Public Library is an invaluable resource for scholars, students, and creators in New York and worldwide. With more than 46 million objects in our research collections and the unparalleled expertise of our librarians, anyone can come and find what they need for their workfor free. Learn more about research at NYPL.

Access materials related to Virginia Woolf: A Modern Mind in the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, including:

Visit our free permanent exhibition, the Polonsky Exhibition of The New York Public Library's Treasures, to see:

Plus, explore items in our Digital Collections online now:

    Virginia Woolf in the Library Shop

    Celebrate the Library’s vast collections with a variety of books and gifts inspired by Virginia Woolf.

    Shop online.

    Selected Books By and About Virginia Woolf

    You can check out these books by and about Virginia Woolf using your NYPL library card. Don't have one? Get one today.

    You can also check out a list of recommended reading, or visit the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library (SNFL) to view a book display inspired by Virginia Woolf: A Modern Mind.

    Virginia Woolf & The Hours: Joyce DiDonato, Ruth Franklin, and Bill Goldstein

    In November 2022 the Library and the Metropolitan Opera both opened major shows inspired by Virginia Woolf. Dive deep into the exhibition and the opera in one extraordinary evening of readings, performance, and conversation.

    Work/Cited: The Void at the Center

    Carolyn Vega speaks with literary scholar and professor Urmila Seshagiri about Virginia Woolf’s groundbreaking novel Jacob’s Room, first published in 1922. One hundred years after its publication, Woolf's first full-length work of experimental fiction pulls us into the inexhaustible mysteries of intimacy and mortality. Vega and Seshagiri explore Woolf’s daring work that reimagines every element of the traditional novel.

    Work/Cited is a program series that showcases the latest scholarship supported by the rich collections of The New York Public Library with a behind-the-scenes look at how the finished product was inspired, researched, and created.

    Curatorial Acknowledgements

    This exhibition celebrates Virginia Woolf’s contributions to literary modernism. It was conceptualized from a desire to examine Woolf’s work and legacy in 2022. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Jacob’s Room, the novel that signified her first formal break with the genre, as well as early drafts of what would become Mrs. Dalloway. I felt it would be important to give intellectual and physical space in the form of an exhibition gallery—a room, in other words—to Virginia Woolf, her feminist writings, her incisive literary criticism, and her development of modernist narrative techniques. 

    This exhibition was developed under the specter of the Covid pandemic, and would not have been possible without the extraordinary dedication of my colleagues at The New York Public Library, as well as scholars, curators, librarians across the world. 

    My deepest thanks to Declan Kiely, Director of Special Collections and Exhibitions and my mentor, who has supported this exhibition from the beginning, as well as to William P. Kelly, Brent Reidy, Tony Marx, and colleagues across the administration who make all of our collection displays and outreach efforts possible. 

    For their intrepid and firm commitment to this project, special thanks are due to my colleagues in Exhibitions, who are truly the architects of any exhibition: Susan Rabbiner, Becky Laughner, and Carl Auge; to Mim Harrison for editorial support; and to Paul Carlos, Urshula Barbour and the Pure+Applied team for the artistry of the installation and graphic design and to Anita Jorgensen for the lighting design.

    Special thanks are also due to the registrars and conservators who oversee the care of this extraordinary collection: Deborah Straussman and Caryn Gedell, and Mary Oey, Addison Lu, Emily Muller, Denise Stockman, and Ursula Mitra; to Steven Crossot, Kiowa Hammons, Dina Selfridge, and Zoe Waldron for the beautiful photographs and ensuring they can be made available to the public; to Charles Arrowsmith, Laurie Beckoff, Sara Beth Joren, Julia Joseph, Rosalene Labrado-Perillo, Maya Sariahmed, Katharina Seifert, and Elana Sinsabaugh for the impeccable polish you put on everything and the work you do to present the Library’s collections to the public. I would also like to thank my colleagues in the Berg Collection: Julie Carlsen, Emma Davidson, Simone Best, and Piruz Haney for their assistance and support, as well as Michael Inman, Curator of Rare Books, and Madeleine Vijoen, Curator of the Print Collection and Spencer Collection, for lending works to the exhibition. 

    I am grateful to the community of scholars who have written on Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group, and who do the important work of amplifying the voices of early feminists and women modernists in particular: Merve Emre, Mark Hussey, Mitchell A. Leaska, Hermione Lee, Urmila Seshagiri, Brenda Silver, Helen Southworth, Alice Staveley, Nicola Wison, and the Modernist Archives Publishing Project team, and many others. 

    Virginia Woolf: A Modern Mind would not have been possible without the careful stewardship of Woolf’s archive and legacy. The William Beekman Collection of Virginia Woolf and Her Circle forms a central part of this exhibition. This collection was assembled over several decades, and I am profoundly grateful to William and Helen Beekman for the extraordinary gift of this collection to the Library in 2019. Deep thanks are extended as well to Susan Jaffe Tane, whose support has enabled further acquisitions. And although this exhibition draws exclusively from the holdings of The New York Public Library, the collections and expertise of colleagues from several institutions were critical to this project, namely: the British Library, Houghton Library, Harvard University, the National Trust, Northwestern University and Washington State University. Finally, the representatives of the estates of Virginia and Leonard Woolf, Vanessa Bell, Vita Sackville-West, and Ling Shuhua have been a pleasure to work with. The work of these collectors, scholars, and librarians informed every aspect of the installation.

    Finally, I would like to extend my admiration for Virginia Woolf, and the lasting impact she made on the modernist landscape. 

    –Carolyn Vega, Curator of the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature


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