The New York Public Library Examines Virginia Woolf’s Life and Creative Process in New Exhibition

Virginia Woolf: A Modern Mind provides an intimate view of the author through her personal notebooks and diaries, family photographs, and unpublished letters

 

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NOVEMBER 17, 2022—Virginia Woolf is the focus of the latest free exhibition opening at The New York Public Library. Virginia Woolf: A Modern Mind will explore the life and creative genius of one of the most important figures in twentieth-century literature through her personal notebooks and diaries, family photographs, and unpublished letters. 

Free timed tickets are now available to reserve for the exhibition, which opens November 18, 2022, at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. Virginia Woolf: A Modern Mind is the first major exhibition of Woolf's writings at the Library in 30 years and is drawn entirely from NYPL's holdings, which represent one of the most important collections of her work in the world. Her intimate diary entries, spanning four decades, guide this exhibition, which uncovers how the influential author of Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse came to reject the conventional forms of her Victorian predecessors, experiment with shifting perspectives and stream-of-consciousness narration, and explore the innermost thoughts of her characters.

Highlights of the exhibition include:

  • Mementos from Woolf’s early years, including her 1897 diary and unpublished photos from her youth;
  • Early drafts of Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and the final draft of To the Lighthouse (1927), written in large notebooks that Woolf bound or re-covered herself (as she did for many of the drafts of her major novels);
  • Original dust jacket designs for Woolf’s books by her sister Vanessa Bell—their relationship offers an inside look at how Woolf’s creative process developed; 
  • Intimate letters and diaries documenting her relationship with Vita Sackville-West, who was the inspiration for Orlando (1928); 
  • Books that Virginia Woolf printed by hand for the Hogarth Press; and
  • Virginia Woolf’s last diary entry, dated 1941.

The Library has one of the most significant collections of Virginia Woolf materials in the world. Housed in the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, accessible at the Library’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, materials held by the Library include Virginia Woolf’s diaries and notebooks; draft material for all of her works of fiction; nearly 3,000 pieces of incoming and outgoing correspondence; photographs; books; legal documents; and her walking stick. The collection, which spans the years 1888 to 1941, numbers nearly 3,700 individual items and began with the acquisition of Woolf’s manuscripts in 1958, directly from her husband, Leonard Woolf. The Library has continued to add to the Woolf collection, most recently through the support of Susan Tane and through the extraordinary gift of the William Beekman Collection of Virginia Woolf and Her Circle, which includes unpublished letters and photographs and unique copies of Woolf’s books and original dust jacket art.

Adeline Virginia Woolf (1882–1941), née Stephen, was an English novelist, essayist, biographer, and feminist. She was central to the Bloomsbury Group, a coterie of British artists, writers, and intellectuals active in the first half of the twentieth century. In 1917, Woolf founded, with her husband, Leonard, the Hogarth Press and published several foundational works of modernism, including T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land in 1923. She was a prolific writer, publishing eight novels, two collections of short stories, a biography, and several books of essays, in addition to other works. She wrote approximately 4,000 letters, and kept a diary for most of her life before dying by suicide in 1941. 

 

“Virginia Woolf’s writings are central in the evolution and history of literary modernism, long one of the core collecting areas—and one of the most frequently accessed—of the Berg Collection at The New York Public Library,” said Declan Kiely, Director, Special Collections and Exhibitions. “Since acquiring Virginia Woolf’s manuscripts in 1958 from her husband, Leonard Woolf, the Library has remained true to what was most important to him: that the Virginia Woolf collection of papers be ‘kept together and made available to serious students.’ This material is available to all researchers regardless of institutional affiliation; all you need is a research project—and a library card.”

 

Virginia Woolf: A Modern Mind gives intellectual and physical space in the form of an exhibition gallery—a room of one’s own, in other words—to Virginia Woolf, her feminist writings, her incisive literary criticism, and her development of modernist narrative techniques,” says Carolyn Vega, curator of the exhibition and the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature. “She called herself a ‘dabbler in dreams;’ she was also ambitious, insightful, and deeply committed to her work. This exhibition explores her life, writings, and the lasting impact she made on the modernist landscape.”

 

Patrons can also visit the Library’s free permanent exhibition, the Polonsky Exhibition of The New York Public Library's Treasures, to see further Woolf-related items, including:

Since opening last fall, the exhibition has received over 350,000 in-person visits and also features increased access for students through the Center for Educators and Schools. Multilingual audio guides and full exhibition content are available in Spanish and Chinese on the Bloomberg Connects app.

Support for The New York Public Library’s Exhibitions Program has been provided by Celeste Bartos, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, Mahnaz Ispahani Bartos and Adam Bartos Exhibitions Fund, and Jonathan Altman.

Additional support for Virginia Woolf: A Modern Mind is provided by the Judge and Mrs. Samuel D. Levy Memorial Publication Fund.

About The New York Public Library

For over 125 years, The New York Public Library has been a free provider of education and information for the people of New York and beyond. With over 90 locations—including research and branch libraries—throughout the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island, the Library offers free materials, computer access, classes, exhibitions, programming and more to everyone from toddlers to scholars, and has seen record numbers of attendance and circulation in recent years. The New York Public Library receives approximately 16 million visits through its doors annually and millions more around the globe who use its resources at www.nypl.org. To offer this wide array of free programming, The New York Public Library relies on both public and private funding. Learn more about how to support the Library at nypl.org/support

 

Media Contacts

Sara Beth Joren | sarabethjoren@nypl.org