Happy Birthday, Virginia Woolf!

Happy Birthday Mrs. Woolf.Virginia Woolf was a genius who created some of literature's most beautifully written novels, pioneered the stream-of-consciousness writing style, paved the way for mental health advocacy, and championed the importance of self-actualization, especially for women. Since her death in 1941, she has become an all-out icon, a monolith of women's literature, despite her many provocative choices both on and off the page. In honor of her 131st birthday, here are some reasons to love Virginia Woolf that you might not know about.

She had awesome friends
Virginia Woolf's social circle was cool enough to have its own name, The Bloomsbury Group. The pack included poet T.S. Eliot, economist John Maynard Keynes, novelist E.M. Forester, painter Duncan Grant, and many more.

Those friends were adventurous in the bedroom
The Bloomsbury Group didn't just sit around the parlor drinking tea and discussing literature. They also had torrid love affairsextramarital, polyamorous, and homosexualwith each other. Virginia's sister, the painter Vanessa Bell, was married but had a child with her gay best friend the painter Duncan Grant.

Vita Sackville West.In fact, Virginia had a lengthy affair with a woman (making her a lesbian icon)
Vita Sackville West, the daughter of the Earl of Sackville and wife to Harold Nicholson, was a lesbian. She met Virginia in the late 1920s and the two embarked on a lengthy affair. Their letters to each other are a must-read. (Vita to Virginia in 1926: "I am reduced to a thing that wants Virginia. I composed a beautiful letter to you in the sleepless nightmare hours of the night, and it has all gone: I just miss you, in a quite simple desperate human way.") Vita was the inspiration for Woolf's novel Orlando, the story of a man who changes into a woman half way through his life.

Her printing press was the first to publish Freud in English
Virginia and her husband Leonard ran a printing press out of their home called The Hogarth Press. The published a great many authors, including D.H. Lawrence and the first book version of T.S. Eliot's poem "The Waste Land" in the U.K. But one of their most important publications was a translation of Freud-they became the first publisher to introduce psychoanalytic theory in English.

She hated Ulysses, too
Did you have to read James Joyce's Ulysses in college? Did you want to throw it out the window? Woolf did too, at first: "First there's a dog that p'sthen there's a man that forths [slang for orgasm] and one can be monotonous even on that subjectmoreover, I don't believe that his method, which is highly developed, means much more than cutting out the explanations and putting in the thoughts between dashes." She eventually changed her mind about James Joyce's novel and was a big fan of his work in general.

She had a myriad of animal nicknames for her husband

As a child, Virginia's family called her "the billygoat," or "the goat," probably in reference to her height and awkward hobble. When she married Leonard Woolf she dubbed him "mandrill," "mongoose," and "marmot."

Sometimes, she just could not find anything to wear
Madge Garland, the fashion editor for Vogue remembers seeing Virginia in 1920 wearing a terrible a hat, "an upturned wastebasket on her head," and other friends reflected on her poor sense of fashion. Garland chose some clothes for Virginia in 1925 "remembering that V. wanted to look elegant but did not want to take time thinking about it."

Further reading on Virginia Woolf:

All of the quotes from Woolf herself are taken from Hermione Lee's spectacular biography, Virginia Woolf, the ultimate Woolf biography.

The complete diaries and letters of Virginia Woolf are a fascinating read, but they are quite lengthy, in several volumes. If you'd like to read abbreviated versions, Virginia Woolf: A Writer's Diary concentrates on her writing process.

For major players in Virginia's life, Leonard Woolf's five-volume autobiography is a great read, or Victoria Glendinning's biography of Leonard Woolf.

Frances Spalding has written a biography of Virginia's sister Vanessa Bell, a passionate woman who lived a wild life.

As for Vita Sackville West, her son Nigel Nicholson wrote a book about his parents' marriage, Portrait of a Marriage, which is absolute essential reading for anyone interested in Vita. Victoria Glendenning's biography of Vita is spectacular.

Reading Woolf is an incredible experience that should not be missed. In addition to the novels, her non-fiction, including A Room of One's Own and Three Guineas, are brilliant reads on the lives of women and their role in society.