During the years leading up to her marriage with Leonard Woolf in 1912, the year in which she finished The Voyage Out and sent it to be published by her cousin at Duckworth’s, the future Virginia Woolf was teaching herself how to be a writer. While her brothers were sent first to private schools, then to Cambridge to be educated, Virginia Stephen and her sister Vanessa were informally educated at home. With this background, how did she know she was a writer? What were her struggles? How did she teach herself? What made Miss Stephen into the author Virginia Woolf?
Miss Stephen’s Apprenticeship explores these questions, delving into Virginia Woolf ’s letters and diaries, seeking to understand how she covered the distance from the wistful “I only wish I could write,” to the almost casual statement, “the novels are finished.” These days, the trajectory of a writer very often starts with studying for an MFA. In Woolf ’s case, however, it’s instructive to ask: How did a great writer, who had no formal education, invent for herself the framework she needed for a writing life? How did she know what she had to learn? How did she make her own way?
Novelist Rosalind Brackenbury explores these questions and others, and in the process reveals what Virginia Woolf can give to young writers today.