Virginia Woolf

Michèle’s work on Virginia Woolf has spanned decades, starting with her graduate work, which we give excerpts from below.


Virginia Woolf: On Women & Writing

VW2“Known for her novels, and for the dubious fame of being a doyenne of the ‘Bloomsbury Set’, in her time Virginia Woolf was highly respected as a major essayist and critic with a special interest and commitment to contemporary literature, and women’s writing in particular. This spectacular collection of essays and other writings does justice to those efforts, offering unique appraisals of Aphra Behn, Mary Wollstonecraft, the Duchess of Newcastle, Dorothy Richardson, Charlotte Bronte, and Katherine Mansfield, amongst many others. Gathered too, and using previously unpublished (sometimes even unsigned) journal extracts, are what will now become timeless commentaries on ‘Women and Fiction’, ‘Professions for Women’ and ‘The Intellectual Status of Women’. More than half a century after the publication of A Room Of One’s Own, distinguished scholar Michele Barrett cohesively brings together work which, throughout the years, has been scattered throughout many texts and many volumes. . . affording these very valuable writings the collective distinction they deserve at last.”
Publisher’s description.


First published in 1979 Virginia Woolf: On Women and Writing has been continuously in print as a pre-eminent collection and commentary on Virginia Woolf’s essays – here are a selection of covers of various editions.

VW-Women&Writing Collage med





Three Guineas and A Room of One’s Own
Penguin editions edited and introduced by Michèle

3G-modern-E 3G-cover-E











Empire and Commerce

Michèle  has recently undertaken a project focusing of Virginia Woolf’s research notes for her husband’s 1920 study Empire and Commerce in Africa, held in the Leonard Woolf Papers at the University of Sussex. An article on Virginia Woolf’s neglected contribution to the research for this book was published in Woolf Studies Annual 19 in 2013.



Michèle discusses Virginia Woolf’s note-taking.



Virginia Woolf: Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid
Talk at the Shock and Awe Conference, LSE, 2011


Virginia Woolf’s 1940 essay, ‘Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid’ , is most frequently read in relation to the arguments about feminism and pacifism that she had been developing through the 1930s and which reached their fullest expression in Three Guineas in 1938.    However, when Woolf speaks of the “ancient instincts” of the young airman up in the sky, and  of  “the desire to dominate and enslave”, she is also be invoking the violence of Europe’s colonial past.  In this paper I look back to Woolf’s experience of aerial bombardment during the First World War, and to the influence in her later writing of the research she undertook then, during the early years of her marriage to Leonard Woolf, on British and French colonial violence in Africa.   The extent and detailed nature of her research into European imperialism in Africa  provide a fresh context for reconsidering the relationship between feminist and anti-colonial ideas in this striking essay.

pdficon_largeHere is Virginia Woolf’s essay.




Listen to the only surviving recording of Virginia Woolf’s voice on YouTube
(Talking about words and language)


Below is an excerpt from Michèle’s hitherto unpublished D.Phil Thesis: A Theory of Modernism and English Society Between the Wars: With Particular Reference to Virginia Woolf, University of Sussex, 1976.

Michèle Barrett writes:

“I have decided to post on this website the section of my DPhil thesis that is about Virginia Woolf.  It was written with virtually no supervision, the absence of which is clear in the text, and it was examined by an extremely hostile external examiner who regarded Virginia Woolf as a writer limited to the middle class domestic interior.  The sociological analysis of art and literature was in those days a dogmatic field and this thesis did not fit it; it was rescued by a sympathetic internal examiner from English at Sussex (Lawrence Lerner).  In consequence of these difficulties I never published it.  It seems astonishing now that a case had to be made, in the early 1970s, for regarding Woolf as a modernist writer.  The arguments made in the thesis about the political content of Woolf’s fiction, about private codes of meaning in her writing, and the place of mysticism in her understanding of the world, were perhaps one of the earlier statements of this kind in Woolf criticism in the UK.  For this reason it seems of interest to make the thesis more available.  However, it is a very old piece of work, whose context has been completely transformed.  What follows is a visually-improved scan of a carbon copy of the bound thesis – a far cry from the impeccably-presented PhD theses of today.   During the period of my registration for the DPhil at Sussex I was lucky enough to work as Olivier Bell’s research assistant, preparing the Woolf Diaries for publication.  From her I learnt how to read Virginia Woolf’s handwriting, as we read the entire run of the diaries aloud to each other, and then I learnt how to undertake contextual historical research for literary work.  These skills have been of lasting benefit to me, and sharply contrast with the lack of supervision I received at the University. (July 2014)”

pdficon_largeClick to read or download. Please note this is a large file (17MB) and may take minutes to open or download.


Towards A Sociology of Virginia Woolf Criticism
The Sociological Revew, 26, 1978

pdficon_largeClick to read or download the full text.