Virginia Stephen and Leonard Woolf first met while Virginia was visiting her brother Thoby at Trinity college around the year 1900. Noting the white dress and parasol she wore the day they met, Leonard declared she looked like “the most Victorian of Victorian young ladies.”
Years later, after their mutual friend Lytton Strachey proposed to Virginia in February of 1909, and then withdrew his proposal the next day, Strachey wrote to Woolf in Ceylon where he was working as a Civil Servant, urging him to marry Virginia:
“Your destiny is clearly marked out for you, but will you allow it to work? You must marry Virginia. She’s sitting waiting for you, is there any objection? She’s the only woman in the world with sufficient brains, it’s a miracle that she should exist; but if you’re not careful you’ll lose the opportunity…She’s young, wild, inquisitive, discontended, and longing to be in love.”
Intrigued by the idea, Leonard wrote back:
“Do you think Virginia would have me? Wire to me if she accepts. I’ll take the next boat home.”
Since she did not know Leonard very well and thought the matter to be a joke, Virginia gave no answer.
It wasn’t until two years later when Leonard returned to England that Virginia and Leonard met again. Needing a place to stay, Leonard rented rooms on the top floor of her and her brother Adrian’s house in Brunswick square and they soon began dating.
During their six month courtship, Leonard proposed numerous times. Fearful of marriage and the emotional and sexual involvement it required, Virginia hesitated. In a letter to Leonard, she bluntly stated:
“As I told you brutally the other day, I feel no physical attraction in you. There are moments—when you kissed me the other day was one—when I feel no more than a rock. And yet your caring for me as you do almost overwhelms me. It is so real, and so strange.” On Leonard’s third proposal, Virginia finally accepted and the couple were engaged.
Shortly after the engagement, Virginia wrote to her friend Violet Dickinson to tell her the news:
“My Violet, I’ve got a confession to make. I’m going to marry Leonard Woolf. He’s a penniless Jew. I’m more happy than anyone ever said was possible – but I insist upon your liking him too. May we both come on Tuesday? Would you rather I come alone? He was a great friend of Thoby’s, went out to India – came back last summer when I saw him, and he has been living here since the winter.”
The couple finally married on August 10, 1912 and spent their wedding night at their rented house, Asheham house, in East Sussex, before traveling to France, Spain and Italy. It was during the honeymoon that Leonard discovered Virginia’s dislike of sex, which they both blamed on her traumatic sexual abuse as a child. Despite this, the couple hoped to have children. Shortly after their wedding, Virginia was heartbroken when her doctors advised her to refrain from motherhood on account of her ongoing mental health issues.
Throughout their long marriage, Leonard nursed Virginia through multiple bouts of depression, numerous suicide attempts and the ups and downs of her bipolar disorder. When she committed suicide in March of 1941, she left a note for Leonard telling him: “I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been.”
“Virginia Woolf: A Writer’s Life”; Lyndall Gordon; 1984
Yale University; The Modernism Lab; Virginia Woolf: http://modernism.research.yale.edu/wiki/index.php/Virginia_Woolf
“Novels of Virginia Woolf”; Randhir Pratap Singh; 2004