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Ten Songs in Celebration of the Birth of Virginia Woolf

January 25, 2010  |  7:00am
Ten Songs in Celebration of the Birth of Virginia Woolf

On this day in 1882, Virginia Woolf was born, and in the 128 years that have passed since then, her starkly beautiful prose and heartbreaking life story have inspired works from all types of artists. Although her legacy is shrouded in tragedy (she battled depression and what is thought to have been bipolar disorder throughout her life, finally committing suicide in 1941), she is considered a trailblazer for feminism and revered for her unique modernist writing style. Today, on what would have been her birthday, we celebrate Woolf’s life and legacy with 10 songs inspired by her and her work.

1. “Virginia Woolf” by the Indigo Girls
This song from the Indigo Girls’ 1992 album Rites of Passage was inspired by Emily Saliers’ reading of Woolf’s diary.

2. “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” by Jimmy Smith
Released in 1964 on an album of the same title, this classic jazz track showcases some inspired improvisations by the legendary Smith.

3. “Paris” by Regina Spektor
In this pretty song Woolf surely would have identified with, Spektor struggles to reconcile her love for her man and her feminine independence.

4. “To the Lighthouse” by Patrick Wolf
Inspired by Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse, this song is poetic and eerie. It also has an anti-war message Woolf (who wrote about the aftermath of war in Mrs. Dalloway) would appreciate.

5. “Rapture” by Laura Veirs
This heartbreaking, simple and gorgeous song is haunting and difficult in all the right ways, just like Woolf’s writing.

6. “Virginia” by Marissa Nadler
A song about Woolf’s suicide that is so sad but also sweet.

7. “Shakespeare’s Sister” by The Smiths
The track refers to a passage in Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, and the idea that if Shakespeare had had a sister, she wouldn’t have had the same opportunities as her brother because she was a woman.

8. “It’s Magnetic” by Assembly Now
This song from the unsigned British band Assembly Now mentions Woolf and got considerable airplay on BBC radio in England.

9. “Waves” by Princeton
In some of the sweetest twee pop imaginable, this song from the band’s EP Bloomsbury supposes the last thoughts running through Woolf’s head as she drowned.

10. “The Waydown” by Modest Mouse
Slightly discordant and melancholy, this track from the band that got its name from Woolf’s story “The Mark on the Wall” has a distinct Monday feeling to it.

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