Ethics and art
When the young Virginia Stephen first began to join in discussions with her brother Thoby Stephen's friends who were just down from Cambridge and making new lives in London - people such as Clive Bell, Lytton Strachey, Maynard Keynes - she had already begun to write. She was trying out descriptions of landscape and anecdotal stories designed to show up elements of colour, light, transpositions in language and human character. She described railway journeys and disasters in duckponds; she made up stories about two young ladies going into the society of university educated people and being shocked by the frankness of the discussion: they discovered that one could discuss politics and philosophy in a charged, energetic way; and that talk was designed to discover things and share ideas, rather than being employed simply to perform the acrobatics of polite society (to amuse, while keeping one's own and the listener's actual views and emotions at bay).
There must have been a significant disparity between the materials she was working with to ply the tools of her trade, and the content of the intellectual discussions to which Thoby Stephen introduced her and her sister Vanessa. The feelings of exclusion called up in her by observing the ease with which educated men communicated with one another never left her. Her writing is split, throughout her œuvre, into the kind of writing which makes discoveries through styles of aesthetic charge, and the writings in which she plied her social conscience. In the latter, she usually wrote under strain.