Though at least one biography of Virginia Woolf appeared in her lifetime, the first authoritative study of her life was published in 1972 by her nephew Quentin Bell.
Hermione Lee's 1996 biography Virginia Woolf provides a thorough and authoritative examination of Woolf's life and work.
In 2001 Louise DeSalvo and Mitchell A. Leaska edited The Letters of Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf. Julia Briggs's Virginia Woolf: An Inner Life, published in 2005, is the most recent examination of Woolf's life. It focuses on Woolf's writing, including her novels and her commentary on the creative process, to illuminate her life. Thomas Szasz's book My Madness Saved Me: The Madness and Marriage of Virginia Woolf (ISBN 0-7658-0321-6) was published in 2006.
Recently, studies of Virginia Woolf have focused on feminist and lesbian themes in her work, such as in the 1997 collection of critical essays, Virginia Woolf: Lesbian Readings, edited by Eileen Barrett and Patricia Cramer.
Woolf's best-known nonfiction works, A Room of One's Own (1929) and Three Guineas (1938), examine the difficulties that female writers and intellectuals face because men hold disproportionate legal and economic power and the future of women in education and society. In The Second Sex (1949), Simone de Beauvoir counts, of all women who ever lived, only three female writers—Emily Brontë, Woolf and "sometimes" Katherine Mansfield—who have explored "the given."
Much scholarship has been made of Woolf's mental illness, described as a "manic-depressive illness" in Thomas Caramagno's 1992 book, The Flight of the Mind: Virginia Woolf's Art and Manic-Depressive Illness, in which he also warns against the "neurotic-genius" way of looking at mental illness, where people rationalise that creativity is somehow born of mental illness. In two books by Stephen Trombley, Woolf is described as having a confrontational relationship with her doctors, and possibly being a woman who is a "victim of male medicine", referring to the contemporary relative lack of understanding about mental illness.
Irene Coates's book Who's Afraid of Leonard Woolf: A Case for the Sanity of Virginia Woolf holds that Leonard Woolf's treatment of his wife encouraged her ill health and ultimately was responsible for her death. Though extensively researched, this view is not accepted by Leonard's family. Victoria Glendinning's book Leonard Woolf: A Biography argues that Leonard Woolf was not only supportive of his wife but enabled her to live as long as she did by providing her with the life and atmosphere she needed to live and write. Virginia's own diaries support this view of the Woolfs' marriage.
Controversially, Louise A. DeSalvo reads most of Woolf's life and career through the lens of the incestuous sexual abuse Woolf suffered as a young woman in her 1989 book Virginia Woolf: The Impact of Childhood Sexual Abuse on her Life and Work.[note 1]
Woolf's fiction is also studied for its insight into shell shock, war, class and modern British society.