Saturday, March 28, 2009

Virginia Woolf

From The Writer's Almanac (& that wonderful man Garrison Keillor):

It was on this day in 1941 that the novelist Virginia Woolf drowned herself in the river Ouse, near her country home in Sussex in southeast England. She suffered from periods of depression for many years, and modern scholars believe she may have been manic depressive, also known as bi-polar.

Woolf, wrote in her diaries about her volatile mood swings. She would often be thrown into depression by her conviction that her writing wasn't good enough. But then she would get herself out of the depression by thinking of a new idea for a book.

She was relatively healthy for most of the 1920s, when she published Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and To the Lighthouse (1927). But she struggled with her book The Years (1937). She wrote in her diary, "Seldom have I been more completely miserable than I was ... reading over the last part of The Years. Such feeble twaddle — such twilight gossip — it seemed; such a show up of my own decrepitude."

Her mood grew worse as WWII broke out in 1939. She and her husband moved to their country house, which was under the flight path of the German bombers. By March of 1941, she was writing in her diary that she had fallen into "a trough of despair." She wrote, "It's difficult, I find, to write. No audience. No private stimulus, only this outer roar."

Finally, she wrote three letters, possibly as much as 10 days before she committed suicide. The longest letter was to her husband, Leonard. She wrote: "I feel certain that I am going mad again ... I shant recover this time ... I cant fight any longer. ...What I want to say is that I owe all the happiness of my life to you. ... I dont think two people could have been happier than we have been."

Woolf left the letters where her husband would find them and walked a half mile to a nearby river and put a heavy stone in the pocket of her fur coat before jumping into the water.

The novelist Elizabeth Bowen visited Woolf just a month before her death. Bowen wrote about Virginia: "I remember her kneeling back on the floor ... and she sat back on her heels and put her head back in a patch of sun, early spring sun. Then she laughed in this consuming, choking, delightful, hooting way. And that is what has remained with me."

3 comments:

Cassandra said...

Hello, I've come to your blog via Liberty london Girl's recommendation. Thanks for posting this, I am very interested in VW. Mrs Trefusis posted recently about needing to find a good cleaner. (I don't have one, our house is so messy that no cleaner would ever agree to take it on. Anyway, there's a book called Mrs Woolf and the servants by Alison Light, all about her difficult relationships with her staff. I'll let you know what it's like when I've read it. Cx

Miss Whistle said...

Dear Cassandra,
Thank you so much for your support. I've heard a lot about the Woolf & the servants book and am looking forward to reading it. I am always a little haunted by her death (the stone in the pocket of her coat, etc) and so was interested that today was the day she killed herself, all those years ago.
I loved your post about the Daily Mail comments. They keep me amused for hours.
The brilliant thing about insomnia in LA is that there are people on London time who are up and about and make one feel so much more connected to the world!
See you on Twitter.
xx Miss W

eaesthete said...

I thoroughly enjoyed your post on Virgina Woolf. Suicides among female writers has long captivated the public's attention, particularly these early writers, who, as women, had already achieved so much. I think we struggle with trying to understand or make sense of what about them or their lives simply wasn't enough.

Then, of course, there's the creativity in how they choose to leave. I thought VW's method was quite ingenious. Sylvia Plath as well. I think I recall reading somewhere where women don't like guns -- might make an interesting post on methods of suicide.