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."
Saturday, March 28, 2009
From The Writer's Almanac (& that wonderful man Garrison Keillor):