The Life and Death of Virginia Woolf

by admin

by Cherryblossomlife

Virginia Woolf ‘tried to speak the truth…wrung it drop by drop from my brain,’ and made the commitment to experience the world as female, but what did it cost her?

For a woman to comprehend her condition is to trigger the precursor for madness, therefore she learns early on to bury the implications of it, erase her knowledge of it, stifle it, plaster over it with hobbies and food and shopping and sex, blocking out the information she needs in order to realise her authenticity. Now and again she catches glimpses of it (the truth), and if the planets align then the chasm breaks open, and it is total; and if she’s lucky—only if she’s lucky— she becomes a radical feminist.

In her brave and controversial book, Who’s Afraid of Leonard Woolf, Irene Coates explores what it meant to be Virginia Woolf in stifling Victorian England. The title makes no bones about the fact she holds one person in particular responsible for Virginia’s death: her husband.  The book is a rebuttal against the plethora of biographies written by both people close to the Woolf’s (family members) and lesser known academics who exonerate and vindicate Leonard, portraying him as the long-suffering husband of a madwoman. Books with titles such as “A Marriage of True Minds” (derived from Shakespearean quote), written by George Spater and Ian Parsons, gush about the emotional and intellectual connection which ran between the happy couple. But Coates points out that:

“For whatever reason most commentators are content to portray him as the husband of Virginia Woolf—a hopefully benign character, even a ‘saint’—who kept her alive during one of her ‘mad’ turns and otherwise got on with his own work. It is certainly time to question whether this view of Leonard is valid.”

Leonard was to continue this pattern of re-writing history in his autobiography, when Virginia was no longer alive to defend herself. Coates reminds us that “Virginia’s autobiography is in her own writings, in her diaries, letters and novels; this is where we find her. It is left to those who come later to take a view of their life together which should not be defined by the attitude Leonard takes in his autobiography.”  She painstakingly investigates first-hand sources such as letters, diaries and writing drafts and margin notes, and from this she pieces together the missing links, revealing a very different story to the one the historians would have us believe.

There seems to have been three major life events that shaped Virginia’s inner world, and her writing. The first was the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her half-brothers, George and Gerald Duckworth, from the age of six. The second was her marriage to Leonard, which would manifest in her fiction, and the third was her passionate love affair with Vita, who would become the protagonist in the novel Orlando.

Many authors have taken great pains to excuse George’s nightly visits to Virginia’s childhood bedroom. Peter Alexander, in his book Leonard and Virginia: A Literary partnership described George as “a deeply affectionate young man,” and emphasized that “George Duckworth was by no means the monster of Virginia’s imagination.” Leonard, in his later autobiography, declared that these early molestations had not damaged her. Coates summarizes his attitude:

“He offered Virginia’s first novel The Voyage Out to Gerald Duckworth for publication, and went out of his way to praise George without, apparently, a hint of irony: ‘He was an extremely kind man and, I think, very fond of Vanessa and Virginia.’

But Virginia knew that she had been abused.  In 1911, she wrote to her sister Vanessa about an intimate conversation she had had with Janet Case, a spinster, with whom she used to study Greek:

“She is a woman of great magnanimity…She sat stitching… and listened to a magnificent tirade which I delivered upon life in general. She has a calm interest in copulation…and this led to the revelation of all George’s malefactions. To my surprise she has always had an intense dislike of him; and used to say, ‘Whew—you nasty creature’, when he came in  and began fondling me all over my Greek. When I got to the bedroom scenes, she dropped her lace and gasped like a benevolent gudgeon. By bedtime she said she was feeling sick, and did go to the W.C., which needless to say had no water in it.”

The reaction of Janet Case to Virginia’s recount of the abuse is very different to that of Leonard’s and Peter Alexanders’.

Long before she met Leonard, Virginia was earning money as a professional writer, supporting herself on her craft by writing articles and fiction. She had also been guaranteed economic security by a Quaker aunt, who had left her a good inheritance in her will, which enabled her to live independently. The aunt in question took care of Virginia, but not her brothers and sisters, which suggests that she had noticed Virginia’s sensitivity and had wanted to support her artistic talents by protecting her from marriage. But societal pressures were to catch up with her. In 1911 Virginia wrote to her sister Vanessa:

“Did you feel horribly depressed? I did. I could not write, and all the devils came out—black hairy ones. To be 29 and unmarried—to be a failure—childless—insane too, no writer. I went off to the museum to try and subdue them”

Virginia Stephen and her sister Vanessa Bell  were charismatic, witty and beautiful. They were key members of the Bloomsbury Group which by all accounts was a group of Bohemian intellectuals, into which Leonard Woolf coveted membership. In 1910, Virginia took part in what would be known as ‘the Dreadnought Affair’ where a group of young men, along with Virginia disguised as a man, dressed up as the Emperor of Abyssinia and his retinue. They were invited to look over H.M.S Dreadnought at Weymouth:

“They were treated with all the dignity to which such august visitors were entitled. Afterwards they gave the game away; there could have been serious repercussions but good sense prevailed. This episode reinforced Virginia’s contempt for male pomposity.”

As Virginia’s husband, Leonard hoped to become a key member of the Group.. He had not much of a career to speak of in England although he had been working in the Colonial Service in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) for many years,  but by marrying into an established family, he would gain a social position, as well as access to Virginia’s money. He had dreams of becoming a writer himself, and with Virginia’s income to lean on he would be able to realise his ambitions.

The letters between Leonard and his friends during his service in Sri Lanka allow us an insight into his attitude towards women which, at the time, Virginia would not have been privy too. She may not have known, for example, that he regularly visited prostitutes. It is now possible to paint a picture of his character from his correspondences. He writes to his friend, Lytton Strachey:

“The most astonishing & sordid thing I have seen out here was last week in court, a rape case. An old hag of a woman charged a boy of about 18 with raping her. You should have seen her in the witness box with the grinning table of lawyers, it was the absolute depths. She had to describe minutely the whole operation, the position of his & her legs & thighs & hands & mouth. It was quite plain that she had let him copulate with her & then had got annoyed & charged him: but even she collapsed in the box when asked: ‘How do you know that the male organ entered the female organ, did you see it?’ Eventually she said that she had felt it. ‘Have you ever felt the same thing in your dreams?’ At last she gasped out, Yes”

Leonard sees the ‘yes’ as proof of the woman’s guilt. That the woman was being harangued beyond endurance is neatly overlooked, as is the fact that the questions were sadistic and illogical.

Misogyny permeates much of Leonard’s writing during this period. He also despised and disliked male homosexuality, and particularly disliked Vanessa’s friend, Duncan Grant, a promiscuous homosexual who had fathered her youngest child, Angelica. When he returned to England from Sri Lanka he also left behind a young woman who, according to the conventions of the time, he should have married.

During his days as a Cambridge undergraduate, Leonard and his friends would sometimes amuse themselves with a form of bullying which they called “The Method”.

“The Method was a form of psychological attack, or brainwashing, which involved putting a person in the wrong and refusing to believe them when they replied; challenging their defences with unremitting questions for hours until they ‘cracked’. And it was all being done to reveal the ‘soul’ of the victim. This was carried out by a couple of highly neurotic amateurs, Lytton and Leonard, who had set themselves up as  the arbiters of sanity….. When Leonard returned to  England in August 1911, he brought back with him a psychological weapon that he had concocted in Cambridge and perfected in Ceylon: a method of manipulating other people to his advantage.”

We can only begin to imagine how he used “The Method” on Virginia. Fortunately, as it happened, he was unable to disrupt the dynamic of the Bloomsbury Group, which would continue to be led by the two sisters, Vanessa the painter and Virginia the writer.

Upon marriage, Leonard gave up his career and opened a small publishing house. Using Virginia’s money they bought a house together and refurbished it. He decided to build a gardener’s lodge on the grounds of their house, despite the fact Virginia had never really liked their house (called Monk’s house) and one day hoped to move. Coates explains that:

“Nothing would make him shift from Monk’s house and its garden. Her carefully managed but none the less very loving relationship with Vita, with its hopes for the future, had shown her that her life in this cottage was unnecessarily constricted. Not only were the small rooms claustrophobic and inconvenient, but she was constantly being disturbed because the property was too close to the village of Rodmell. Instead of considering moving, Leonard now employed a gardener, Percy Bartholomew, who was installed with his family in one of the two cottages they had acquired together with the field they purchased. Thus the spending of increasing amounts of Virginia’s money only served to consolidate Leonard’s growing ‘empire.’”

Despite her readiness to go along with his wishes,  and to live where he chose, he deprived her of the material possessions she coveted, such as her own car. He writes about the reason for resigning from his part-time job at a publishing house:

“My resignation from the Nation was made possible by our financial situation which was revolutionized in the years 1928 to 1931…The turning point in Virginia’s career as a successful novelist came in 1928 with the publication of Orlando… After 1928 we were always well off”

Leonard gave up his job, and reluctantly told Virginia about his decision, whereupon she had a dream. This is how Virginia recounted it:

“I dreamt last night that I had a disease of the heart that would kill me in 6 months. Leonard, after some persuasion, told me.  My instincts were all such as I should have, in order, & some very strong: quite unexpected, I mean voluntary, as they are in dreams, & have thus an authenticity which makes an immense, &  pervading impression. First, relief—well I’ve done with life anyhow ( I was lying in bed) then horror; then desire to live; then fear of insanity; then (no this came earlier) regret about my writing, & leaving this book unfinished [The Waves]; then a luxurious dwelling upon m friends sorrow; then a sense of death and being done at my age [Virginia was 47]; then telling Leonard that he must marry again; seeing our life together; & facing the conviction of going, when other people went on living. Then I woke, coming to the top of all this hanging about me; & found that I had sold a great many copies of my book [A Room of One’s Own]; & was asked to lunch…the odd feeling of these two states of life & death mingling as I ate my breakfast feeling drowsy and heavy.”

In her next diary entry Virginia writes that Leonard’s freedom was “drawing near.” (Referring to him giving up his job.) Could her nightmare have been a warning that his freedom would be her thraldom, because he would from now on be completely dependent on the money she earned and be omnipresent in the house? Her response to the walls closing in around her was to dive down into her creative self and finish the book that some argue is her masterpiece, The Waves.

As we follow Coates’ map of Virginia’s life, we cannot help but notice the connection between the writer’s “madness” and her creativity. Her best books were written just after a spell of madness. It seems that madness is a defence taken by women struggling to defend their authentic selves against the relentless onslaughts aimed at them. Sometimes women cave in and are lost to us. When this happens they are able to continue to function in their daily lives. When they resist the process, madness, or suicide, claims them. Madness, then, is the way that women to escape the constraints imposed upon them by an oppressive society, with their integrity intact. Virginia’s work could not have been written without a strong sense of self, and so in order to protect it her mind fled the present moment.

During these mad spells, and through the convalescences, Virginia would write her greatest anti-patriarchal polemics. According to Coates,

“Entering that dangerous, visionary world is an important part of Virginia’s writing. She has often said that after an episode where she ‘submerges’, the material for her next novel comes to her. One is reminded of Hamlet—a play she must have read many times—with its equivocal exploration of the borderland between sanity and insanity, and the use Hamlet makes of it to uncover the truth about his father’s murder. The difference is that Shakespeare himself is not accused of being mad. “

And as time went on the gap between Virginia’s success as a writer and Leonard’s failure was widening.  While Virginia was writing The Waves, Leonard was working on his first volume of a trilogy entitled After the Deluge. By now, they were in direct competition with each other, and the stakes were high—which one of them would be able to write a book that would influence others after their deaths? The ‘deluge’ in Leonard’s title referred to the first world war, and this was the major theme in his trilogy, whereas Virginia’s book focuses on the essence of life itself. Coates analyses the two “watery” titles that they had chosen:

“We may consider it strange that a war fought with metal weapons delivering unprecedented fire and explosive power, should be equated by Leonard with this basic life-giving liquid. However, to the arch rationalist, a large body of water is the ultimate irrational force, as barbarism was the ultimate irrational force threatening ‘civilization.’ No doubt he also saw water in biblical terms as ‘the flood’ that would sweep everything away. He was Job arguing against God, battling to replace God with his own (apparently) rationalist image.

For Virginia, water was certainly not a symbol of any outside, destructive or irrational force. For her it was both within herself and part of the world, its powerful ebb and flow: the gathering together of waves breaking on the shore when the hidden undertow drags them back, to rise and break again and again. That swelling of the waves, those tides, were felt in her own body and influenced the way she wrote: the restless shifting of the ocean was instinct in the  very rhythm of her language.”

But with the intimacy between Vita and Virginia now ebbing, the lightness and energy of the writing in Orlando was replaced by a sense of weightiness and tragedy expressed in The Waves.

File:Vita sackville-west.jpg

[Vita Sackville-West]

The publication of both After the Deluge and The Waves occurred in October 1931. This was what Coates calls “the watershed”. Each author hoped that the book would be the making of them.

“For Leonard, disaster came in the guise of a short and offhand review of his book in the Times Literary Supplement. He was at once cast into an abyss of gloom which is poignantly recorded by Virginia…There were other less critical reviews but they gave him no comfort. A week later Virginia records that ‘Happily that morbidity of L’s is over’. However, his prediction was right. His book sold in hundreds and did not reach the general public as he had wanted; while The Waves sold in twice as many thousands and had to be reprinted.”

On the 29th of February 1932, Virginia received an invitation, which would give her an opportunity to further make her mark on the history of English literature. She was the first woman to be invited to deliver the prestigious Clark Lectures at Trinity College, Cambridge. Leonard did not encourage her, and went out of his way to prevent her going, even giving her false information. Having graduated from there, Leonard felt that Trinity College was ‘his’ college, ‘his’ territory, but with his book a failure and his wife achieving beyond what he could have ever dreamed, his ego could not stand it. It probably went something like this:

“His wife, Virginia, who everybody knew was “mad”, surely those eminent professors did not want to take what she was saying seriously? If Virginia gave those lectures she would be known for ever afterwards as Sir Leslie Stephens daughter, one of the luminaries of the literary world, rather than his wife… It was simply too much for Leonard. He, who had failed to move the electors of those inferior ‘other universities’ to send him to Parliament; who had dreamt of being the great orator, the modern Pericles, and found that no-one took notice of him—how terrible if Virginia had succeeded in this, too, where he had failed!…”

Virginia declined the invitation and did not go.

VW at Monks House

From this point onwards Virginia had to contend with Leonard’s indifference and hostility towards her writing. After The Waves she published a little book called Flush, which was the story of the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning seen from her spaniel’s point of view. It sold well, and brought in good financial rewards, but Leonard told her she should not have wasted her time writing a story about a dog. Her success continued unabaited. Her novel The Years was lauded as a masterpice and sold well in America. The Times Literary Supplement ran an article on a Century of English Novelists from Dickens to Virginia Woolf. But she was unable to enjoy her success:

“The public’s postive reaction to The Years once more sent Virginia soaring skywards on their marital see-saw and she — realising that this was a dangerous place to be in relation to Leonard– once more happily planned to appease him with money and goods: “Now at any rate money is assured: L shall have his new car; we will be floated again…”

By April 1938, the year she published Three Guineas,  she was existing only on the pocket money Leonard allowed her– out of her own earnings. That month, the Woolfs sold Virginia’s half share in the publishing house, Hogarth Press, to a man named John Lehman. At the same time, Leonard got her to sign an agreement that meant she would not be allowed to publish her work anywhere else. Lehman speaks of the document Leonard forced Virginia to sign:

“In the ‘Scheme’ there was no clause which prevented either Leonard or me from engaging in any other publishing business, only one which prevented Virginia from doing so once she had ceased to be a partner. Of course it was a complete fantasy to imagine that, as soon as she had my 3,000 pounds (theoretically) in her pocket, Virginia would run off and set up as a publisher on her own… “

The word “theoretically” in this passage tells us that Lehman did not think for a minute that the money for her share of Hogarth Press had actually gone to Virginia. He was also to learn later that in fact the clause did apply to him, at which point Leonard refused to release him from it. If Lehman was not able to contest Leonard, then we can imagine that Virginia was certainly not in a position to do so.

The process of attrition continued. “Leonard now fostered the idea in her that she had to pay for the small gifts and commissions she enjoyed giving to Vanessa and the others living at Charleston by revising and selling her stories and articles so that she continued to anxiously overwork. He was soon to prevent her from making these gifts.”

Leonard’s complete control over her finances played a major part in Virginia’s decision to kill herself. She believed him when he told her that they would be ruined because they would have to draw on the capital she had built up over the years by her writing. And by the Spring of 1941, Leonard had succeeded in destroying Virginia’s last remaining friendship. The friend was an elderly woman named Ethel– one woman he could not control. Seeing that Virginia had no money, the old woman offered to pay for a hired car. Virginia wrote to her:

“Well, dearest Ethel, how damned generous you are, breaking, or ready to break, a golden lump off your hoard, all to buy a visit from me. I happen to be very humble just now. I can’t believe in being anyone. So I say with amazement, yet Ethel wants to see me! We shall meet one of these days… Never mind Leonard. He is a good man: in his heart he respects my friends. But as for my staying with you, for some occult reason, he cries No no No.”

Within a year of her death, Leonard was having an affair with a woman named Trekkie, and living on the interest of Virginia’s fortune. It is unclear whether the relationship began before or after his wife’s suicide, but what is clear is that he spent the rest of his life writing passionate letters to Trekkie and she would often come to live with him in Monk’s house, although she never divorced her husband, Ian Parsons.

Virginia Woolf

As we can see, history has borne two perspectives of Virginia’s life and death: the male perspective, and the female. According to the male, Leonard was a saint who cared for his mad wife until the inevitable time came when she could no longer carry on, whereupon one morning she drowned herself. Coates calls this the “graceful way, the male way, of seeing her death in the icy waters of the River Ouse that March day in 1941.”  But then she asks us, “Do we believe that?”. What about the female truth?

“As we approach the end of Virginia’s life, can we see her too as a victim of a killer male who wished her dead..? The female truth is less graceful: to live with a man who feels he has to conquer his partner before making his own name in the world, until her independent voice is silenced and she is reduced to supporting him; she may then be discarded for a younger woman.”

In the months before her death, Virginia had also made a new discovery. In her diary she writes about her realisation of what she called her “growing detachment from the hierarchy, the patriarchy… I am I & must follow that furrow, not copy another.That is the only justification for my writing and living” We have to remember that she was living in a time before there were any conceptualizations of feminist politics for her to turn to for help and guidance.

Virginia’s writing is intuitive and sensitive. Coates describes The Waves as “a difficult, mysterious book, unreachable for many. But for some women it is an endless and limitless resource” and believes that Woolf was “a pioneer… a woman not so much ahead of her time (although she was that) but outside clock time.” She also reminds us that:

“Nearly seventy years after The Waves was written, many women still find it hard to experience the world through their own female eyes instead of, indirectly, through male eyes. The book called forth a great effort of Virginia’s creative imagination as it is not confined to the interactions of individual human characters but involves nature through time; and social awakening after a long dark period of patriarchal supremacy…”

[This is Part 2 of a two-part article. ]

Virginia Woolf

Below is a link to the “station scene in the movie The Hours, directed by Stephen Daldry, based on the book ‘The Hours”  written by Michael Cunningham. It won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, but both the book and the movie either unwittingly, or deliberately, obfuscate the truth about Virginia’s life by failing to provide context, and by their utter vindication of Leonard.

33 Responses to “The Life and Death of Virginia Woolf”

  1. Wow! Extraordinary and rings with the truth. I hope we can use this truth to free ourselves and encourage every women’s creativity. We can tell other women what we see, and step outside the brainwashing ourselves. There have always been great women writers. In China, for example, the work of women poets was often burned by their parents due to the “shame”.

    Interruption is one traditional method of stopping women from being able to concentrate and therefore write. Today I’m going to work very hard to prevent interruptions in honor of Virginia.

  2. Breathtakingly brilliant!!

  3. This is a really well written and interesting account of Virginia’s life! Thanks for this, I really enjoyed reading it. I didn’t know much about her life so this is the first account I have read, I’m glad it’s yours. I was only vaguely aware of the “sacrificial and caring husband myth” because I saw the film “the hours”.

    What you describe is 100% intimate male abuse. It’s amazing she still managed to write those wonders and find all this creativity despite this soul-sucking vampire and killer living with her. Even his stealing of all her money, all her resources, all her friends and loved ones, his constant attempts to humiliate and degrade her, did not take her success and creativity away. All he managed was to lead her to death. How many suicides of women are related to years of abuse, sequestration and psychological / sexual torture by husbands? If we counted the number of suicides of women subjected to intimate male abuse in DV homicides, the number of female victims of men would soar.

    all the beautiful and great things women achieve is purely heroic given the ongoing terror organised by millions of men collectively and individually. The courage of women developed under male terrorism, fascism and dictatorship has a power beyond limits.

    This thing about Leonard stealing Virginia’s resources me think that even when a woman happens to have way more financial resources than her husband, this doesn’t prevent the woman from being economically dependent on her husband – through various techniques of violence, abuse and manipulation, the man manages to monopolise control over her resources and deprive her from access to it, making her as impoverished and economically vulnerable as if he was the “breadwinner” and she worked at his home with no resources of her own. I have seen this very often, with women lawyers, doctors, or other working women who were trapped by abusive men who refused to work, occupied their homes, sucked up all their money, time and life, while being terribly abusive: despite their initial economic poverty compared to the woman, they still managed to revert the situation completely. The latest famous example is Anne Sinclair, DSK’s ex wife. She is one of the richest woman in Europe, yet her wealth did not prevent her from being abused by DSK and having her resources sucked up by this serial criminal and walking rapist, having to pay for whitewashing his ass off all the criminal charges, despite all the overwhelming evidence.

    Which leads me to conclude that economic wealth does NOT protect us from male violence, not in and of itself. Only separatism and fighting back does. (sorry if this is off-topic)

  4. Ditto, to what Witchwind said. Everything.
    Great post Cherry, so interesting.

  5. Thanks for the feedback! Yes WW, I agree with everything you say there.

    What I didn’t manage to work into the article is the possibility that Leonard might *literally* have killed her, and physically pushed her into the river, especially if he was already having an affair with Trekkie at the time.

    Another piece of information I’ve omitted is that Virginia’s half-sister, Laura, had been incarcerated in a mental asylum as a teenager, and remained there for the rest of her life. It would have been easy for Leonard to convince Virginia that he was her savior, protecting her from the same fate.
    There’s an interesting website with more information:

    “When Virginia was born, Laura was not reading well enough to satisfy Leslie and Julia. On February 4, 1882, Leslie wrote that Laura’s refusal to read was “intensely provoking” (De Salvo, p.21). Leslie considered Laura’s lack of ability to read to be a refusal and personal challenge to him as head of the family.

    In keeping with Victorian values, Laura’s parents dealt with the child’s willfulness promptly and severely. Julia punished Laura by isolating her from the rest of the family, but “Leslie didn’t believe this was severe enough” (De Salvo, pp. 21-22). Leslie also believed that Laura should never whine nor cry in response to any punishment he meted out to her. Finally, Laura was confined to a distant part of the house, where she continued to live until Virginia was seven or eight. Laura was eventually sent to a nursing home for the mentally ill, where she remained until her death (De Salvo, pp.22-23).”

  6. Oh and Virginia also went to be treated by Freud! And he naturally tried to convince her that her memories of childhood sexual abuse were a fantasy.

  7. This is a wonderful post Cherry……Virginia is such a special feminist and her work is all the more liberating and stunning given the atrocious circumstances of her life with this abusive male.

    My good rad fem J and I always ((((say response to your introduction))))..once as womon you cross the patriarchal line into radical feminiism you never ever want to go back not matter what your life circumstances are. Rad Fem knowledge is what keeps me and J sane and radiant!

  8. I think it important to keep in mind that the rest cures of isolation and starvation that she was subjected to were repetitions of the childhood punishments she received. Her last years were almost identical in hopeless isolation to her first years.

  9. Thanks ybawife.

    BTW Virginia did leave a suicide note, which is why there seems to be no doubt about the fact that she took her own life— but as Witchwind commented elsewhere (at femonade, I think) just because he didn’t physically push her, doesn’t mean Leonard wasn’t responsible for her death.

  10. I love the whole article but your second paragraph is exquisitely brilliant and will stay with me for a long time. Thank you for writing that paragraph and what it means to fall off the edge of the world like that/this. For one moment I wasn’t out here alone and you made me remember that no matter what, I am lucky.

  11. ‘drove her to do it’

    Yes. Southall Black Sisters are running a campaign to have these fatalities recognised as homicides. The SBS figure says “An estimated 10 women kill themselves every week after repeated abuse, Home Office statistics show.” This figure may include a broader definition (bullying, not necessarily domestic violence related). The other figure I saw recently (from Sandra Horley of Refuge I think) was for DV-related suicides, 10 attempts and 3 successful per week. That even exceeds the actual recognised DV homicides (average of 2-3 per week in the UK). So 5-6 women per week dying/murdered due to domestic violence, and a further 7 per week are attempting to end their lives. Sorry, can’t lay my hands on the Horley quotations.

    Cherry, Virginia Woolf’s home life with the husband was very much domestic abuse, from many angles, including the financial control (considering it was her money, he had a nerve to put it mildly). He is culpable. He drove her to it, just as surely as pushing her into the river himself.

  12. Just wanted to add that Gertrude Stein had a similar struggle with her brother Leo. Leo went to Paris, and Gertrude followed and they lived together at first. Both had literary ambitions, and Leo became increasingly uncomfortable and constantly made fun of (aka belittled) Gertrude’s work. He denigrated her to mutual friends and tried to keep her in the role of a support for him. They eventually separated and Gertrude’s work and reputation outstripped him completely, which he remained bitter about until the end of his life. Many circumstances had to work together for Gertrude to succeed and become independent rather than suicidal. It’s a miracle in a way, considering that she came so soon after Virginia (Gertrude’s most radical literary work was published in 1915).

  13. Interruption is the tactic that tranz use to try to keep radical feminists from our work.

    (Toddlers do that too. Very telling it’s something that persists in men.)

    Thank you I studied VW’s work and don’t recall ever hearing your perspective. I was too naive then to find it for myself.

  14. Constant interruption is abuse. It’s mental, spatial, physical occupation. This is exactly what administrative fascism is about, too. It interrupts your normal evolutive and creative development with meaningless, harrowing, insane tasks and mind-numbing rituals. You can’t think for yourself and project yourself and live in the moment anymore, it kills you.

    It’s great to know that suicides in the case of abuse will be recognised as homicide. And women survivors of abuse and prostitution or other forms of male torture and war should at least have the same benefits as war veterans (but the comparison stops at benefits because soldiers are state sanctioned serial murderers and rapists)

    Virginia saw Freud??!! How awful. He is the Hitler of the 19th century, the designer of modernised women-killing, the one who pushed genocide of women to the next step. It’s the women-hating propaganda, repression of female dissidents and soul annihilation all in one. Postmodernism is a deadly mixture of extreme capitalism (rationalised totalitarianism) and freudism.

    Re gertrude’s brother and Leonard: It’s crazy to see how men try so desperately and bitterly hard to outshine women, when we, just by surviving as best we can under their crusade against us and trying as best as possible to mind our own business, reach levels of genius and creativity that no man could possibly understand.

  15. Alice Munro wrote while her children slept. Aren’t they brilliant, our women writers? In spite of. I can’t even imagine what they would have achieved had they not been “women”. Incomprehensible that it could be greater than it already is.

  16. It’s crazy to see how men try so desperately and bitterly hard to outshine women, when we, just by surviving as best we can under their crusade against us and trying as best as possible to mind our own business, reach levels of genius and creativity that no man could possibly understand.

    Yes, witchwind. I think the same thing, and then I wonder what women could actually accomplish if the full extent of our creative, intellectual, spiritual, physical selves were unleashed. Reality would be transformed beyond imagining.

    Poor Virginia. Oddly enough, I am also currently working on a post that mentions her, though not in the same amount of detail.

    It’s important to read the truth about women’s lives. Thanks for the time and effort that went into this, Cherry.

  17. Thank you for this article. I suspected this but had no facts, not being a researcher.

  18. Kamarad:
    “Many circumstances had to work together for Gertrude to succeed and become independent rather than suicidal. It’s a miracle in a way, considering that she came so soon after Virginia (Gertrude’s most radical literary work was published in 1915).”

    And the BIGGEST circumstance of all was that Gertrude Stein was a lesbian and worked with her partner Alice B. Toklas. Virginia Woolf unfortunately did not move in with Vita Sackville-West, and it would be interesting to speculate just how far she could have gone had she not been married to Leonard in the first place.

    The truly brilliant radical feminist writers often are lesbians, and are fully self-supporting or lucky enough to have trust funds, which Stein did have. But there was no Leonard to go after Stein’s wealth, and Leo was out of the picture.

    The horrifying thing that happened to Toklas, is that Stein died, and there was no trust or will protecting the valuable art collection that was virtually stolen from Toklas, who lived out her last years in poverty. The art collection of Stein and Toklas was worth millions by that time, but Toklas had no legal title to the works.

    Pay attention women to how this plays out— who lives, who commits suicide, who thrives and who doesn’t. If you are married to men and have kids, well, that is a huge risk for women HUGE, and until women get real serious real fast about this reality, well you will live in slavery to the Leonards of this world.

    I don’t know what it’s going to take, but living with men is not it folks. We must also add that Stein and Toklas may have been NAZI collaborators in France, and were on the wrong side of history a lot of times. So they are no paragons of virtue either.

    I agree that it is amazing just what women can do of genius despite all the horrors of home life. And we need to think hard about making worlds where women can flourish and be supported in writing and the arts to achieve greater brilliance.

    This whole article is just amazing, and puts so many missing pieces together. We think we know Virginia, but this article demonstrates that we still need to know more. Cherry, you done bloody good on this!!! Keep it coming, your’s in one of the best blogs out there… you just amaze me!!!

  19. “living with men is not it folks. ”

    No truer words spoken.

    I have to give the credit to Irene Coates, though! Her book is enormous, detailed, well referenced. And she doesn’t stop once she’s proved her point, lol. She just keeps on going, bringing more and more evidence. It was really tough choosing which bits to put in the article, and which parts to leave out.

  20. And yes, amazing what women achieve despite the ongoing war against them by patriarchy. In INdia and CHina, foetuses are aborted for being female, and for centuries baby girls have been abandoned all over the world for being girls. Girls are given less to eat, are married off, are prostituted. Aside from the tragedy of all those lost lives, think of all the lost creativity, all those baby girls who were geniuses.

    When you think about it for half a second, it’s really obvious why men need feel the need to keep killing so many of us at such an alarming rate.

    Virginia wrote about what would have happened to SHakespeare had he been born a girl. She named the female sister to Shakespeare “Judith”, and showed that if she had followed Shakespeare’s life path, and gone to London, she–as a female– would have ended up destitute and prostituted.
    But she also believed that Judith is born into each new generation, and each time struggles to give expression to her voice.

  21. @Sheila G, I agree that Stein’s lesbianism was a huge if not the biggest factor in her finding a way to independent writing. She was “saved from the husband”. She also avoided male control in the person of her older brother Daniel (I think it was), who set up the family trusts and did not interfere with how she used the money. Another wonderful “circumstance” was Alice, a perfect collaborator in the work. Another is that Stein was in Paris in a slightly freer environment for women artists and away from her family’s pressures. Behind it all was her personality, including her drive and ambition and ability to handle setbacks.

    From what I know I think Stein has been unfairly labeled a Nazi collaborator. She had a good friend from long before the war who was in fact a collaborator and who probably protected Gertrude and Alice from arrest. Whether they asked for that protection or knew of it is I think in question. I should read up on that more.

    Yes – if only Virginia had stayed with Sackville-West! I’ll read the book Cherry quotes to learn more about why she felt she had to stay with Leonard.

    Reading this article, Cherry, brings up for the millionth time that sad waste, the impoverishment of human art, that has occurred as a result of systematically preventing women from being educated and experienced and having enough control over their lives to develop their talents.

  22. Oh yes, I also think that Stein’s long lesbian relationship & intellectual/creative collaboration with Toklas made a huge difference for her in how their lives played out.

    As for Virginia & Vita – Vita Sackville-West had already had a long term relationship with Violet Trefusis. The two met and fell in love at 16, had to get married to men a few years later more or less against their will, continued the relationship anyway despite family disapproval, ran away to Paris together at one point but eventually got brought back. I think by the time Vita met Virginia patriarchal forces had already destroyed much of her relationship with Violet, and perhaps she no longer believed love between women could really work.

  23. Correction: met during girlhood, aged 12 (Vita) and 10 (Violet) and began the relationship in their teens.

  24. Janet Malcolm wrote a brilliant biography of Stein, and there is much evidence of Stein and Toklas getting some protection in France against the NAZIS. I don’t want to overstate this, but it is well worth looking at. Stein, as a Jew, chose to stay in occupied France, but was left alone and not arrested, and Janet Malcolm delves into this with some detail. A little off topic…

    Violet and Vita’s relationship is fascinating as well. Vita was married to a gay man, so they worked it out in a world that was very different from our own.

    I agree that Alice was a key ingredient in being the rock and the editor behind Stein’s most famous work and most commercially successful: The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. It is powerful for just two women to completely and utterly support one another as intellectuals, and imagine if all women could do this, those of us who really wanted to take the life of the mind free of male control IN THE HOME deadly seriously, which I do.

    I’m thinking of Mozart’s sister, of which a great French movie was made recently. Shakespeare’s sister as metaphor.
    Now I’m going to have to read the Irene Coats book, because all of her information is new to me, and it blows me out of the wtaer, because I fell for the Leonard propaganda. I recall years ago that I was amazed that Leonard was so devoted to Virginia, since I saw no men ever doing this with women of genius. It’s why such a big deal is made of Stein/Toklas because we don’t see this kind of literary collaboration very often. Funny how I thought about that, because the whole myth was not true. Wow! Just double bow wow!!

    We are still struggling to just get the facts right on women’s lives that we think we all know!!!

    We can take a close look at all women who really achieve within a women’s community, or within lesbian relationships…. we can think of the intellectual power of female collaboration. I know that is the model I used in my relationship with my partner…we looked to the lesbian community of Paris at that time for inspiration… especially in the days when there was no powerful public lesbian movement or even lesbian role models for us. And now, decades later, we are seeing the rewards of this collaboration.

    What is always sad to me is the decades women waste on relationships with men that get us nowhere…. especially the early dynamic years –20s 30s… wasted time dating in high school, wasted college years… and the deadly “choice” of living with the very people who are going to undermine a great intellectual adventure that both Stein and Mary Daly and Jan Raymond, and so many others went on.

    You cannot have this intellectual adventure with your oppressor, and the more we find out the truth of who Leonard really was, the more we gain insights into this whole process. Just the ignorance of male sexual abuse of girls is proof enough, and how those men thought about that.

    If women and girls were given all the support we needed to become great, and no men or boys were allowed into this process, just imagine!

  25. Karmarad, I think he just ground her down, basically. Her mum died when she was 13, so even though she had her sister and lover, and friends, I think she was just stuck in an age where divorcing your husband was just not the done thing and she felt she’d better make the best of it.
    THere is *still* a lot of shame surrounding divorce today. And back then, everybody would have “known” the divorce had taken place because of her “,madness”, and because she was unbearable to live with. Who knows, maybe he actually threatened to get her committed to an asylum like her sister, Laura, if she rocked the boat. Stranger things have happened…

  26. Chilling comments Cherry… yeah, stranger things have happened. I ordered the book btw; thanks for telling us all about it.

  27. A man commented on this post, something along the lines of “What about all the happy marriages out there…!?”

    As if this post was about bad vs good marriages, or even about Leonard.

    It was not.

    Although it’s plain to see that her marriage killed her, the post was not “about” that.
    It was about Virginia Woolf’s LIfe and Death, It was about *her* life and Leonard just happened to have been part of it (and got a large mention because of his role in trying to destroy *her*, not because there was anything intrinsically interesting or important about him per se.)

    When will these men get it? When will they understand that radical feminism is not *about* *them* at all?? It’s about women.
    They’ll never, ever get it.
    Never in a million years will a man be able to comprehend radical feminism.

  28. Radical feminism is about women; it is about women being central to a political philosophy. Virginia Woolf’s life and death decribed in this blog is about her artistic vision, and the obstacles she faced to achieve this in the Victorian age.
    It is not reall “about” Leonard at all, it is simply trying to get at the truth of who Virginia Woolf really was, and getting at the truth of what women’s lives are really like under patriarchy.

    It is very hard to find out how women are oppressed by men, because this oppression is hidden in individual homes. It’s why patriarchy is such a deeply insideous world wide system of oppression, because it occurs in the home, because men lie about their families, because Virginia’s success seems to be despite Leonard’s creepiness…this disrupts the patriarchal narrative construced around Leonard.

    No, men can’t possible understand the true intent of radical feminism, because it always has to be about men. Since this philosophy is not in any way about men, they aren’t a part of it. So they feel they have to make comments about “good marriages and bad marriages” when we are talking about the life of Virginia Woolf the feminist.

    It’s why women only space is such an issue, because in women only space IRL and on blogs will not be derailed on the male train of thought.

  29. I love Virginia Woolf. Great article!

    “It’s why women only space is such an issue, because in women only space IRL and on blogs will not be derailed on the male train of thought.”

    Nice, SheilaG! Could not agree more.

  30. Brilliant piece, CBL. Thank you.

    I’ve seen the movie, “The Hours” and was suspicious of Leonard from the moment I saw it. Up until then, I never gave much thought to Leonard as I was focused on Virginia’s life and work. But even in the movie, Leonard creeped me out. Things just seemed “off” and didn’t ring true. Even in the movie, Virginia seemed to be isolated and imprisoned against her will.

    Virginia’s “madness” also triggered a memory of another female writer who was diagnosed as “mad.” Coincidence she lived in the same time period as Virginia Woolf? I don’t believe in coincidences. I’m talking about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife, Zelda. Zelda was a better writer and more successful than her husband. So her husband and the doctors said she was “mad” and committed her to an asylum, where she later died in a fire. After reading Phyllis Chesler’s book, “Women and Madness,” I’ve come to realize this was a very common practice in those days. To punish women for being more creative, successful and more well-liked than their husbands. It was also a common practice to claim women were mad and commit them when their husbands had other sexual interests and wanted their wives out of the way. So I’m a bit suspicious of Virginia’s “madness.”

    Which brings us to Virginia’s suicide. Suicide by drowning? It’s not a very common way for folks to commit suicide. For one thing, it’s a very painful way to die, with the lungs and throat burning and the body feeling like it’s being stabbed with a thousand knives. For another, the body resists drowning. It thrashes and fights it. Which is why folks have to weight their bodies down. A pocketful of rocks isn’t going to do it. Also, her body wasn’t discovered for about 3 weeks. It seemed to me, Leonard was like a booger Virginia couldn’t shake off her finger and Leonard didn’t let his meal ticket out of his sight for very long. So why did it take 3 weeks to find her body? So I’d have to say Virginia’s suicide is highly suspicious. Especially since Leonard had a thing for another woman. Whatever the case, death seemed to be the only way Virginia could escape that gyn-energy sucking vampire.

  31. Thanks Luckynkl,
    Didn’t know it was three weeks until they found the body. That is very suspicious indeed. Sounds like our Leonard did not panic one little bit upon finding his wife did not return one evening… Very sinister.
    But the kudos for this article really has to go to Irene Coates, not me!


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