Virginia Woolf’s Suicide Letter and Its Merciless Misinterpretation within the Media – The Marginalian

On March 28, 1941, shortly after the devastating daybreak of WWII, Virginia Woolf (January 25, 1882–March 28, 1941) stuffed her overcoat pockets with rocks and walked into the River Ouse behind her home by no means to emerge alive. A relapse of the all-consuming despair she had narrowly escaped in her youth had lastly claimed her life. She left behind a outstanding physique of labor — from her poignant diaries to her magnificent essays to her little-known kids’s books to “the longest and most charming love letter in literature” — and a cohort of heartbroken mates, however essentially the most stirring factor she left behind was her suicide letter to her husband Leonard:


I really feel sure I’m going mad once more. I really feel we are able to’t undergo one other of these horrible occasions. And I shan’t recuperate this time. I start to listen to voices, and I can’t focus. So I’m doing what appears the perfect factor to do. You will have given me the best attainable happiness. You will have been in each method all that anybody may very well be. I don’t suppose two individuals might have been happier until this horrible illness got here. I can’t combat any longer. I do know that I’m spoiling your life, that with out me you can work. And you’ll I do know. You see I can’t even write this correctly. I can’t learn. What I need to say is I owe all of the happiness of my life to you. You will have been fully affected person with me and extremely good. I need to say that — all people is aware of it. If anyone might have saved me it could have been you. Every thing has gone from me however the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer.

I don’t suppose two individuals might have been happier than we’ve got been.

What made the letter particularly heartbreaking, nonetheless, wasn’t simply that it embodied so excruciatingly modernity’s tragic epidemic but additionally that its destiny mirrored the ugliest facets of media and journalism. In Afterwords: Letters on the Dying of Virginia Woolf (public library), scholar Sybil Oldfield notes that after Woolf’s letter was made public, members of the British press took it upon themselves to bestow upon the beloved writer a final judgment — a painfully ungenerous one. On April 27, a month after Woolf’s loss of life, The Sunday Instances ran the next self-righteous evisceration by a Mrs. Kathleen Hicks, spouse of the Bishop of Lincoln:

Sir, — I learn in your problem of Sunday final that the coroner on the inquest on Mrs. Virginia Woolf stated that she was “undoubtedly way more delicate than most individuals to the final beastliness of issues occurring on this planet to-day.” What proper has anybody to make such an assertion?

If he actually stated this, he belittles those that are hiding their agony of thoughts, struggling bravely and carrying on unselfishly for the sake of others. Many individuals, probably much more “delicate,” have misplaced their all and seen appalling happenings, but they take their half nobly on this combat for God in opposition to the satan.

The place are our beliefs of affection and religion? And what we could all be if we hearken to and sympathize with this form of “I can’t keep on?”

Mrs. Hicks’s beliefs of affection and religion, apparently, didn’t embrace empathy. Upon studying this, Leonard Woolf was so appalled that he instantly despatched to the newspaper an emotionally charged fact-check rebuttal:

I really feel that I mustn’t silently enable to stay on report that Virginia Woolf dedicated suicide as a result of she couldn’t face the “horrible occasions” by way of which all of us are going. For this isn’t true… Then newspapers give her phrases as:

“I really feel I can’t go on any longer in these horrible occasions.”

This isn’t what she wrote: the phrases which she wrote are:

“I really feel that I’m going mad once more. I really feel we are able to’t undergo one other of these horrible occasions.”

She had had a psychological breakdown about twenty-five years in the past; the previous signs started to return about three weeks earlier than she took her life, and he or she felt that this time she wouldn’t recuperate. Like everybody else, she felt the final pressure of the warfare, and the return of her sickness was partly resulting from that pressure. However the phrases of her letter and the whole lot which she has ever stated show that she took her life, not as a result of she couldn’t “keep on,” however as a result of she felt she was going mad once more and wouldn’t this time recuperate.

However, devastatingly, even Leonard’s rebuttal, too, was twisted out of context. Printed beneath the already deceptive headline “I Can’t Carry On” — the then-version of clickbait — the article changed the phrase “these horrible occasions,” Virginia’s reference to her first acute bout of despair in her youth, with “these horrible occasions,” altering the that means utterly and making it a reference to World Battle II, an interpretation that aligned fairly conveniently with the media’s spin of Woolf’s suicide as an act of unpatriotic cowardice fairly than a private tragedy. To make issues much more lamentable, the Instances reprinted the misquotation a number of days later — the then-version of reblogging or retweeting with out crucial evaluation and fact-checking. Comparable assaults, a few of which had been even unleashed on Woolf’s posthumously revealed work, continued within the press for greater than a 12 months.

The incident is especially unsettling for 2 causes: At its root is a testomony to what a merciless and indiscriminate predator despair is, able to consuming even humanity’s best minds, but the uncompassionate response illustrates simply how poorly we perceive the situation. Above all, nonetheless, embedded within the media’s therapy of Virginia’s suicide is a grotesque reminder that the one factor extra morally repugnant than passing judgment on one other human being’s non-public battle and internal world — than selecting self-righteousness over compassionate understanding — is doing so publicly, particularly as a foreign money of tabloidism. What a spectacular failing of the notice that it’s much more rewarding to grasp than to be proper. One can solely hope this consciousness has advanced for us, each as a tradition and as people, since Woolf’s time.

Afterwords is a transferring learn in its entirety — pattern it with these letters of condolence from a few of Woolf’s well-known mates, together with T.S. Eliot, Edith Sitwell, E.M. Foster, Elizabeth Bowen, and H.G. Wells, then see Patti Smith’s transferring remembrance of Virginia.

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