Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf ?

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)

I’m not thinking of the famous movie but of the author.  Like my grandmothers, she lost her own mother at a young age.  I was encouraged to read her book “To The Lighthouse” by Jean Houston when I attended a week long Salon at her home in Ashland Oregon.  There is an element of her personal story to speaks to that loss of a mother.

Virginia Woolf was concerned about the injustice of patriarchal domination of women, the horrors of incest, the consequence of a social system which places no value on educating women and the astonishing liberation of moving from acceptance of a Victorian sentimental notion of marriage to easy and tolerant attitudes toward sexuality.

She was a genius at conveying inner experience.  At age 25, she wrote a set of reminiscences for her sister’s child, though it is actually a memoir of her childhood and adolescence.  In it, she sets out to convey how the death of her mother when she was twelve affected the family.

Shortly after her mother’s death, Woolf became violently emotionally ill – hearing voices, physically violent, racked by physical pain, unable to sleep or rest. Neither her half brother’s forced physical intimacy or her bout of insanity – form any part of the story of her coming of age.

In “A Sketch of the Past” (written when Woolf was 60 yrs old) she speaks more directly.  Her stepbrother’s abuse gave her such a fear of male sexuality that she had another breakdown and was in a nursing home for a long spell.

Finally, she retrieved her self-confidence enough to take up her writing career, and even marry, though she remained sexually frigid.  Woolf went on to write some of the strongest feminist fiction and nonfiction to be produced in the twentieth century.  She became an icon of the liberated female consciousness – sensitive, ironic, detached, capable of profound human insight because she embodied the androgynous blending of reason and intuition.

Woolf would have insisted that human affairs are much more complex than the confessional autobiography suggests.

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