Sisters Virginia Woolf & Vanessa Bell – Pens, Brushes, Presses, and Minds of Their Own. Part 1 of 3

Sisters Virginia (Woolf) and Vanessa (Bell) Stephens:

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(Click on the images if you wish to view them individually or larger.)

“Spring” painting by Vanessa Bell:

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Virginia Woolf:

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Vanessa Bell:

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“Interior with a Table” 1921, by Vanessa Bell:

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Vanessa Bell:

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Vanessa Bell, a pacifist, urged her son not to go to war.   Here is a letter she wrote to him on October 10th, 1936:

“I understood your wanting to go and see what war was like . . . only I do think nearly all war is madness.  It’s destruction and not creation, and it’s mad to destroy the best things and people in the world, if one can anyhow avoid it.  You object to cutting down trees.  Isn’t war that, a million times worse?”

He later died in the Spanish Civil War. 

Vanessa Bell on Wikipedia

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One of Vanessa Bell’s portraits of Virginia Woolf:

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While I am troubled by some of Virginia Woolf’s philosophies, I admire both her independent and artistic spirits.  Her feminist and self-supportive ideas about an artist being enabled by having a room of one’s own, a place to create, a shelter, with the necessary financial and social support to do so – is worth consideration.  And to her credit, her famous title of “A Room of One’s Own” is gender neutral – expressing the importance of a peaceful and supportive place to create, important for all artists, male or female.

Virginia Woolf:

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Virginia Woolf on Wikipedia

Virginia Woolf’s handwriting in a 1921 letter to Katherine Mansfield, where she writes:  “It seems to me very important that women should learn to write.”

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Virginia Woolf’s writing table (a portable laptop of sorts):

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Here is an excellent Smith College collection of Woolf’s artifacts:

http://www.smith.edu/libraries/libs/rarebook/exhibitions/penandpress/index.htm

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A Room of One’s Own:

Vanessa Bell’s cover design for Virginia Woolf’s essay “A Room of One’s Own:”

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Any artist can publish their own work, and many of the best artists, like Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell, have initially published their own work to overcome cultural prejudices against what they had to say.

A Room of One’s Own on Wikipedia

Here are the complete essays:

http://etext.library.adelaide.edu.au/w/woolf/virginia/w91r/

Excerpts from “A Room of One’s Own:”  (Bolded emphasis added by me.)

“a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”

“But for women, I thought, looking at the empty shelves, these difficulties were infinitely more formidable.  In the first place, to have a room of her own, let alone a quiet room or a sound–proof room, was out of the question, unless her parents were exceptionally rich or very noble, even up to the beginning of the nineteenth century.  Since her pin money, which depended on the goodwill of her father, was only enough to keep her clothed, she was debarred from such alleviations as came even to Keats or Tennyson or Carlyle, all poor men, from a walking tour, a little journey to France, from the separate lodging which, even if it were miserable enough, sheltered them from the claims and tyrannies of their families.  Such material difficulties were formidable; but much worse were the immaterial. The indifference of the world which Keats and Flaubert and other men of genius have found so hard to bear was in her case not indifference but hostility.  The world did not say to her as it said to them, Write if you choose; it makes no difference to me.  The world said with a guffaw, Write? What’s the good of your writing? . . . For surely it is time that the effect of discouragement upon the mind of the artist should be measured”

“For though we say that we know nothing about Shakespeare’s state of mind, even as we say that, we are saying something about Shakespeare’s state of mind.  The reason perhaps why we know so little of Shakespeare—compared with Donne or Ben Jonson or Milton—is that his grudges and spites and antipathies are hidden from us.  We are not held up by some ‘revelation’ which reminds us of the writer.  All desire to protest, to preach, to proclaim an injury, to pay off a score, to make the world the witness of some hardship or grievance was fired out of him and consumed.  Therefore his poetry flows from him free and unimpeded.  If ever a human being got his work expressed completely, it was Shakespeare.  If ever a mind was incandescent, unimpeded, I thought, turning again to the bookcase, it was Shakespeare’s mind.”

“That one would find any woman in that state of mind in the sixteenth century was obviously impossible.  One has only to think of the Elizabethan tombstones with all those children kneeling with clasped hands; and their early deaths;  and to see their houses with their dark, cramped rooms, to realize that no woman could have written poetry then.”

Jane Austen wrote like that to the end of her days.  ‘How she was able to effect all this’, her nephew writes in his Memoir, ‘is surprising, for she had no separate study to repair to, and most of the work must have been done in the general sitting–room, subject to all kinds of casual interruptions.  She was careful that her occupation should not be suspected by servants or visitors or any persons beyond her own family party.   Jane Austen hid her manuscripts or covered them with a piece of blotting–paper.  Then, again, all the literary training that a woman had in the early nineteenth century was training in the observation of character, in the analysis of emotion.  Her sensibility had been educated for centuries by the influences of the common sitting–room.  People’s feelings were impressed on her; personal relations were always before her eyes.”

“Give her another hundred years, I concluded, reading the last chapter—people’s noses and bare shoulders showed naked against a starry sky, for someone had twitched the curtain in the drawing–room—give her a room of her own and five hundred a year, let her speak her mind . . .”

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Virginia Woolf:

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Virginia Woolf:

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Virginia Woolf:

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Here is a feminist bookstore named after Woolf’s famous essay:

http://www.roomofonesown.com/NASApp/store/IndexJsp

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“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.” – Dead Poets Society.

“A Room of One’s Own” 3 Post Series: 1 2 3

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Most Recent Artworks   All the Artists’ Artworks Index   my43things

41 thoughts on “Sisters Virginia Woolf & Vanessa Bell – Pens, Brushes, Presses, and Minds of Their Own. Part 1 of 3

  1. Outstanding post. I never knew her sister was such a talented artist, though I believe I had encountered Vanessa Bell’s name before.

    Curiosity prompts me to wonder which of her philosophies you disagree with.

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  2. Pingback: Morgensdagens Heltinder » Rollemodeller og ligestillingsdebat - lidt inspiration og provokation

  3. Virginia and Vannessa were much photographed..so they knew they were beautiful, and age was cruel as always to their lovely features. There is a lot about Vannessa we did not know. Too bad no one talks more about her and her heroic son who joined the partisans against Franco in the Spanish Civil War.

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  4. What fortune to stumble upon this lovely paean to these two extraordinary sisters. Seeing these photographs of Virginia and some of Vanessa’s artwork and words together like this is a delight. I thank you!

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    OneMoreOption: Thank you for the kind feedback Jeri.

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  5. I am reading VW’s diaries which I highly recommend. Love seeing these photos blown up big, have only seen small ones. Thanks for the pics and links.

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  6. I have been reading the letters & diaries of VW for many many years, it’s an obsession. Also Lytton Strachey’s letters. Also later in my studies discovered Leonard Woolf, who is a terrible nice soul, very pleasing in all senses of the word. I wonder where VW would have been without Leonard by her side. Enjoyed this site.

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    OneMoreOption: Very interesting. I have not read Leonard Woolf. Thank you for the feedback.

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  7. “to her credit, her famous title of “A Room of One’s Own” is gender neutral – expressing the importance of a peaceful and supportive place to create, important for all artists, male or female.”

    Why ‘to her credit’? A Room of One’s Own is explicitly feminist. I don’t see how any other interpretation is possible. The point she makes abundantly clear is that men have – and have always had – a ‘room of their own’. It is a disservice to water down her polemic into MRA slush.

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    OneMoreOption: If you have a complaint about the pronoun she chose for her title, your argument may not be with me. And if you think she didn’t carefully consider other possible pronouns for the title of her book, you may not be giving her intelligence the credit she may deserve.

    Also, your implied definition of feminism is somewhat anti-male, which suggests a type of old feminism I thought had come and gone some time ago. “Feminism” as a term is often assumed to be anti-male, but if you read feminist literature broadly and contemporarily, its aims are often to address all gender, class, religious, age, and other stereotypical group biases, not simply discrimination against women.

    “Feminism” is a broad term, meaning many different things to many different people. Alice Walker prefers to call herself a “Womanist,” partly for reasons of not wishing to take on all the associations and luggage that come with the term “Feminism.” She prefers to define herself.

    And so did Virginia. She prefered to define herself. That’s what she wanted – for everyone, particularly women, to be able to define themselves.

    I do not know what the term “MRA” means, but if you’d like to pass along excerpts of “A Room of One’s Own” that suggest female-exclusive positions (to the exclusion of males) that support your position, I’d be happy to review and discuss them.

    Thank you for your interested and passionate dialogue.

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      • WOW~ I just found my family. I live in the U.S. and have “pieces” that now fill the puzzle. So poetry and design is hereditary and comes so easily for me.

        Whoever put all of this up on the Internet… I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart!

        Stephanie Bell~ born 1965.

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        OneMoreOption: Fascinating.

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  8. Virginia Woolf had MDD Recurrent, Severe With Mood-Congruent Psychotic Features With Full Interepisodal Recovery until she died, which isn’t quite recovery, but until then yes.

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  9. I do not know the work of Virginia Woolf, or Vanessa Bell, but I happened to run across their picture on the internet and was drawn to looking into both of them further. There picture is timeless, and somehow I have known them, or them me. It is unexplainable, so none will be tried, other than I need to look further and find the answer. Till the connection is found I will post no more and will be lost somewhere in time.

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    OneMoreOption: Thank you John.

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  10. Absolutely beautiful! The content and pictures are a tribute to both Virginia and Vanessa.
    However Virginia did class herself as a feminist, in the great tradition started by Mary Wollstonecraft, and chances are the reason ‘A Room of One’s Own’ was titled so is more likely to avoid unnecessary criticism than t avoid being sexist. Yes the feminism that is determined simply by woman’s rights is in the past, but Woolf was writing in that past, so it is present in all of her works.
    Anyway I don’t want to be dismissive of your page , it is just that Virginia Woolf has been the main topic of my study for years and I do think, like Zooeyibz, that seeing her arguments and texts as anything other than full confrontation of the issues and problems faced by women in the patriarchal society of the early twentieth century is ‘a watering down of her work’. Sorry!

    Either way, I love the page. Thanks.

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    OneMoreOption: Thank you for your contribution and criticism.

    I won’t repeat the arguments I made to the comment you are responding to above, because that discussion is already written above.

    But I want to emphasize that there can be a logical fallacy in assuming that “adding considerations” to a position is to “water down” that position. I didn’t suggest that Woolf was anti-women. I did suggest she may have been broader than simply “pro-woman.” To consider both women and men, and not just women, is not to “water down” the strength of her line of advocacy.

    One of the reasons modern feminism has become more inclusive of other discriminated against classes of people is because to be more inclusive is often to be more considerate. When advocacy groups start promoting their constituents’ interests to degrees that are inconsiderate or unfair toward other groups, they tend to lose their credibility, and they tend to lose support from members outside of their “select class.”

    Part of Woolf’s argument in “A Room Of One’s Own” is that men already have the time, privacy, money, cultural acceptability, and support to create artworks. They already have a room of their own. Woolf’s book focused on the argument that if women could have similar rights & opportunities, they could be far more creative and productive. But she doesn’t “water down” her arguments by excluding consideration of men or suggesting men should not have similar options.

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  11. i was always fascinated by virginia & vanessa & wanted to be like them.unfortunately, they are not among us but their memories will remain always with us in the form of their books which will always remind us about them.

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  12. I’ve interrupted my reading of Vanessa & Virginia, by Susan Sellers, to search for an image of Vanessa to hold in my mind’s eye, along with that of her more easily summoned sister. I can return happily to my reading now, and I thank you very sweetly.

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    OneMoreOption: It’s all good.

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  13. I also looked for pictures after reading Vanessa and Virginia by Sellers. Thanks for the poignant pics.

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    OneMoreOption: Thank you.

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  14. I would never read her stuff being a man , but I will admitt she was brilliant. It brings to mind the books we read in high school which I don’t think were good choices. There was too much psycology. I’m thinking that great essays written by brilliant people are better suited and a more fair choice for educating young minds.

    I would also say that there is something very appealing about the person who struggles against the norms. You almost wish you were in their position.

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  15. In ‘Virginia Woolf’s Women’ by Vanessa Curtis, a chapter is devoted to her sister Vanessa (Bell). Googling brought me to this website with its nice photos, and also a reproduction of the three paintings Vanessa made of her sister, which are described by Curtis. I’d love to see the other two.

    On my website I discuss work of Virginia Woolf (in Dutch).

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    omo: Thank you for the information.

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  16. Thank you for this site – I am just starting my research on the sisters, in preparation for a UK touring production of ‘Vanessa and Virginia’ which I am directing, a new play by Elizabeth Wright, based on the novel (of the same name) by Susan Sellers. I shall be following up all these useful links and suggestions, and if anyone is interested, can post information in the coming months about the show. This will open in September 2010, and tour a variety of theatre spaces, conferences and universities for over a year. Looking to stage a performance at Charleston perhaps too…

    Thanks again – Emma Gersch

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  17. Thank you very much for this page: in particular, for a number of images I hadn’t seen before.

    To anyone with an interest in learning more about the life and thoughts of Virginia Woolf I can thoroughly recommend “Mrs Woolf and the Servants” by Alison Light.

    A couple of review comments which sum up this work: “A scintillating meeting of biography, social history and literary criticism” (The Observer); “An absorbing investigation, serious, radical and feminist in its politics, entertaining in its delivery” (The Independent).

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  18. Virginia was a singular artist, who suffered from a nasty illness, which cannot be diagnosed now. She is of an age and culture that we living 100 years later can only reconstruct. I’m reading her bio by Hermione Lee, very comprehensive, which gives insight into her life, family, relationships, illness, loves etc. yet all that matters is her writing. Just go read “Mrs. Dalloway” or “Orlando” and leave the pigeon holing, didacticism alone and revel in her genius.

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  19. As you have all noted Vanessa was an accomplished artist. Not enough credit has been given to the women who kept the Omega Workshops together and running. For more photographs of Vanessa (and interesting Victorian connect-the-dots relationship game) see

    http://venetianred.net/2008/06/23/eminent-victorians-part-i/

    And for more on the Omega Workshops (including Vanessa’s paintings see

    http://venetianred.net/2009/07/17/venetian-red-notebook-the-art-of-reading-and-writing-in-bloomsbury/

    and

    http://venetianred.net/2009/12/16/winifred-gill-and-the-omega-workshops/

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  20. a curious person? apparently there was too much “psycology” in your school, but you ought to “admitt” there wasnt enough spelling. The notion that there is is nothing for a man in Virgina Woolf’s writing, a conclusion you apparently felt comfortable in reaching without reading a word, is appallingly ignorant. I was also puzzled by the author of the piece’s choice of words in the initial post and conflicted views on VW. Why, after several defensive replies, has the author still not answered the first question asked, namely “Which of Miss Woolf’s philosophies does he or she find so troubling”. I’m also a little interested in what the author thinks is so threatening and exclusionary about her essays, i personally find them brilliant and entirely appropriate. Considering the vast weight, prejudice and power women of her time faced I’m not entirely sure which philosophies of hers are troubling or threatening to us nearly a hundred years later. Apparently you have answered Edward Albee’s question at last though. ‘Tis you.

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    • Hi Dutch.

      Yes, I agree it is ignorant for a person to criticize something they have not read. That person has figuratively notified everyone they have stuck their foot in their mouth from the start.

      As far as your petty critique of “curious person’s” spelling – welcome to the world of internet comments. Before you throw too many stones at others’ spelling, you might check to see if your punctuation and writing “is is” without fault.

      In response to your and gingermiss’ implied question of: “Which of Miss Woolf’s philosophies does he or she find so troubling [sic].”

      I don’t agree with Woolf’s rationales (philosophical reasonings) for killing herself. Here is a loose outline of her apparent philosophical reasoning as she explained it in her last note to her husband:

      “I can’t fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can’t even write this properly. I can’t read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that — everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer. I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been. V.”

      Not knowing what clinical depression or other mental or physiological disorders she was dealing with (that may have disabled her better philosophies) I find fault with her reasoning as written above. Whether or not her reasoning was a by-product of some other mental or physical ailment, I have philosophical differences with her on concepts of love, life, and happiness as she stated them above.

      You then go on to assert I suggested her essays were threatening or exclusionary. That’s not an accurate summary of my assessment of her essays. I’ve never said they were threatening, but I suspect most feminist essays are/were threatening to most/many men in her era – often an excellent attribute of her writing.

      And I’m not someone who has suggested her work was primarily exclusionary (advocating special rights for one gender not to be enjoyed by another). It’s other commenters who have suggested she was advocating exclusionary or preferential advantages for one gender that were not to be equally enjoyed by the other gender.

      For readers who don’t immediately understand the reference to Edward Albee’s question, it’s an allusion to his famous play’s title: “Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?”

      Edward Albee on Wikipedia

      To have philosophical or other differences with someone is not to necessarily be afraid of them. For example, a person who disapproves of or disagrees with homosexual behavior is not necessarily homophobic.

      Woolf is important for many reasons. She spoke her mind when what she had to say was important, dangerous, and unpopular.

      Dutch, your reading interpretation and writing skills above are poor and overbearing. Too often, you made incorrect or overreaching inferences.

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  21. A philosophy you may disagree with, but truly a letter I have many times wished I had the courage to write to my wife. A loss will ease with time, but a tragedy lasts until its end.

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    OneMoreOption: First, thank you for taking the time to read so many comments from so many people.

    I’m sorry for whatever you are struggling with, and I hope you will find paths or methods to get to a place you perceive might be less tragic or drastic.

    I do get tired of people misusing the terms “courage” & “bravery.”

    Bill Maher famously said something to the effect that the 9/11 hijackers who chose a suicidal path of flying a plane of innocent people into a building, killing thousands of innocent people were “brave.”

    You can’t throw around terms like “courage” or “brave” without equally weighing and considering the philosophical and moral components.

    That an action has severe risks and a person undertakes that action does not cause that action to be brave or courageous – not in the full meaning of either of those terms.

    Terms like “bravery”, “courage”, and “kindness” inhernently require a person to consider the well-being and likely effects of actions on all the parties involved.

    Is it brave for a meat butcher to cut the head off of a chicken?

    No. The act may be risk-intense. The butcher may lose a fingertip and the chicken will lose its head, but the action is neither brave nor courageous.

    In my understanding of the term “courage,” a person cannot be courageous without correctly assessing the risks and effects of their actions and then choosing to undertake a course of action that is both risky and toward the benefit of something more than just herself or himself.

    To choose a path of suicide, in the absence of unremedial and severe physical pain being suffered by yourself or others, is never courageous – especially if it does nothing to alleviate the physical pain. If the pains are mental, social, religious, or political, then choosing to remove yourself from using positive methods to remedy the inequities and pains would be an action that is the opposite of courageous and brave.

    It could be argued that choosing to kill yourself is within your rights. And maybe everyone should have the choice to end their own existence and effects on this world. But in that kind of suicide, there’s no courage involved. It may be an act of self-definition, an ending of a perceived suffering, or many other things. In that kind of circumstance, someone is also choosing to stop their ability to do any kind of good for anyone else but themeself – they are shutting down. They are not being brave.

    So, if we look at Albee’s question: “Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?” and choose to interpret it as asking: “‘Who’s afraid of the writings of someone who eventually killed herself?” Some people might fear Woolf’s writings and publication. But not me. Nobody is “right” about everything, and Woolf still had plenty of good things to do and say before she turned herself off.

    As far as trying to distinguish the distinctions between a “tragedy” and a “loss” – good luck with that – both can have effects that are never-ending. Often a tragedy that exists when a suicide occurs is that the person killing themself incorrectly perceives the loss will be temporary.

    Virginia Woolf’s suicide, like most suicides, suggests the losses and negative effects that result when someone kills themself last much longer than the person killing themself likely perceives. I’d wager that if she’d had the courage, social understanding, and wisdom to stick around, she would have had a few more good ideas to write and leave behind.

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  22. Thought you might be interested to know that the play of Susan Sellers’ novel ‘Vanessa and Virginia’ is currently in rehearsal. I will pass on the link to your site.

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  23. I started out by googling famous last words, and from that, famous last words found in suicide notes, (what we do when we have an evening on our hands!), and after reading those of VW, I stumbled upon this fascinating site. I learned that Virginia feared she was going mad again. She had already heard voices in her head, and had lost all sense of reality, and when this condition returned, and she also found that she could not read or write any more, she no longer had a raison d’etre, and felt that she would be doing her husband a favour by departing. I don’t think we can suggest that she was being uncourageous by ending her own life, when she was obviously going through hell. I hope my punctuation and grammar are up to scratch.

    I’d be interested to know just where the play ‘Vanessa and Virginia’ will be playing, or maybe I’ve missed it already!
    Charleston is in the US though… What lovely photos. Thank you.

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  24. @a curious person:

    Why do you use your gender as justification for not reading Woolf? If you don’t feel like reading her, then don’t read her. But don’t be asinine and use your gender as an excuse. And by choosing not to read her, you subsequently give up any right to form an opinion of her merits as a writer. Personally, I think you are losing out by not reading her, but that’s your choice.

    @one more option:

    To say that Woolf’s justification for killing herself in her suicide note to her husband is a “philosophy” you disagree with strikes me as one of the most absurd things I have ever seen. The majority of Woolf scholars now agree that she suffered from some form of mental illness–from what I have read, bipolar disorder/manic depressive disorder appear the most likely candidate. Suicidal urges resulting from a mental illness hardly constitutes a “philosophy”–hell, it’s rarely (if ever) a choice. As someone who is close to people who suffer from mental illness AND as someone who has had loved ones kill themselves from undiagnosed mental illness AND as someone who suffers from mental illness himself, I know that of which I speak. So believe me when I say that if scholars are right about Woolf and she did genuinely suffer from a mental illness (along with other great artists such as Tchaikovsky and Van Gogh), her decision to kill herself was not based on a “philosophy” at all–and to insist it was is simply callous and ignorant.

    Second, I’m sorry, but feminism–while equal rights is an important component of it–is much more ardently about being “pro-woman” than anything else. Feminism is about so much more than arguing for the dignity and fair treatment of all, or as you put it, “its aims are often to address all gender, class, religious, age, and other stereotypical group biases, not simply discrimination against women.” Like the name implies (it is derived from the Latin word for “woman”, after all) it IS about women’s issues. I have always thought that to be a feminist was to argue for the explicit lifting up of women and fighting against patriarchy. “A Room of One’s Own”–while not a perfect text by any means–argues for the amelioration of women’s position. It doesn’t say that men need a room of their own in order to successfully write. They have already had rooms of their own for centuries (well, men of a certain class, and in some cases, race–but that’s a set of arguments for another day). Her work is about ways to make WOMEN’S lives better. As a white, heterosexual male in America (and raised in a Christian household too), believe me, I KNOW the vast amounts of privilege that being in those categories bestow upon me. That is why feminism–REAL feminism that argues strongly for women’s position (mind you, women of all classes, ethnic backgrounds, creeds, races, and sexual orientations)–is necessary. Western society has made enormous strides since 1929, but there is still a long way to go.

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    OneMoreOption: Thank you Jay. I appreciate anyone who has strong ideas and takes time to express them. I will try to respond considerately. My opinion holds no more weight than yours. I’m just one more person.

    Having said that, people come here to explore complex ideas and to read critical analysis.

    Suicide And Mental Illness

    Your rationale above, as you’ve stated it currently, depends on the following premise: Most or all people who kill themselves do so not as a result of cognitive, philosophical, or reasoned choices, but rather primarily or solely as a result of suffering from some type of mental illness.

    Under your reasoning framework, “but for” the mental illness, most or all people would not kill themselves.

    You may be correct. I don’t know.

    But the lines between “cognitive reasoning errors” and “mental illness” are not as separate and distinct as some people may assume.

    And many people would disagree with your implied assertion, believing that some people who kill themselves are not mentally ill; rather, they kill themself in part or primarily from philosophical or reasoned positions.

    My belief is that cognitive, philosophical, religious, cultural, chemical, physiological, and mental factors can all contribute to a person’s decision to end their life.

    And I don’t presume that if someone has killed themself, then it was primarily the result of mental illness that led them to do actions they could not control. In many cases, mental illness may lead individuals to take self-harming actions they do not control. But I don’t always presume that was the primary factor.

    Unfortunately, there is no post-mortem autopsy that can be performed on anyone who has committed suicide. There is no effective way to research the dead to determine why they ended their existence. One of the horrors or frustrations of those who have had familiars kill themselves is the never-fully-answered question of: Why?

    But I think it would be a disservice to the deceaseds, to reasoning, and to science to always blame suicides on mental illness.

    Yes, it is commonly stated that scholars have speculated that Virginia Woolf suffered from different forms of mental illness. The question of: What environmental, genetic, cultural, familial, cognitive, philosophical, physiological, or other factors contributed to causing her possible mental illness? is a question that is speculative to investigate. There is too little data and too little ability to cross-check it.

    My purpose is stating I did not agree with her written “philosophical” reasoning process – as she expressed herself in her writing prior to death – is simply to examine the written rationales and to say I disagree with them. I was not saying she was not also suffering from mental illness(es). But I don’t choose to wildly speculate about illnesses I cannot verify. And if her illnesses led to her loss of clear reasoning, that is easy to concede.

    The primary point I want to make is: Don’t assume that if someone has committed suicide, then it must be because they were mentally ill. Mental illness may be a dominant factor in many or most cases, but not all. And further, some people may philosophically want to kill themselves – those people may or may not be mentally ill. Unfortunately, we don’t have a way of ever figuring out why.

    Take the young Rutgers homosexual student who recently jumped off a bridge after being outed by classmates who secretly filmed him and broadcast his homosexual make out session over the internet. We shouldn’t presume he was mentally ill. In his example, it would be cruel to presume he was mentally ill. Rather, other reasoning and philosophical factors more likely contributed to his decision. And if 80 years from now many scholars would like to paint him in a “mentally ill” light for whatever purposes, it will be primarily speculation and not scholarly or scientific analysis.

    I am sorry that you have had loved ones kill themself. I hear you that you suffer from mental illness. However, those two facts alone are insufficient to be an expert on suicide and mental illness. Those two facts alone are insufficient to make anyone capable of determining what factors led to Woolf to take actions to end her life.

    Suicide is terrible – in part because it leaves so many never-answerable questions. But we do not honor nor accurately characterize people who choose to commit suicide by assuming they were mentally ill and beyond self-determination.

    Feminism

    Feminism is not, as you say, “much more ardently about being ‘pro-woman’ than” it is about equal rights.

    Feminism is equally about being pro-woman and about promoting equal rights.

    I get fatigued from people trying to dumb down Virginia Woolf, making her into only “pro-woman” and not equally about “equal rights.”

    She didn’t title her book “A Room Of Her Own.” She didn’t aim the book to be read only by women for women. She appealed to both men and women, starting her arguments with the title “A Room Of One’s Own.” To promote understanding from men, she started from a perspective they could understand: For anyone to create, man or woman, they must have the time, money, space, support, etc.

    Her book is not, as many seem to want to imply, a diatribe on how women’s rights should be exalted above those of men. Woolf wasn’t stupid. She had no desire for men to be treated as a secondary class or consideration. Her arguments are not in pursuit of creating a class of men that are a lesser or subordinate class. She was a woman who knew what it was like to be treated as a woman in her culture. She knew what it was like to be treated as lower class. Her objective was not to be “pro-woman,” while being detrimental or inconsiderate of men.

    Interestingly, one of the common ways anti-feminists disparage feminism is to characterize it as only “pro-woman.”

    A Feminist can be pro-woman and pro-man. Feminism isn’t a football game where you have to only cheer or play for one team in order to promote your team.

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  25. I never said that all suicides are the result of mental illness or even that a suicide only results from mental illness. I said that Woolf suffered from mental illness (I have seen no convincing scholarly evidence showing otherwise). I also said that claiming that her decision to kill herself was a result of a “philosophy” she held was ridiculous. I still believe that. I absolutely acknowledge that “cognitive reasoning errors” and “mental illness” are not mutually exclusive. No argument there. My argument is that to say her decision to kill herself was the result of some kind of philosophical outlook of hers is wholly misguided. A mental illness of the nature of severe bipolar disorder can (and in my personal experience, DOES) impair the ability to make what the average person would consider rational and balanced decisions. Thus, if suffering from an extreme depressive episode as part of her illness, the likelihood of that influencing her decision to kill herself seems much higher than conforming to some philosophical outlook she held. A good idea of what severe bipolar disorder can do to impair decision-making abilities can be found in many places–I found the writings of Kay Redfield Jamison particularly helpful. “Touched With Fire” and “An Unquiet Mind” are excellent starting places.

    As for feminism, I absolutely agree that the feminist project is compatible with a broader fight for equal rights in general. Sorry if I cam across as saying that the two are incommensurable. It’s just that feminism, in my experience, is the part of the project of fighting for equal rights which EXPLICITLY concerns itself with women’s rights. It isn’t anti-male (while some individual feminists most certainly are). If a project argues for the rights of all, or equal rights across the board, that is perfectly compatible with feminism. But feminism is WAY more than that. It is a specific focus on women’s issues and women’s rights.

    One of the first feminist texts was Mary Wollstonecraft’s “Vindication of the Rights of Women”. She focuses almost exclusively on the plight of women in that text. Same with Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own.” The text is explicitly about women and their education and their ability to achieve success as writers in the way men have. It is most certainly not an anti-male text. But, on the other hand, it is concerned with raising the status of women. That is its overwhelmingly primary focus. I would hardly say it argues across the board for a general project of equal rights for all—that does not mean it is incompatible with such a task, just that it does not specifically address it.

    As far as the name goes, “A Room of One’s Own,” I have read some scholars who claim that Woolf chose that name as opposed to “A Room of Her Own” because Woolf did not want to be accused of being lesbian and have that distract people from her writing and the substance of the text (Susan Gubar is one such scholar who makes that argument, for example). Now, not having read whatever relevant excerpts from Woolf’s diaries and letters address the titling of the book, I cannot personally speak to that. I think it is important to bear in mind the genesis of “A Room of One’s Own”. Following the delivery of lectures about women in education and women’s relation to writing that she delivered in October 1928, Woolf decided the following year to write a longer manuscript which became “Women and Fiction” (parts of which appeared in essay form in the March 1929 issue of Forum, under the same title). After extensive revisions, “Women and Ficiton” was published as the book we now know as “A Room of One’s Own.” The manuscript of “Women and Fiction” was published in 1992 in book form by Blackwell Publishers as part of the Shakespeare Head Press Edition of the Works of Virginia Woolf, if you’re interested in tracking it down. Based on the original working title, and the subject matter itself, I think it is safe to say that Virginia Woolf’s feminism was very, very pro-woman. Not to the point of being anti-male, but to the point where she wanted the wrongs of WOMAN to be addressed. And I don’t see what makes any of this “dumbing down” Woolf. Being pro-woman, pro-man, or whatever seems to me to have nothing to do with intelligence. Even if one vehemently disagrees with what Woolf tries to accomplish with “A Room…” it’s still intelligently written.

    - – -

    OneMoreOption: Very well written. Very well said.

    I have no expertise or significant education on bipolar disorder.

    What she wrote and what she “chose” (if “chose” is the correct verb to use in such a likely altered state and context – as you have capably critiqued in order to highlight the important distinctions) to do in those final days was likely affected by her mental condition/illness. That makes practical sense and is very likely. I have at no point stated a position contrary to that assertion.

    I think the distinctions we’ve both highlighted add something to these related discussions and issues. I really appreciate the time, care, education, and experience you’ve provided for everyone to read and benefit from.

    Bipolar Disorder on Wikipedia

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