Author's Diction~Vipin Behari Goyal: Virginia Woolf : The Unsolved Mystery of Her Death

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Virginia Woolf : The Unsolved Mystery of Her Death

This is not A Hat and A Stick


It was as usual a dull afternoon of April 1941. Under a bridge in Southease children were playing Hide and Seek discovered a washed up dead body of a woman. It could not be identified immediately due to putrefaction. There was no missing complaint in the record of Police. Rodmell is a small village and civil parish in the Lewes District of East Sussex in England. Virginia Woolf and her husband Leonard Woolf bought a weather boarded cottage in 1919. Her sister Vanessa also lived in a nearby farmhouse.




The Monk House, which was once lively with spirited intellectuals like T. S. Eliot and E. M. Forster was now wrapped up in dead silence. Bloomsbury Group deeply mourned the sudden demise of their beloved member.

Associated Press made an official announcement “Mrs. Woolf’s body found” on 19 April confirming that she was drowned in the river Ouse three weeks earlier. The body was decomposed and flesh was eaten by fishes. A hat and cane were discovered at some distance above, upstream on the bank of the river. They were identified to belong to Virginia Woolf. Her house was also in proximity to the place where hat and stick were discovered. It was not an accident, she had committed suicide.

“April is the cruellest month” said T.S.Eliot in the opening line of his much admired poem "The Wasteland". No doubt it took away one of the most admired scholars of the twentieth century.


Virginia Woolf: An Evening walk with Hat and Stick

A letter addressed to her husband was recovered which proved her intention to commit suicide, but no investigation was held. Her husband was a powerful politician in the Village Rodmell and played an important role in the society of the village.
What happens in the four walls of “a room of one’s own” is nobodies guess.

"A woman makes her house a work of art in which the very walls are permeated by her creative force."

The backyard of her house had two Elm trees. They were intertwined like a romantic couple in embrace. One tree was strong and dominating than other. Virginia called them "Leonard and Virginia" in satire perhaps. Her remains were buried under the tree and the epitaph reads

Against you I fling myself
unvanquished and unyielding
O Death ! the waves broke on the shore

These lines are taken from her novel "The Waves".

Who can read her suicide note without a turmoil and pang in the heart.

One cannot believe it is written by the same woman who advocated equality of men and women working together for a common cause. Men and women must make willing emotional acknowledgement of each other as individuals. Mrs. Dalloway and Mrs. Ramsay of Three Guineas created on the bank of Ouse in the wooden cottage were reflections of ‘those terrible times’ she mentioned in her suicide note.

“Dearest, I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier ’til this terrible disease came. 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.”

Virginia Woolf, Feminism,A room of one's own

There is excessive gratitude in the suicide note. Does a wife need to be so much grateful to her husband for spending happy time together. Is it only she who has a happy time or it is a happy time together.

Every happiness has a subtle streak of melancholy, but here it is so obvious. Many members of the Bloomsbury Group discard the theory that Virginia suffered from nervous breakdown. They found her ‘enormous fun’.

Her lesbian friend Vita said “I am reduced to a thing that wants Virginia.” In a letter Virginia once wrote to Vita “I am in bed making up stories about you.” Such loveable creatures do not pass away or just melt into thin air, the truth and reality pop on surface as chaotic impressions in triviality and ordinary day event of life, as she was discovered by playing children.

Some of her relatives believed and even confessed that it was better if her body was never recovered.

We look before and after,
And pine for what is not:
Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught:
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.
(To a Skylark ~P. B. Shelley)

A ‘luminous halo’ was extinguished. No ashes, No embers, No wailing.

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© Vipin Behari Goyal
Advocate, Rajasthan High Court, Jodhpur, India