Virginia Woolf

The Tortured Life of Virginia Woolf, 75 Years After Her Death

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Is there a link between creativity and mental illness? My grandmother has always told me that there is a fine line between genius and madness, and even the Stanford Journal of Neuroscience [PDF] has delved into the prevalence of manic depressive disorder (or bipolar disorder) and schizophrenia among artists, noting a link between these altered mental states, creative thinking, and artistic production. For lived experiences, simply look to some of the most influential artists throughout history, many of whom based much of their work on the inner conflict brought on by mental illness, and some who eventually succumbed to those illnesses and took their own lives — Vincent Van Gogh, Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Plath, and Anne Sexton, just to name a few. One of those creative geniuses was Virginia Woolf, who committed suicide 75 years ago this month at the age of 59.

Virginia Woolf touched on the subject of mental illness in many of her books, we can assume by pulling from her own experiences with bipolar disorder that stemmed at least three mental breakdowns and numerous suicide attempts throughout her life. Her last attempt proved successful when on March 28, 1941, she filled the pockets of her overcoat with stones and walked into the River Ouse, drowning herself. Her last manuscript, Between the Acts, was finished just two weeks before her suicide and was published posthumously by the efforts of her surviving husband.

But there is so much more to Virginia Woolf than her suffering, and it can be debated for as long as there is psychology whether her mental illness was what informed her creativity and artistic production. One of the modernists of the Twentieth century, Woolf was a literary pioneer who earned accolades for her nonlinear, free prose style. The English writer and author of Mrs. Dalloway and A Room of One’s Own was also a pacifist and second-wave feminist.

Check out the story slideshow below for even more insight and intrigue about the life and works of the great Virginia Woolf, 75 years after her death.

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Check out The Tortured Life of Virginia Woolf

by PrettyToughâ„¢ at Mode

18 thoughts on “The Tortured Life of Virginia Woolf, 75 Years After Her Death”

  1. Having worked in the mental health field for 25 years I can say some of the most brilliant and creative people I met where in fact mentally ill. Unfortunately for Wolfe, the types of medications available to treat her Bipolar illness were terrible and almost non-existent during this time. Today there are many more medications that would have helped her and saved her life.

  2. i had never heard of Virginia Woolf before, I will have to look into her books. Mental illness is something that more people need to talk about and treatments need to be more available even now. I can’t imagine what it was like back then.

  3. I do recall hearing of the book for years now. Unfortunately I am not recalling reading it. I think there is a lot of mental illness in the world, more than some realize, and that everyone has their own issues.

  4. She is fascinating to read about, that’s for sure. I do think there’s a fine line there, and it’s really sad that there is. It’s a shame that there wasn’t as much information and help available back then for those who suffer.

  5. I learned about Virginia Woolf when my husband had to do a paper in his English class. It’s so sad that so many brilliant people have taken their lives.

  6. I enjoy reading about others. I hate to see anyone take their own life, especially when they were created for something special. (Aren’t we all?)

  7. She was such fascinating woman! I love history and biographies, especially about tortured people that are famous, because we know we aren’t alone in our struggles.

  8. I often wonder if these creative geniuses had the benefit of new medicine would they still have been tortured? Would it have affected their work? It is sad that such creativity had to come as such a cost for Woolf.

  9. I never heard of her before but found her story interesting. I hate that someone had no other way out though.

  10. Sometimes I wonder if medications for mental illnesses stifle the creativity of some people. It seems some of the most creative people are tortured souls. What an interesting story.

  11. She had a difficult life, mostly because mental illness is something that people do not see and they take advantage of that. What they don’t know is that it adds to the emotional and mental pain that the person with mental illness feels. But she is an admirable woman, very creative and very good with the art that she chose.

  12. In the early days, people do not usually admit to having mental illness because of the stigma associated with it. Virginia Woolf is an admirable woman. She showed us how to fight adversity and still come our victorious.

  13. I don’t think that I’ve ever heard of her before. I love to read about history like this though. It’s always interesting to see the lives of others. It’s sad to see there wasn’t much help back then.

  14. I have heard there is a connection between the two too. It’s sad to hear of people who knew they needed help but were not able to get it.

  15. Thank you for this lovely piece. I’m not sure about the link between creativity and mental illness; I’d like to believe that link exists. Of course creativity exists in those who don’s suffer from a mental illness as well. But Virginia Woolf was a true talent. Only wish she could’ve received help before she committed suicide.

  16. I am not completely aware of her life story or her challenges but I am quite familiar of her name through literature and all. I am thankful for reading more about her.

  17. In general psychology has found that creativity increases with positive emotions, so you’re more creative when you’re happy. So the act of creating probably happens in between the more negative states caused by mental illness.
    Some large studies have found correlations between mental illness and creative professions – creatives have a higher chance of suffering from mental illness. Some conditions like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia can improve “thinking outside the box” through faster thought processes or hallucinations for example.
    Still, it’s a high price to pay for the individuals themselves.

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