Adeline Virginia Stephens was born on January 25th, 1882 to Julia and Leslie Stephens. Her elder sister Vanessa had been born in 1879. There were also three of her mother’s children from a previous marriage; George, Stella, and Gerald Duckworth. The household already contained six other children from previous marriages of both her parents. In her Novel “Moments of Being”, Virginia describes Gerald (her half brother) exploring her private parts, in front of the looking glass outside the dining room, when she was very small. This memory she had was very strong and not easy to forget. She goes into detail in that same novel (Moments of Being) of what her half brother Gerald Duckworth subjected her to: “There was a slab outside the dining room door for standing dishes upon. Once, when I was very small, Gerald Duckworth lifted me onto this, and as I sat there he began to explore my body. I can remember the feel of his hand going under my clothes; going firmly and steadily lower and lower. I remember how I hoped that he would stop; how I stiffened and wriggled as his hand approached my private parts. But resenting, disliking it- what is the word for so dumb and mixed a feeling? It must have been strong, since I still recall it. This seems to show that a feeling about certain parts of the body; how they must not be touched; how it is wrong to allow them to be touched; must be instinctive.” (Woolf, Virginia. Moments of Being, p. 81). All of this was often thought to have been one of the causes of her frequent mental disturbances that were to plague her all her life.

In the thirty years between Virginia Woolf’s marriage and her death in 1941, she wrote fifteen books. This was an astonishing achievement for someone who was plagued by mental illness and endured extensive amounts of sexual abuse. She was raised in a household that contained incest, sexual exploitation, and unjust maltreatment. The Stephens family was a family in a perpetual state of instability that had a deeply disturbing impact upon the emotional well being of all the children in the household. Virginia Woolf endured tremendous sexual torture throughout her childhood that was, at times, relentless. Throughout her life span she was also haunted by mental instability that she had no control over and ended her life in the form of committing suicide. Her mind, although, plagued with unpleasant memories of the past and at times in a state of insanity, was the most intriguing part about her.
In order to fully understand Virginia Woolf and her turmoil we must dive into her mind and environment in which she lived in. Only then will we, as readers, grasp the perplexity of her thoughts and writings. This exert taken from the article Sydney Buris wrote explains the curiosity a reader has and the drive that forces Woolf’s readers to indeed perpetually understand her as a person and not just an author. “I WOKE UP ONE MORNING not too long ago and said: I don't think we can read Virginia Woolf anymore without confronting the sexual abuse she suffered as a child. I said "we" because I wanted to sound like those critics she once wrote about, the ones who "call themselves 'we' for the rest of us to believe that they are somehow exalted, inspired, infallible.” The fact that she was abused didn't make her a writer, of course. Nor did the fact that she was bipolar. But it did give me an idea of some of the things she had to deal with on her way to becoming a writer. And maybe it explained a passage or two in what she did write, if finding the biographical sources for those passages amounts to an explanation of them. What it really did for me, though, this knowing about her ordeal, was to take me a little deeper into the dark loam of the life that gave rise to the work--I'm talking about a brand of curiosity that seems instinctual to our species, like gossip. How useful this information is in a critical capacity I don't know, but for the general reader it's essential, because it's inalienably a part of what Woolf called "that cloud of fertile, but unrealized sensation, which hangs about a reader.” (Buris, Sydney, Pars. 1-2).
I feel that writing offered Virginia Woolf a positive outlet. In her novels and short stories she referenced her experiences of sexual abuse. By using her writings in this way self therapy was administered. She implicated her characters in her book to endure the same things she herself was plagued by. “In The Voyage Out Woolf tells a daughter's story of sexual and emotional abuse and begins to formulate the theories of sexual oppression, the education of women, sexuality, and the patriarchal family which she develops more fully later, especially in A Room of One's Own and Three Guineas. This story of the daughter's oppression and struggle is told "symptomatically," however, "across the body" of the text through imagery, dreams, allusion, "peculiar words," seemingly throw-away remarks by various characters, and juxtaposition of events and dialogue.” (Swanson, Diana, Par. 9).
Should words like “insanity” or “madness” be used when referring to Virginia Woolf or are they crude or inappropriate? With such amazing masterpieces of literature that she wrote one could come to the conclusion that she was quite sane. That beast we know as manic depression stalked Virginia all her adult life. She was also rumored to have bipolar disorder. These mental illnesses truly governed her life. It seemed that in the depths of her depression she found most of her inspirations for her literary work. Woolf’s psychotic episode made it hard to separate her thoughts from others, or to be sure of what was real. She was at times violent, incoherent, and delusional. The grip on what she thought was reality must have felt tenuous. Through an exert written by Roberta Rubenstein the extent of the effect her illness/s had on her writing can be explained: “Virginia Woolf's recurrent "glooms" and the experience of "non-being" (her terms)--the dark aspect of her lifelong struggle with bipolar mental illness--are reflected in her fiction through a distinct and recurrent negative vocabulary. I argue that the marked meanings of nothing and its variants occur frequently and across a number of epistemological registers in her now-canonical To the Lighthouse. Negative diction functions not simply as a syntactical element that appears to a greater or lesser extent in all discourse, literary and otherwise, but as a concentration of linguistic cues that underscore and advance the narrative's thematic concerns. What I term the poetics of negation may be understood in semantic, psychological, historical, and formal senses, not only exemplifying Woolf's close acquaintance with negation but further securing her semantic links to modernist preoccupations.” (Rubenstein, Roberta, Par. 1).
On May 10th, 1940, Germany invaded Belgium and Holland. On June 14th, Paris fell. War in Britain was imminent and Woolf believed Britain was destined to lose. The looming Fascist regime did not bode well for Leonard (her husband) especially; as a Jew, he was in great, if not yet imminent, danger. In August 1940, the Battle of Britain began, in which Britain and Germany fought a series of air battles over England. The bombing of London commenced soon after. Woolf's home was blown to smithereens in the attacks. However, the Brits managed to fend off the Germans, and the Battle of Britain was Germany's first loss of the new war. Despite all this, Woolf was able to work. During that summer, her biography of Roger Fry had been published. On November twenty-three, 1940, she finished “Between the Acts” and promptly began writing “Anon.” It was a period of relatively good mental health for her, even though she'd just finished a novel and was in danger of slipping into a depression, as was her tendency. By March 1941, Virginia’s mood had changed drastically and she was severely depressed. Her husband became quite anxious when Woolf began telling people that she did not want to see Between the Actspublished. She grew pale and emaciated. On Friday March 27th, 1941 Leonard took Woolf to see a family friend who happened to be a doctor. Woolf told the doctor that nothing was wrong with her, despite the fact that she was hearing voices. In her crises Virginia would go through the various stages of excitement, hostility, and self accusations. She had been treated with the infamous milk diet, in that time that was believed to calm one down, and had been given a prescription of rest cure many times.
The end was drawing near for Virginia Woolf. It was early spring day in March of 1941. Virginia was experiencing deep manic depressive states. She had completed the manuscript to her last novel titled “Between The Acts.” The onset of World War II, the destruction of her London home, and the cool reception given to her biography of her late friend Roger Fry all worsened her mental state until she was unable to work. She set out across her garden to the river Ouse. She had her jacket on and the pockets were
weighed down by heavy pebbles she had placed inside them. She walked into the river and committed suicide in the form of drowning herself. Her writing in her diary depicts what she had been planning and craving to do with her life:Lord how deep it is…Directly I stop working I feel that I am sinking down, down. And as usual, I feel that if I sink further I shall reach the truth. That is the only mitigation; a kind of nobility. Solemnity, I shall make myself face the fact that there is nothing- nothing for any of us. Work, reading, writing are all disguises; relations with people. Yes even having children would be useless.” “Oh, it’s the beginning its coming-the horror- physically like a painful wave swelling about the heart- tossing me up. Down God, I wish I were dead. Pause. But why am I feeling this? Let me watch the waves rise. I watch. Vanessa, children, failure, yes; I detect that. Failure. (the waves rise) Oh they laughed at my taste in green paint! Wave crashes. I wish I were dead! I’ve only a few years to live I hope. I can’t face this horror anymore-(this is the wave spreading over me).” (Diary 3, p. 235). At the time of her suicide Leonard, her husband, knew Virginia was sinking into a deep depression. Her devoted husband, Leonard Woolf wrote: "Death, I think, was always very near the surface of Virginia's mind, or the contemplation of death." (Hudson, Chris, Par. 2). Virginia left a suicide note for Leonard that he found on her studio pad and later published: “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 that 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 I know 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.
Woolf’s haunting language, her prescient insights into wide-ranging historical, political, feminist, artistic issues, and her revisionist experiments with novelistic form during a remarkably productive career altered the course of modernist literature. Her writings were brilliant and paved the way for modern female impressionism. She was a sane woman who had an illness. Her illness is attributable to genetic, environmental, and biological factors. She was a victim of incest, sexual exploitation, and the after effects that these traumatizations bring. Her reports of illness and feelings of worthlessness coincide with those of other incest survivors. But her story is also one of survival and monumental achievements. She was an astounding author and a very prominent aspect of the twentieth century literary society. She left at her death, diaries, memoirs, letters, notebooks, and notes. She also left behind her published work as well as her novels that demonstrated her enormous resilience to rise above the challenges she faced as a child. She, amazingly enough, turned her pain and turmoil into works of literary art. She was an amazing author, woman, wife, and intellectual being. Her accomplishments are many as well as her struggles through her own life. Although her death was tragic, we as readers have been immensely privileged to be able to read her life writings. Perhaps while still living she already acknowledged the fact that her “works of art” were widely adored or perhaps with such turmoil and hardship she faced she wasn’t able to receive gratification from her masterpieces. However, one thing can never be mistaken and that is that her profound works of literature are cherished by many!