Letters on the Death of Virginia Woolf
Rutgers University Press, 9780813535609, 254pp.
Publication Date: February 15, 2005
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On 28 March, 1941, at the height of Hitler's victories during the Second World War, Virginia Woolf filled her pockets with stones and drowned herself in the River Ouse near her home in Sussex. At the time of her death some voices in the press attacked her for showing cowardice in the face of the enemy and for setting a bad example to the general population. Woolf's suicide has been the subject of controversy for the media, for literary scholars, and for her biographers ever since.Just when it may seem that nothing else could be said about Virginia Woolf and the ambiguous details of her suicide, "Afterwords" provides an entirely fresh perspective. It makes available to a wide readership for the first time letters sent to Leonard Woolf and Vanessa Bell (Virginia Woolf's sister) in the aftermath of the event. This unique volume brings together over two hundred letters from T. S. Eliot, H. G. Wells, May Sarton, Vita Sackville-West, Edith Sitwell, E. M. Forster, Radclyffe Hall, and many others, including political figures and religious leaders. In addition, informative annotations reveal the identities of many unexpected condolence-letter writers from among the general public.In her introduction, editor Sybil Oldfield confronts the contemporary controversy over Woolf's suicide note, arguing that no one who knew Woolf or her work believed that she had deserted Britain. The ensuing collection of letters supports Oldfield's assertion. In elegant prose that rises to the stature of the occasion, these writers share remembrances of Virginia Woolf in life, comment on the quality of her work and her antifascist values, and reveal previously unknown facets of her capacity for friendship.A richly deserved tribute to the life of an extraordinary woman as well as a testimony to the human capacity for sympathy, "Afterwords" is essential reading for anyone interested in the life, death, and enduring impact of Virginia Woolf.