Life, Work, And Illness Of Virginia Woolf

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer


Although the connection between the two is unclear, there is a positive correlation between creativity and bipolar disorder. The coexistence of mental illness and creativity can be demonstrated in Virginia Woolf, who was seriously affected by anxiety and hypomania and had family members who had mental illnesses (Ghalandari & Jamili, 2014). It is clear from autobiographical and biographical documents that Virginia Wolf suffered extreme mood swings, which at the age of fifty-nine resulted in suicide. She made sense by reading about her tumultuous life. She was able to translate her medical condition into artistic achievement; the quality of her work was significantly influenced by her illness. She developed novels, short stories, biographies, non-fiction books, translations, autobiographical writings, letters, and diaries during her manic phases marked by heightened emotions and deviant odd behaviors (Ghalandari & Jamili, 2014).

Virginia Woolf dealt with the turmoil of her turbulent thoughts and feelings, being adversely affected for long periods of time when she was overwhelmed by her angry, bleak moods, but also managed to turn these heightened moments of scattered, melancholic, inconsistent thoughts by giving them a specific kind of expression in artistic creations (Ghalandari & Jamili, 2014).

Mental Illness and Genetics

The proof of her disease’s genetic transmission is solid, but her disease should not only be considered from a genetic point of view. Woolf’s family history indicates that there is an inherited correlation between family members to experience effective diseases. Woolf’s family’s mental health can be examined across three generations. To elaborate, her husband, Leslie Stephen, suffered from nonpsychotic cyclothymia mood swings. Also, her sister, Julia, also suffered from depression. There is this idea that there may be a mixture of Leslie’s and Julia’s genes, which causes Virginia’s mental illness, and another idea refers to the fact that Leslie’s gene was affective in her condition alone. Nevertheless, in addition to genetic traits, in her manic-depressive phases, childhood experiences may play a role. Woolf’s disease was usually inherited to some extent biologically, but stressful situations triggered her symptoms. Her parents should be remembered when discussing her mental problems. Woolf’s uncle, Sir Leslie Stephen, has been reported to have had a troubled childhood. His erratic mood swings were most likely cyclothymic, though never very serious. Cyclothymia, as mentioned above, is a heterogeneous disease and as such is differentiated from major mood disorders such as bipolar disorder by its chronicity and performance. During his life, Leslie Stephen is believed to have undergone numerous episodes of mental collapse, the length, and extent of which may not have qualified them as manic-depressive psychosis (Koutsantoni, 2012).

Mental Illness and Early Life

The genetic descent in Virginia has translated into a high risk of mental illness. Nevertheless, it could be argued that if she was not exposed to traumatic experiences in childhood, her disease would have been milder. She witnessed her first episode as a breakdown at the age of thirteen in 1895. It was shortly after her mother’s death (Loch, 2016). This traumatic experience in her life was considered a tragedy as Woolf’s entire world had changed when her mother passed away and all gaiety came to an end in her life. There are different theories about the mental breakdowns of Woolf. Her childhood traumas and breakdowns are seen as a reaction to her mother’s premature death, her father’s dominance, and her half-brothers ‘ sexual abuse, although it is difficult to determine whether or not the violence has played a role in the development of her mental illness (Loch, 2016). In reality, it can be viewed as an effort in her life and specific events to find the primary source of her illness. In addition to her mother’s death from influenza in 1895, followed by her husband’s half-crazed sorrow for her, which led Virginia to experience her first manic episode at the age of 13, her reaction to Julia’s death can be described as unusual at least on the morning of May 5, 1895. Stephen’s kids are invited to see the still-warm corpse of their mother. Virginia became deeply nervous, anxious, and then depressed intolerably. She went through a period of pathological self-criticism, criticizing herself as narcissistic and greedy, comparing herself unfavorably with Vanessa, and at the same time becoming extremely irritable. Dr. Seton, the family doctor, was called in to prescribe a simple life and physical exercise to combat her nervousness, excitability, and anxiety. The results of Virginia Woolf’s first series, displaying both psychotic and depressive symptoms, were still evident two years later. Sadly in 1897, Stella died of peritonitis, leaving Virginia very upset at the age of fifteen.


Woolf spoke to colleges and universities on a regular basis during her career, penned dramatic letters, wrote touching essays, and published a long list of short stories on her own. She had developed herself as an academic, a creative and influential writer, and a progressive feminist by her mid-forties. Her ability to combine dreamlike scenes with intensely tense plot lines won her tremendous respect from both colleagues and the audience.

Creative Work

These aspects can be demonstrated in her writings. Until she met Leonard, Virginia had been working on her first book for many years. The original title was Melymbrosia. It was published after nine years and countless revisions as The Voyage Out in 1915. Woolf used the novel to experiment with different literary devices, including convincing and rare narrative outlooks, dream states, and free association writing. The Woolfs purchased Monk’s House, a cottage in the village of Rodmell, a year after the end of World War I in 1919, and that same year in Edwardian England, Virginia published Night and Day. Hogarth published Jacob’s Home, her third novel, in 1922. It was considered a significant departure from her earlier novels, based on her brother Thoby, with its modernist elements.

In characters of her novels, Virginia tries to show a full picture of her illness. Through the characters in this book, she depicts the real nature of her disease and symptoms. It can demonstrate how she was fully aware of her condition and performance as well as how she was able to distinguish episodes of mania and depression and gain her own viewpoint from depression by comparing it with her manic episodes. In fact, she had sufficient knowledge conveyed in her novel about her illness. She has encountered two distinct worlds that are formed by bipolar disorder (Koutsantoni, 2012). The suicidal history in her novel can demonstrate how Virginia ultimately abused her illness. Through the characters like the crazy female protagonist Mrs. Clarissa Dalloway and the insane soldier Septimus Warren Smith, she describes her disease. On the other hand, it can be argued that Wool used Clarissa and Septimus anxiety to represent the role of mania. In reality, Woolf portrayed her own mental illness symptoms in her characters, such as Septimus, who is experiencing visual hallucination like her own hallucinated environment. She accomplishes this aim by showing different facets of her manic-depressive disorder experiences through personal thoughts of different characters. In reality, the novel provides Woolf the chance to explain and portray her disease.

In addition to how creative her works were because of her experiencing the themes she emphasized in her works, Virginia was also a brilliant writer who thought that battling sexist and misogynistic patriarchal concepts of motherhood with her writing was important. Woolf received rave reviews for her fourth novel, Mrs. Dalloway, in 1925. In post-World War I England, the mesmerizing tale interweaved interior monologs and raised questions about feminism, mental illness, and homosexuality. Furthermore, Woolf wrote A Room of One’s Own in 1929, a feminist essay based on the lectures she had given at women’s colleges, in which she discusses the role of women in literature. In doing so, she put forward a more feminist view of the role of women in British society during this period.

Creative Process

Both of these examples demonstrate her creative side. The influence that her research had when she was alive and continues to have to this day is not denied (Ghalandari & Jamili, 2014). Although her work was irrevocably shaped by her experiences with mental illness and the treatments she received, her writing drew upon her own experiences and trauma from her past to help her to deal with and to confront these issues through the literary characters. Virginia led a life full of many traumatic life-changing events, from the loss of close family members to her stepbrothers ‘ sexual abuse to her eventual mental breakdowns to her depression at the end of World War II. Such heavy events, however, did not prevent her from following her passion for writing. (Collingwood, 2018). Her works were psychologically insightful and beautifully crafted packets of human thought and feeling.

Because of family background and her mental illness, Virginia uses the methodology of the stream of consciousness and the implicit inner monolog as tools of visualizing her own thoughts and psychological impulses to the fictional plots of her writings. Going from one character’s inner thoughts to another helps Virginia to explain the most complex dimension of bipolar disorder (Koutsantoni, 2012). Looking at Virginia’s mental illness, it can be said that her mood swings had largely practical consequences for her and she knew that they could encourage her imagination to construct or reflect her subconscious experiences (Ghalandari & Jamili, 2014). It is obvious that Virginia used writing as a tool for self-therapy and working was the only way to ease the inner tension. For Virginia, the writing was an essential tool for elaborating on her feelings, experiences, and conflicts. She externalized her inner world in her writing which served as a tool for exposing her inner conflicts and their transformation in her consciousness (Ghalandari & Jamili, 2014). Her life was marked by the ambivalence that can be considered a characteristic of Woolf’s disease. She had an ambivalent relationship with her situations, events in life, illness, with the people around her and with herself. There are examples of this in her novels as well as in her diaries. Her novels can help dramatize her struggle to correctly interpret her experiences and construct a bipolar sense of identity (Koutsantoni, 2012).

Thus, those periods of high and euphoric mood make it easier for people to access vocabulary, memory, and other mental resources. Persons with mania can often be cleverer and more imaginative, often have exaggerated emotional responses that can promote their creative abilities, and often have exceptional stamina and extraordinary attention ability (Collingwood, 2018). Hypomanic or depressive symptoms can make high performance levels easier. The writings of Virginia Woolf depicted her fractured mind; she embarked on a dangerous journey through them to understand the complexities of her own mind (Collingwood, 2018).

Connection to Creativity

It is possible to determine the parallel relationship between mental disorders and creativity with the reciprocal connections between conscious and unconscious mind (Collingwood, 2018). In reality, in the non-psychotic phases, individuals will elaborate the experiences of the psychotic states. Creation may, therefore, have at least partly an unconscious mechanism for her, but it was through consciousness that her writing was obtained by this process (Ghalandari & Jamili, 2014). In reality, she tried to use the experiences she had encountered in her art during the psychotic period. She analyzed her inner activities intensely and dramatically and applied them to her works of art (Collingwood, 2018).

Bipolar Disorder’s course is highly variable, but Virginia Woolf seems to have identified a pernicious path associated with hospitalization, suicidal behavior, and cognitive impairment (Koutsantoni, 2012).


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