Virginia Woolf’s Handwritten Suicide Note: A Painful and Poignant Farewell (1941)

handwriting-virginia-woolf-10921544-600-870

It seems like a very morbid and inhuman practice to treat the suicide note as a piece of literature, even if the author of said note is a writer as famous as Virginia Woolf. And yet, why not? I can anticipate all sorts of ethical objections having to do with decency, and I share some of those sentiments. Let us not forget, however, that death has often been a literary occasion: the long tradition of recorded last words ranges from deathbed confessions to the strangely theatrical genre of the gallows speech (see Socrates, Anne Boleyn, or John Brown). Like those unforgettable figures of history, Virginia Woolf’s last scripted words are pored over by lay readers and scholars alike (see, for example, pages on Woolf’s final words from Smith College and Yale).

Woolf’s death, in March of 1941, occasioned the third of her suicide letters, and yes, it feels unseemly to linger over her last piece of prose. Perhaps it is the mode of death, suicide still being a societal taboo, thought of as tragic even when it’s undertaken calmly and rationally by someone ready to leave this world. And in many cases, especially those involving mental illness, death seems so needless, so extreme. Such was the case with Woolf, who drowned herself after a long struggle with what would probably be called today bipolar disorder. Her suicide note, written to her husband Leonard, is a haunting and beautiful document, in all its unadorned sincerity behind which much turmoil and anguish lie. See a scan of the handwritten note at the top, and read the full transcript below. Directly above, you can hear a dramatic reading of Woolf’s note, such a wrenching missive because it is not a farewell to the world at large, but rather to a trusted friend and lover.

Dearest,

I feel certain 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 till 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.

Related Content:

Virginia Woolf and Friends Dress Up as “Abyssinian Princes” and Fool the British Royal Navy (1910)

Watch Patti Smith Read from Virginia Woolf, and Hear the Only Surviving Recording of Woolf’s Voice

“A Haunted House” by Virginia Woolf

Find Works by Virginia Woolf in Our Collections of Free Audio Books and Free eBooks.

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness



Make knowledge free & open. Share our posts with friends on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms:

by | Permalink | Comments (24) |

  • http://bitrake.blogspot.com/ Rickey Bowers Jr.

    Quite a longer listen…

    Virginia Woolf – A Eulogy To Words

  • Chris

    Hearing voices (delusion) is no symptom of bipolar disorder but schizophrenia. Schizophrenia can occur in form of bursts, and the voices very usually lead the patient to self-damage.

  • http://ttikker.org Timothy

    Surprising: the baseline moves upward from left to right, which normally indicates optimism/hopefulness.

  • shona Mckensie

    If it seems a morbid and an inhuman practice to treat a suicide note as a piece of literature, then I am comforted that others have found themselves treating it as such.

    I was much struck recently on reading a mother’s description of a sudden deterioration in her seven year old daughter’s condition. Her child has a terminal brain tumour. (Claudia’s Cause on facebook)

    The sentences were muddled, confused and contradictory, but it enforced with such clarity her distress that I thought it one of the most powerful pieces of writing I have ever read. I felt ashamed of having thought of such a thing.

    Happily and unexpectedly, her child survived the infection she was fighting at that time, though of course the overall message of her mother’s postings remains the same.

  • http://openculture elizabeth golemon

    many many people w/bipolar disorder hear voices during the manic part of their illness. soooo sad.

  • http://www.bioscenecleanup.com/Suicide_Clean_Up.html marc

    a sad story, and ending.

  • Audrey

    Such moving comments. But follow that link — Patti says, and she is a simple wordsmith — “we are waving — elastic”. Grace the waves.

  • http://Trippystick.com YungGod

    Hey Chris, I was wanted to write to you to tell you you’re wrong. People with bipolar disorder to hear voices and hallucinate at the same intensity as shizophrenia, difference is that it’s episodic. Even though people with bipolar do hallucinate and hear voices sometimes, I still think she was speaking about her own thoughts rather than audible voices.

  • http://www.speakoutlanguages.com Ryan

    There’s nothing wrong with being fascinated by a suicide note. Literature, in all forms, is about emotion, and there is no stronger or intense emotion than feeling it necessary to take one’s life.

  • Volchek

    There’s no disorder. She simply became a channel for many spirits. She has become in tune with spiritual world – she needed to control it but no one told her that she’s ok. So she offed her self in order to move on.

    mental illness is a myth. It’s an industry.

  • dayna

    Hi, This is a good post, indeed a great job.. You must have done good research for the work, i appreciate your efforts.. Looking for more updates from your side. n n——–n Handwriting

  • DjembeTheBard

    Mental illness is a myth?nnYou’re an idiot. So many people in the world today struggle against their own minds- every second, and every thought that comes with it, just to continue living, to find even the slightest reason to keep going. And you’re saying they’re making it all up?nnnWhat the f**k gives you the right to trivialise these conditions?

  • Megs

    I wish i could have got a chance to read the letter my late bf left maybe then i wouldv’e had some kind of closure :( *sigh* i miss him so much

  • Tasha Prather

    She is hopeful that the act will make things better for him.

  • GrahamCracker

    Mental illness is a myth, but communicating with spirits is completely legit? nI think there may be some spirits playing around with your mental state…..

  • manimal

    You are entitled to your opinion, but this is one area where it might be best to keep it to yourself, Volchek. I, and thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of others, live with mental illness every day. The pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies puppeteering our lives, these new “therapies” that are invented to appease the insurance companies… THOSE are industries. But even still, many, if not most, of us need some kind of medication or even several (allopathic, aryuvedic, herbal, supplements, vitamins, or any combination of those), some therapies or therapists can be beneficial and insurance companies are absolutely essential for emergencies like hospital stays or the mundane, such as meds, physicians’ appointments, coverage or discounts for alternative treatments (if one is lucky enough to have that included), etc. Not to mention, some people, like myself, have very serious physical health conditions that we cannot afford to manage without insurance and would invariably die in a short period of time were that insurance gone. So industry or not, some of these things are necessary evils. nnNow I do feel that my mental illnesses allows me to access energies and be in tune with the spiritual world in ways that neuro-typical individuals are not/cannot be. However, I also know that I have serious limitations and issues that effect all areas of functioning in my life and are often frightening, off-putting or disturbing to neuro-typicals. it is a frustrating and very REAL catch-22… there is no “myth” to my experiences or those of other people who live with mental illness(es).nnOut of curiosity, what it your background or credentials that inform your opinion that “mental illness is a myth”?

  • manimal

    Chris, I am afraid you are incorrect. Bipolar disorder can include delusions, hallucinations and severe paranoia, during both manic and severe depressive cycles. If you actually have any real interest, check the websites of NAMI, the Nat Institute of Mental Health (www.nimh.nih.gov), the Mayo Clinic (http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/bipolar-disorder/DS00356/DSECTION=symptoms) and a host of other reputable organizations that are backed by educated, experienced psychiatrists, psychologists, doctors, advocates and even those who have experienced these things.nnAlso, no one actually knows what mental illness Virginia Woolf may have had. Just using myself as an example of recent psychiatric faux pas, I’d been diagnosed for over a decade with depression, then Bipolar Type 1 for about 5 years and, finally, “Schizoaffective Disorder Bipolar Type 1 with Psychotic Features”, in addition to severe PTSD, when I continued to have hallucinations, etc, despite having a relatively “baseline” mood. The understanding of mental illness, mental health and psychiatry continues to grow every day and it really doesn’t help for individuals to toss false information into the mix. nnDo some reading. There are many fascinating things to learn about in this field.

  • Rebecca Ashley Fournier

    I am studying Virginia Woolf for my English Fiction Writing Class, however, I work in the mental health field. I know for a fact that Bipolar with Psychosis is a diagnosis that can be given to clients, many of which with symptoms like V.W.’s have been described. However, we weren’t there, so its best to not analyze it. Just read this piece for the very interesting last piece of prose to be written by Virginia Woolf.

  • cat

    I came to read this powerful letter upon the recommendation of Mike Tyson.

  • Observer

    I was hoping to find the haunting words from Virginia Woolf’s purported suicide note that ends the movie “The hours,” in which she thanks Leonard for loving her: “Always the years between us. Always the years. Always the love. Always the hours.” Or do these words come from one of her other suicide notes?

  • nectarina

    Mental illness is as much of a myth as the idea of someone being an artist. These are constructs from our social environment, and are only valid within its context. Someone who can’t cope with the ways of society will be called mental, someone who makes a living out of being mental will be called an artist.

  • Babylon

    Virginia Woolf’s final letter to her husband is a legitimate litterary document to my point of view. Although tragic in its timing… It is not an act if fiction but a very biographical piece and in a way it puts all the little bits of her that she let go in her work…. This letter is extraordinary for it conveys extreme clarity about how she feels about her illness and the pain it inflicted on her… All what she had left is her endless love for her husband…how beautiful that is, how tragic to not feel that you are living only through someone else… I completly understand her anguish and her despair…

  • E.a. Solinas

    Especially when the note is as beautifully written and tragic as this one.

  • E.a. Solinas

    Especially when the note is as beautifully written and tragic as this one.

Quantcast