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


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.


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

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Comments (60)
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  • Chris says:

    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.

    • manimal says:

      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 (, the Mayo Clinic ( 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.

  • Timothy says:

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

  • shona Mckensie says:

    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.

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

  • marc says:

    a sad story, and ending.

  • Audrey says:

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

  • YungGod says:

    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.

  • Ryan says:

    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 says:

    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.

    • DjembeTheBard says:

      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?

    • GrahamCracker says:

      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 says:

      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”?

  • dayna says:

    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.

  • Megs says:

    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

  • Rebecca Ashley Fournier says:

    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 says:

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

  • Observer says:

    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 says:

    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 says:

    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…

  • Peter Ross says:

    i think she died from bad penmanship — i wanted to kill myself trying to read it

  • I am a long time fan and feel the curing mental diseases is as important as the curing of cancer. Hugs, Barbara

  • browneyedgirl says:

    She wasn’t mad. She was oppressed. When you are trapped and isolated all sorts of things happen. Women at that time had no freedoms all that they did was through the choice of the men in their lives. Her madness she thought was through her own fault and as she explains she was a burden to her husband. The culture that she lived in viewed women as such a burden. I would argue her suicide was the result of her lack of freedom and oppression as a human being. No person as brilliant as she was could deal with such a low existence.

  • Lily Whyte says:

    Sad to know those words were not fiction. They came from the heart & mind of a person who was tormented by her experiences with her past crises and the fear of the new one. Just sad.

  • Faheem says:

    Mental illness is a myth and i am sure that you have it …

  • Marketing LaurieM says:

    I am from a province in which there are so many pleasurable pastimes given to men. But only men mainly. There is strict evidence revealing Schizophrenia. I would call it just as I do happen to view it. I’m impartial. It’s just an illness.

  • Sylvan says:

    All writers hear voices. Words ring like bells. It’s a shame when one is too troubled to learn to channel them.

  • Yell says:

    Personally I think she struggled with hormones, the way she said “I feel we can’t go through another of these terrible times” suggests to me she had a cycle of which became to much to bare. Obviously recurring. Could of played a major roll in V.Ws life. Thousands of woman commit suicide and a lot of cases to this day can’t identify the reasons which lead to such tragedies. Because a lot of people are uneducated when it comes to women’s hormonal balances and what crazy shit they make us do.

  • Gail Garrett says:

    Interesting to find that Mike Tyson (boxer?) finds the suicide note of great interest…enough to recommend it.

    Schophrenia, faith, the hereafter, the over 450 other planets found recently, all forms of cancer, including tumors..all facinating subjects to be desected in the future. By the way…Does anyone know what happened to Muhammed to change his personality? He was a kind preacher in Mecca and cold blooded taxing authority in Medina. Yes…I forgot to mention how mental conditions can affect more than those near by. They can affect the entire world. Look at Islam. Voila. ..terrorist.

  • Gail Garrett says:

    For most of the history of the planet women could not legally own land. If you were born a man in a woman’s body…you would need to marry in order to have ownership. Was that the case with Virginia? Maybe there was more to Virginia than just being a gay married woman. Maybe she really liked, or even loved , her husband, but would always be attracted to women. Maybe she went mad every time her long term female lover fell for another woman. Maybe her heart was simply broken.

  • cowgirldiva says:

    People who kill themselves are profoundly mentally disturbed…! However, society now recognizes suicide as a legitimate way to die. It is known as “death by suicide”..!

    Losing a loved one to suicide is extremely and unspeakably sad for the people left behind because they invariably think that there was something they could do to prevent it..! Once someone has seriously decided to kill themselves, there is nothing you can do to save them. They are determined and will find a way regardless of what we do to try to help them.

  • cowgirldiva says:

    People who kill themselves are profoundly mentally disturbed…! However, society now recognizes suicide as a legitimate way to die. It is known as “death by suicide”..!

    Losing a loved one to suicide is extremely and unspeakably sad for the people left behind because they invariably think that there was something they could have done done to prevent it..! Once someone has seriously decided to kill themselves, there is nothing you can do to save them. They are determined and will find a way regardless of what we do to try to help them live.

  • cowgirldiva says:

    People who kill themselves are profoundly mentally disturbed…! However, society now recognizes suicide as a legitimate way to die. It is known as “death by suicide”..!

    Losing a loved one to suicide is extremely and unspeakably sad for the people left behind because they invariably think that there was something they could have done to prevent it..! Once someone has seriously decided to kill themselves, there is nothing you can do to save them. They are determined and will find a way regardless of what we do to try to help them live.

  • Alii Scott says:

    In all these responses I am reading, there is no empathy or understanding of that actual feeling called depression. A better word is pain. Emotional pain that can not be ended with any pain killer you might like to pop. Pain of isolation, pain of unending lack of joy, pain of no laughter, pain of never feeling loved, pain of being disaproved of,and pain of being .criticised continuously. Yes the colours of the landscape may be beautiful, but us sad humans need to share our thoughts, it is a kind of oxygen for us. Not dissimilar to horses needing the reassuring company of their own kind. Being out of sync with anyone close by creates that black hole of isolation.

  • Janet Cousins says:

    Such haunting memories by and from a brilliant author


    I came here from ‘All the Bright Places’

  • angel 471 says:

    love u forever virginia. miss u. hope u are in a better place

  • Tom Fuller says:

    Mental illness is a myth?? For people, possibly, in California, where mental illness is the norm. And a few other places. But mental illness is very real. I am kin to someone who suffers from schizophrenia, and it is all too real It’s not understood, but it’s real. I mean, how else could have so many people have elected Barack Obama for president?

  • Bipolar says:

    Anyone who says that mental illness is a myth does not know what they are talking about. Just talk to me for an hour when I am not taking my medication. I will stay in bed for two weeks straight during my low times and cannot move due to the depression. Then without warning I will go through a severe high where I cannot sit down, I can’t stop talking and I do not sleep. It’s exhausting and as it is happening I try to tell myself to stop but it’s impossible. It’s like trying to tell someone with a cold to stop sniffling. Thank gawd I live in a day and age where there is help avaliable. Unfortunately Virginia did not have the help available to her that we do now. But if she did take meds she wouldn’t have written such beautiful works of litature because most of the creativeness comes when the mania occurs.

  • Another voice in the crowd says:

    The usual mix of personal experience, the sharp end, versus the thickness of indoctrination which seeks,so disparigingly, with dismissive, impatient words, to decry the validity of the experiential. In the case of mental dis-ease, unwellness and every plagued epithet that can be imagined in trying to describe it all,there will always be this divide. Those who suffer know the territory and can recognise it at 1,000 paces when they see it. Those who don’t suffer but have an opinion….Why? Why does this affliction, that your judgmentalism confirms you have no knowledge of, cause such vehemence in you against the sufferer? Why this condition? What, precisely, is it that you fear so much?

  • Also another voice in the crowd says:

    Unfortunately fear itself is what makes us human

  • Katie says:

    She didn’t sound like she was in that much emotional pain she sounded confused by spirits,speaking to her, taunting her they drive thousands of people to suicide.I know what’s that like because I have schizophrenia.The sooner the west acknowledges spirit the better off they’ll be.Tradtional societies have much much higher recovery rates for schizophrenia etc etc because they treat it like a spiritual illness.

    Im quarter African,I dreamt several times that I was a shamaness/healer in my tribe before any of my schiz symptoms started,so all the things that ended up happening to me visions etc made complete sense.Shaman and healers are suppose to have a relationship with the otherworld.Instead in the west it was all rejected, I was heavily medicated to the point that I suffered brain damage trying to taper off the med,that’s how much these meds ruin and cause dependency in your brain.

    I’m with the other poster volchek,she was plagued by spirits and because in the west there are no longer healers or shamans (though there was once) she had no help and suicided just like millions of schizophrenics do everyday.

  • Bud says:

    All to often some of our most talented and beautiful people are taken from us for whatever reason, to another dimension perhaps?
    It does seem however that when we are endowed with certain exceptional attributes we are definitely lacking in others that longevity of life requires.
    Sad but I believe this to be true. (most of the time)

  • Mani says:

    disgusting you and all your writing bawl shit

  • AJ Stephens says:

    Sadly, this attitude of yours that many share keeps people from effective treatment. Spending time with people who have bi polar disorder during those times when they are off their meds and also during times when they are taking them and following their doctor’s advice will quickly change your perspective. Science is not perfect, it is a process of learning but it has made amazing strides in the treatment of so very many illnesses, which I think you may be taking for granted right now, whereas mysticism, in all of the time it has been around has certainly never nearly wiped out smallpox, or polio or turburculosis like science has, which is really just the study of nature.
    So,back here on planet Earth, I much prefer my bi polar and schizophrenic friends when they are ON their meds, attending appointments and listening to their doctors because they suffer less. Bottom line.They suffer less.

  • Last says:

    I’m so sorry.

  • Camden says:

    I agree with all of you it’s sad yes but it was needed she felt pain and hurt and distraught like somebody who was tired enough to feel her world colliding down she knew that that was her need to let this pain go not necessarily get better but go away and never come back. She felt as she was not needed in this world to her husband or anybody that ever loved her she was sad that she was going to leave but it needed to happen and it did it’s almost good because Ashe ended her pain not being weak but strong enough knowing she was going to put somebody else in pain that is strength and pain put together

  • Roseli says:

    Peter Ross, thank you for the most wonderful laughs; your comment had me in tears…😂😂🤣🤣🤣🤣😂🤣😂

  • Elisabeth says:

    She probably had Asperger’s syndrome and cyclothymia.She was totally sane.

  • shivangi sharma says:

    amazing work
    keep it up :)

  • Jacqui Bourne says:

    Using language as “You’re an idiot” debases this discussion. It is not helpful.

  • Charles says:

    I don’t think you would feel that way if a Doctor wrote you a prescription for non terminal syphilis.

  • Lydia says:

    Please contact me cat!

  • RangerStation says:

    What a tragedy, such a big loss. It’s a shame no one was there for her at the end.

  • Matthew says:

    I came across this website after listening to this. Worth a listen. Max Richter is quite the composer. Have a listen:

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