Virginia Woolf’s Haunting Suicide Note Read by Actress Louise Brealey

A few weeks ago, we featured Benedict Cumberbatch’s reading of the letter Alan Turing (whom Cumberbatch portrayed in last year’s The Imitation Game) wrote before his 1952 conviction of “gross indecency.” It came from Letters Live, “a series of live events celebrating the power of literary correspondence” put on by publisher Canongate and Cumberbatch’s production company SunnyMarch and “inspired by Shaun Usher’s Letters of Note” — a site Open Culture readers surely know well by now.

Back in 2013, Josh Jones wrote a post here on Virginia Woolf’s handwritten 1941 suicide note, “a haunting and beautiful document, in all its unadorned sincerity behind which much turmoil and anguish lie.” Having seen that note, perhaps you’d also like to hear it performed. If so, you’ll want to watch the Letters Live video at the top of the post, which offers an interpretation of the To the Lighthouse author’s declaration that “I can’t fight any longer” by Cumberbatch’s Sherlock co-star Louise Brealey.

If you haven’t had your fill of literary correspondence read aloud by these noted British performers, do pay a visit to Letters Live‘s Youtube page, where you can also hear Brealey reading letters from Bessie Moore and Clementine Churchill as well as Cumberbatch reading letters from Chris Barker and more from Alan Turing. Watching internet videos of live performances of traditional letters — the mind may reel at all these simultaneous layers of mediation and interpretation, but the pieces of correspondence chosen still speak straight to the heart.

Related Content:

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

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

James Joyce’s Dirty Love Letters Read Aloud by Martin Starr, Paget Brewster & Other TV Comedy Actors (NSFW)

Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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Comments (8)
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  • Brett says:

    Far too dramatic. Woolf’s words are powerful enough. They do not need these dramatic pauses and over emphasis. Let the words stand on their own.

  • Tyler says:

    amazingly powerful

  • Brian says:

    Brett is right, the words ae powerful, but we can all read the words. To have them performed gives a sense of the pain, the despair and the finality as only a performance can manage. Excellent Louise, thank you , you provided emotion to the words I could not have experienced by reading, a voice different from my own.

  • Tereza says:

    Agree with Brett, I have seen the movie The Hours, where Nicole Kidman reads these last lines calmly and it was so much stronger, so much more real…

  • Janice says:

    Very overacted , agree with you Brett .

  • angeli alvares says:

    She should have done some gardening…It’s always important to FREE THE MIND by engaging in physical activities…….a body that does not contract in pain from hard work or exercise that borders on pain, without this contraction cannot enjoy relaxation and release from pain…and so the contraction then ends up in the mind and if this continues for a long time obviously will lead to insanity of some kind…….in short to keep a balance between joy and pain one must experience both sides of the pendulum joy and pain and best if the pain comes from physical endeavor in the creation of something like a garden, or a work of art or maybe just in arranging the house or cooking a fantastic new meal

  • Kate Pendry says:

    Yes, absolutely. This reading is painful because it’s so over-acted, and even angry and irritated. A clumsy reduction of what was essentially a very beautiful love letter. The words were powerful enough. More than.

  • Lyom says:

    Listen to Gillian Anderson reading Woolf’s suicide note for the The Royal Ballet’s production, “Woolf Works” – poignant, hunting, yet simple and precise. This is how is should be done.

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