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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