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Not surprisingly, the tone of the novel and thus the film is set by a woman who suffered mental illness throughout most of her life, and ended it with suicide-the author known to us as Virginia Woolf. She lived the most unusual, and extraordinary life. These brief highlights are enough to illuminate both the horror and the glory of it.

Born Adeline Virginia Stephen on January 25, 1882, in Hyde Park Gate, London, Virginia’s early years were spent in a “lower upper middle class” home with her parents, seven siblings and numerous household servants. In 1895, when Virginia was 13, her mother, Julia Duckworth Stephen, a nurse who worked with the sick and the poor throughout her life, died. Shortly afterward, Virginia suffered her first mental breakdown. During this time, Virginia wrote that she began to be sexually abused by two of her step-brothers, George Duckworth, then 27 and Gerald. In one of her letters, she wrote that George had “spoilt her life before it had begun”, and that she had no enjoyment of her body.

Her father, Sir Leslie Stephen was a prolific literary critic who held honorary doctorates from numerous universities including Oxford and Cambridge. Virginia had unlimited access to her father's extensive library, and she read voluminous amounts of material. She chronicled her reading as well as her thoughts, by writing diaries from the time she was 15. She believed reading and writing worked together to create an ever-evolving art form. Father and daughter enjoyed lengthy, informative and intellectual discussions on works and great authors of the time, these being the foundation of her ability and creativity.

She never attended school, a situation she deplores in her feminist tract, “A Room of One's Own”. Her brothers however, were sent to preparatory and public schools, and then to Cambridge. There her brother Thoby Stephen made friends with Leonard Woolf, Clive Bell, Saxon Sydney-Turner, Lytton Strachey, and Maynard Keynes, the nucleus of the future Bloomsbury Group, of which she became an important member.

In 1904, Sir Stephen died of cancer after a long illness. Consequently, Virginia suffered a second breakdown during which she often thought about death and suicide. Her second breakdown was more extreme than her first, and she lost the ability to distinguish inner and outer realities. She started having hallucinations, and hearing voices. She also attempted suicide by throwing herself from a window. Headaches, sleeplessness, and other physical symptoms were present. These continued to return at intervals for the rest of Virginia's life, as danger signals. She believed, when ill, that she and her work were worthless.

www.Dishmag.com / Issue 28 - September 5594
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