Martin Ferguson Smith
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“Suicidal mania” and flawed psychobiography: Two discussions of Virginia Woolf
in In and out of Bloomsbury
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The first discussion concerns Virginia Woolf’s attempted suicide in September 1913 and her recuperation from the attack of mental illness that provoked it. The main focus is on the interest and advice of Roger Fry, whose wife, Helen Coombe, had a long history of mental illness which invites comparison and contrast with that of Virginia. When Virginia was convalescing, and a new nurse was required for her, Roger approached the medical superintendent of the hospital in which Helen was a patient. The letters exchanged between the two are made known for the first time. The superintendent was a keen amateur artist, and Roger discussed with him the effect of colour on the mind and its possible therapeutic benefits in cases of mental illness. The second discussion is a postscript to the discussion, in the preceding essay, of the photographs taken by the Woolfs in Greece. It is about Maggie Humm’s claim that the error of misidentifying the Temple of Olympian Zeus as a building on the Acropolis originated with Virginia herself and is of psychobiographical significance. It is demonstrated that Humm’s claim is incorrect, and that the edifice she seeks to build on this fallacious foundation is unsound.

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In and out of Bloomsbury

Biographical essays on twentieth-century writers and artists


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