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Kushen, B. (1981). Virginia Woolf: Metaphor of the Inverted Birth. Am. Imago, 38(3):279-304.

(1981). American Imago, 38(3):279-304

Virginia Woolf: Metaphor of the Inverted Birth

Betty Kushen, Ph.D.

In the novels of Virginia Woolf's maturity, The Waves (1931), The Years (1937), and Between the Acts (1941), the recurrent visual symbols involve merger, the confluence of self and object images, as well as introjection by oral or visual incorporation, swallowing or being swallowed. I will try to show that these metaphors appear as a compensatory defense against separation, loss, deprivation and their consequence: oral rage. The pervasive recurrence of these figures and the fantasies associated with them as well as her own testimony in letters, diaries, and autobiographical writings, suggest early, critical deprivation and aggressive acting out by her mother, Julia Steven, or a nurse.

An unpublished letter dated Monday April 10, 1882, written by Leslie Stephen to his wife, Julia, contains specific reference to the mother's difficulties in nursing Virginia. I cannot decipher the first part of Sir Leslie's sentence, but the final phrase is clear. He refers specifically to Julia's fighting or struggling with Virginia in the nursing situation and then goes on, in the next sentence, to express his wish that she continue to nurse only if the effort does not injure her health.

We are most familiar with Virginia Woolf's idealized portraits of the nurturing and maternally creative Helen Ambrose, of The Voyage Out and Mrs.

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